In my previous article, I mentioned that I had been a CAD manager in a past life and that there were many hats I used to wear. One of these hats was training manager for the CAD department.
I was the guy who liaised with HR, organizing and budgeting for the training my CAD employees needed. The big question was, what sort of CAD training did they need? Did I send both permanent and agency (freelance) CAD employees to take the courses, or did I let the agency folks fend for themselves? No matter what, they are your CAD team and everyone should get the same training, but the agency guys should be careful of their tax position when accepting training from a client under contract.
All of this has to be taken into account when you have a finite training budget to spend. But when it comes to CAD software the importance of employee training can’t be emphasized enough. Your CAD employees need to be the best on the software they use and not develop bad habits. They need the core training, plus the experience, plus supplemental training on new versions as they are released. (Each year in the case of Autodesk, right?)
1. Acquiring the Best. One of the methods I used to get the best CAD people I could was to create a small (and short) CAD test for the interview. As soon as you mention a CAD “test” during the interview, you can normally suss out who is being completely honest about their CAD skills and experience. It does not have to be a long test—twenty to thirty minutes at the most. Remember, when interviewing in a large organization, you’ll probably interview four or five people a day, so keep it brief. This test then gives you a basic knowledge of what the interviewee can or cannot do with the CAD software. Set yourself a benchmark of, say, an 80 percent pass rate. Then bring back the ones that pass for the second interview and—if you feel it is appropriate—another, more advanced test. Always make the interviewee aware of the test from the outset of the interview. Don’t just spring it on them.
2. Maintaining a Solid Network. As a CAD manager, always have a network you can fall back on. I was a CAD manager in the early ’90s, and I had a my little red book of CAD contacts—agencies I could rely on for good CAD jockeys at the last minute when we hit a tight deadline, CAD experts who were freelance but would always do their best to make time for me, and CAD resellers who knew good CAD staff at other companies who might be looking to move onward and upward on their respective career ladders. This kind of networking is invaluable. You never know when you might pick up the phone to find out you have a deadline change and you need extra manpower. Sometimes, it was not what you knew, but whom you knew. As Bill Gates says in his book, “Knowledge is power.”
3. Using Training Centers. A lot of companies back then used to tender for training (especially the bigger ones). This sometimes became a lottery. You got cheap training that might not be the best quality. Fortunately, most companies now—large or small—have a preferred training center or “partner,” as they are sometimes known. It is always good to have a decent business relationship with the people who train your CAD team. Rapport is built, and the trainers build a good background knowledge of what your business/organization does, and you can then ensure good bespoke training courses around exactly what your CAD employees need to create a lean, mean CAD team!
4. Getting Certification. When I was a CAD manager, we received a lot of resumes, and you had to do your first pass so that you could narrow down the field for the first interview. Back then, in the UK, City & Guilds qualifications were the prerequisite. Most CAD jockeys did those at night school. The permanent staff got it paid for by their employer as part of their ongoing on-the-job training, and the agency freelancers quite often paid for it themselves so that they could get more work.
Nowadays, if I were a CAD manager, the first thing I would look for would be Autodesk Certification in the appropriate Autodesk product: AutoCAD, Revit, Inventor, and so on. The products available for Autodesk Certification can be found at www.autodesk.com/certification. Certification is a great benchmark to aim for, for all of your CAD staff, both permanent and agency alike. The prerequisite is that certified professionals have taken an instructor-led course in their respective CAD software and have the recommended 400 hours of industry experience using that product. Plus, you have a directory of Autodesk Certified Professionals on the Autodesk website at the link above. Just what you need, right? An online version of my little red book I used to have.
Employing the right people is very important, but training those people effectively to be more productive is even more important. Plus, to be totally ruthless, you want your money’s worth! You pay your CAD team to work hard and be valuable assets to your business/organization, so make sure you train them right. Look after them, and they will look after you—especially on a Friday night at 8 p.m. when you have the most important deadline of the fiscal year to hit, and the CAD work needs to be done.