Implementing What You Learned at BCMC: Build an Effective Truss Design Department


Implementing What You Learned at BCMC: Build an Effective Truss Design Department

Explore how to find, train and retain designers.

Bob Dayhoff, Director of Technical Operations for Shelter Systems Limited in Westminster, MD, has been working in the industry for a long time, and for many of those years, he has hired and trained truss design department personnel. During his BCMC education session entitled, “Tips for Hiring and Training Truss Designers,” Dayhoff promised attendees he would offer “golden nuggets” of information to take away for instant use at their companies. Let’s explore some of his insights.

Training & Retaining Truss Designers

Before a new truss designer designs his or her first truss, it’s a good idea to have technicians work as a helper on a truss production team. The goal is for the new hire to learn to build trusses from the paperwork that they will eventually send to the shop floor (unless they were hired from production). This type of cross training allows you to shift designers into builder/sawyer positions instead of having to lay them off, in case of a slowdown. When you take the time to properly train a designer, you want to have a well-planned strategy to not lose your investment if things slow down in your department.

It is also valuable to understand the personal characteristics, education and knowledge of your plant personnel because there is often talent there that is unexplored and unrealized. Applying both strategies above helps with any slowdowns or shifting design and production priorities in any given period of time, providing maximum customer service benefits.

Figure 1. Example of a helpful detail on a truss placement diagram  to verify that the correct plans were used. Dayhoff mentioned that, in his experience, one of the more costly mistakes is when trusses are designed with the wrong heel height or pitch. Training designers to add helpful details, like those found in Figure 1, to the truss placement diagram has helped alleviate these mistakes.

To keep good technicians, Shelter Systems ties them to a quarterly bonus pool based on a percentage of design team profitability and considers that in their compensation evaluation. “Our metric is a percentage of profitability divided among the design team,” said Dayhoff.

He also found that training meetings, like those to review software updates, go better when paired with pizza in order to make gatherings around the board room table less formal. “The pizza helps start a meeting off right, and even seems to encourage more participation in the technical subjects being shared,” said Dayhoff. During these meetings, the company likes to double-dip by providing software training while also revisiting real-time situations that resulted in either a liability or back charge to the company. For example, Dayhoff said the agenda at a recent meeting included, “plating minimums for top chord bearing trusses, reviewing the company’s default chord-size selection for load carrying members, and words to avoid using in bid proposals.”

Finding Truss Designers

With recent increases in building construction, attendees were anxious to learn where Dayhoff finds quality designers. He recommended, “the first step is having a detailed job description and your minimum requirements in mind.” Sometimes, the best candidates are already employed by you. Bringing up designers from within your company has its advantages, including a knowledge of your operation, established work habits that fit your company’s culture and familiarity with your paperwork requirements. It develops loyal personnel by showing/providing a personal growth path that can be followed. Shelter Systems has also looked at interns for part-time positions during school, as well as summer jobs, which have developed into some full time opportunities.

Once a possible hire is found based on the job description, the question needs to be asked if the candidate fits your company’s culture (see page 14 for the article on John Herring’s presentation that includes more insight on developing company culture). Dayhoff stated that you would be remiss for hiring them, if the individual has all the qualities desired in a good designer, yet their personality or approach to work impedes the efforts of your current team.

Figure 2: Example question from SBCA TATO test.Dayhoff uses the interview process to determine the candidate’s knowledge of construction/plan reading and math/geometry. SBCA’s Technical Assessment Test Online (TATO), for example, is one great way to assess an individual’s spatial awareness and understanding of basic design (see Figure 2).

He shared stories about potential hires who listed certain skills on their resumes, but when asked about their proficiencies, clearly were not as highly skilled as they appeared on paper. For example, one applicant stated on their résumé, “fluent in Spanish.” However, after asking the candidate about his ability to have a conversation in Spanish, he quickly clarified, “well almost,” which called into question the rest of his résumé.

Dayhoff suggested that CMs also consider asking potential hires for permission to view their social networking pages to understand their interests. “Knowing their passions can help you determine if this person will be upsetting or uplifting to your current team culture,” he explained. If you’re on the fence deciding between a couple of candidates, asking your software supplier for a second opinion can provide valuable insight.

Finally, Dayhoff stressed the importance of providing all designers with ongoing education. “I feel it takes six months to a year before a new designer develops the confidence and understanding needed in taking a truss design project from bidding to finished paperwork for a basic residential job and have it correctly processed in a timely fashion,” he said. “This includes making it through the critical back checking process.”

“Training a new designer is an ongoing process and takes time. So when you have valuable designers trained, you will want to do everything you can to keep them employed with you; they are your greatest assets.”