Tips for Training New Truss Designers


Tips for Training New Truss Designers

Developing a solid plan for training designers is the best way to make sure that you cover all of the critical areas.

As our industry starts to ramp up again, we face many issues, and hiring and training new designers is at the top of the list. It takes longer to train designers than any other position, and the design department affects almost every aspect of the company, including material usage, plant labor, customer satisfaction, pricing, and the bottom line. Bringing a designer up to speed can take anywhere from three months to a year, and even an experienced designer will need time to understand all of the nuances of your business. Developing a solid plan for training designers is the best way to make sure that you cover all of the critical areas.


What is a typical training plan for a truss designer?


The approach a company takes to train a new designer will vary depending on how knowledgeable the person is of the industry and the duties he or she will be assigned. For example, will they primarily focus on designing trusses, or will they handle multiple tasks like bidding a job, creating the layout, taking field measurements, designing trusses, and creating the paperwork for the shop and the jobsite package? In general, a well-rounded truss designer should be able to:

  • Understand basic industry terminology
  • Perform math, including algebra and trigonometry
  • Read plans and specifications
  • Read and comprehend the building codes and design aides
  • Run truss design software
  • Read and understand printouts from truss software
  • Learn the building practices your customers use
  • Understand how your company interacts with customers

Some companies train new designers by having them work in the shop to build trusses for a week or two. Others like to send new designers out to shadow a salesperson. Regardless of the approach a company takes, a good place to start designer training is to teach (or to give a refresher for more experienced designers) basic industry terminology such as span, heel height, pitch, and on-center spacing. There are several industry books, brochures, and online resources that define these terms (see sidebar on facing page). Give new designers a chance to review these resources, and then go over some terms with them.

Math, especially basic algebra and trigonometry, are very important requirements for the job. During the interview process, it’s a good idea to ask applicants about their math skills. If they have taken and done well in algebra and trigonometry, a quick review may be all that’s needed. If they don’t have a strong math background, you will want to spend time showing them how to use a calculator for design problems like figuring out heel heights, an example being the heel height of trusses over a garage when the roof plane extends up to the second story. You may also want to work through other issues that require math, like how to make eaves line up when roofs have different pitches.

Designers must read plans and specifications so they can design trusses correctly. This can be difficult, even for experienced designers. Plans are not always accurate, and there may be contradictions from one page to another. Specifications tend to be written in legal language. If a designer is focused on residential jobs, you may not spend a lot of time on specifications. Once they become more experienced and are ready to start working on commercial projects, this may be a better time to cover this information. Start by going over basic items to look for on the plans, like dimensions, pitches, heel heights, overhangs and loads, and then special items like tray ceilings, vaults and other specifics on the building design and truss design.

Designers need to be familiar with local building codes, both residential and commercial. They must know where design information about trusses can be found in the codes. Snow loads, wind loads, floor loads, roof live loads, attic floor loads and dead loads are all examples of loadings they will need to understand. Show the designer how to use the SBCA Load Guide and other industry programs available through the software providers.

A designer will spend the majority of their time running truss software, so this is an area to spend a considerable amount of training time. One way to get them started is to have them work with a simple plan, like a ranch house. With the new designer watching, the manager/trainer can go over the basics of the program, showing software features and how to set up the loads and code information. The trainer can input the walls, show how to change wall heights and widths, and enter ceiling planes and roof planes. After the walls and planes are in, show the 3D views to make sure everything appears correct, and then input the trusses. Once the trusses are input, show the 3D views again to make sure everything appears correct and no trusses are sticking above the planes of the roof. Next, focus on engineering all the trusses. Go through each truss one by one and make sure they look correct. Then, price the job. It’s worth spending time going over pricing, including accessories, like framing anchors, hangers, bracing, etc.

The trainer can then switch places with the new designer and have them go through and redo the job from scratch. Watch every step and coach them as necessary. After this first job is input and everything appears correct, give the designer another example job to do on their own, and always encourage them to ask questions. When they are finished with this second job, look it over, checking for mistakes and ways they can improve. If the new hire needs more practice, give them one or two more example jobs to input, until you’re confident they have the basics down and are ready to move on to the next step in the process.

Along with design program training, provide an overview of the paperwork that needs to be created for the shop and jobsite. This paperwork may include a layout, shop drawings, cutting lists, and auto table setup. Go through all of the paperwork needed, explaining what it is and how to create it. Let the designer run the software, and coach them on the steps needed to create this using the software. Once the paperwork is created, go over what to do with the paperwork, like creating a jobsite package, a package for the shop, etc.

Every customer is different, and it’s very important to make your designers aware of special requests and company policies related to communication with clients. Will the designer interact directly with a customer, or will the salesperson handle all communication? If the customer wants someone to come out to the jobsite and do field measurements for the trusses, who should make the trip? All staff needs to know who is responsible for client communication at each stage of a project.

This article only briefly delves into all of the things a new designer needs to learn. Training is an ongoing process for a new designer. Training a new designer takes time, but once you have a good designer trained, you will want to do everything you can to keep them employed with you.

See Truss Designers: The Marines of QC for more details on the benefits of a well-trained design staff. To pose a question for this column, call the SBCA technical department at 608-274-4849 or email


Industry Resources

Keep these tools in mind when training new truss designers: