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Clive Shearer
by Design
By Clive Shearer

August 13, 2014

Management By Design: How four local firms offer continuing education

Special to the Journal

Gaining knowledge should be the goal of any seasoned professional. Fortunately, there are many opportunities in our region for continuing education and training.

Some companies allow people to learn on their own initiative. Others encourage staff to attend classes sponsored by professional associations and local colleges. The ultimate is to bring competent trainers to the workplace for in-house sessions.

I asked four business leaders to identify how their companies tackle training and education.

Nancy Way, vice president of The Watershed Co., a Kirkland-based, landscape architecture and environmental engineering firm, said, “So much research has shown that poor communication — not technical skill — is the primary cause of architectural and engineering project failure. The Watershed Company is using in-house brown bags and role playing as well as paid professional trainings to enhance staff skills. One of the most effective things we have ever done is to purchase a video camera and have each staff member make a short filmed presentation. Everyone viewed their presentations and offered critiques of themselves with a group of supportive coworkers. This exercise included technical, professional, administrative and marketing staff. It was scary, but the results were astounding. The value of good communication and strong professional presence became perfectly clear in a very personal way. We all started out with different skill levels but everyone resolved to improve.”

Tami Tedrow-Howard, marketing manager for the Bellevue office of Tetra Tech, a consulting, engineering, surveying and technical services firm, said, “Tetra Tech's educational program is very strategic. We see its tremendous value for our clients, our company and our staff. For example, Tetra Tech's business depends on providing outstanding service, so we're engaged in daily interactions with our clients and the public. All staff must understand that our success is based on providing the best technical skills in the industry and maintaining solid relationships. To support this, Tetra Tech provides an internal educational program on best practice communications and client management. Offered in individual segments, this program offers a comprehensive list of seminars that covers both fundamental and advanced topics. Mentoring is also important to our company.

Also, junior and senior staff at Tetra Tech are very involved participating in, presenting at, and contributing to educational programs offered by associations and the private sector. Additionally, because Tetra Tech's Bellevue office is involved in international projects, such as the new Panama Canal, additional association connections with world-renowned experts emerge, a key highlight in any engineer's career.

For example, PIANC is the prestigious world association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure. Junior through very senior staff members participate in educationally rich PIANC workgroups to collaboratively develop international standards and innovative design solutions.”

Leslie Morison, principal at ZGF Architects, an architecture, interiors and urban design firm, said, “ZGF supports employee opportunities for educational growth and advancement by encouraging attendance at both local and national industry conferences, seminars and classes, and participation in events sponsored by professional organizations, with these learning opportunities typically funded by the firm. Continuing education events are also seen as opportunities to network with peers, consultants and clients. Our staff who frequently interact with clients are invited to go through presentation training courses to expand and improve upon their existing skills. We also host bimonthly in-office happy hours to give staff an opportunity to present “on the boards” work-in-progress to peers in an informal setting. In addition, regularly scheduled fast-pace-format events help staff practice the art of concise presentations.”

Tom Leonidas, executive vice president at Wood Harbinger, an electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering firm in Bellevue, said, “We leverage the experience of our marketing and business development staff to build these skills in our technical personnel. To enhance our workplace interactions, we recently invested in an internal process innovation initiative, forming a cross-discipline team that designed more efficient team workflows, building on our strengths, and removing collaboration barriers within the firm and with our clients.

Wood Harbinger also strategically reviews private sector or association education opportunities to ensure that they are relevant to our industry, markets and current needs. After the event, attendees debrief with their colleagues, providing an opportunity to practice communication and presentation skills as well as share the benefits of their new knowledge.”

Clive Shearer is a professional trainer, educator and retreat facilitator and can be reached at cgb9@yahoo.com

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