The construction industry has evolved significantly with regards to safety and training, but the metal building industry still lacks a cohesive training plan unique to our needs. Most contractors and erectors cobble together a training plan with bits and pieces from carpenters, ironworkers, sheet metal workers and a whole lot of in-house developed training. Not only is this costly, but it is not the most effective way to train, and certainly is not doing anything for our ability to attract new workers.

The Metal Buildings Contractors & Erectors Association (MBCEA), together with our partners at the Metal Buildings Institute (MBI) and National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER), plan to solve this problem over the next few years. We have embarked on a new initiative to create a complete metal building assembly training program that goes deep enough to qualify as a formal apprenticeship and is robust enough to create craft workers skilled in in the unique needs of metal buildings. The program will not rely on textbooks and other traditional ways of learning but will be presented in a slick, new online format.

Safety practices in construction have changed a lot since these men ate while working on the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in 1932. Photo: Charles C. Ebbets, 1932

While wandering in a corn field in the movie “Field of Dreams,” Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) famously heard, “If you build it, they will come.” But I am a bit more pragmatic. I think our industry needs to have a serious conversation about the real value we place on training. My intent today is simply to offer some food for thought. I truly hope to inspire frank and candid conversations wherever we gather as an industry, such as the upcoming MBCEA Conference, the MBMA Spring meeting, builders’ meetings, etc. Recruiting and retaining skilled craftsmen to assemble our buildings is our biggest challenge. How much are we willing to invest to solve this problem?

I would venture to guess most of us have no idea of all the hidden costs we are paying today. I am talking about things like keeping track of who has what certification and when does it need to be renewed. Sure, we know about the cost of paying our employees to attend in-house training but what about the time and effort that goes into developing the in-house training? How about the price of fixing errors and shoddy work? Ever get fined by OSHA for not having your training up to date? What did that do to your workers’ compensation rates?

MBCEA members come in all shapes and sizes. There are some that have whole divisions devoted to training and others that rely on MBCEA Chapters to pool resources. Still others go it alone on a hope and prayer. Take a moment and think about what you spent last year on training. Consider hard costs like fees paid to training organizations and soft costs like time and effort in your office. Last year, we surveyed members on what they spend per employee on training per year. The majority responded between $500 and $2,000 each for up to 19 employees annually. Does this sound right to you? Too high, not high enough?

I challenge the manufacturers and suppliers to consider this topic as well. What value do you place on your buildings being assembled properly; your products installed correctly? How invested are you in helping assemblers not only with their training needs but also their ability to recruit and retain workers?

Most manufacturers commit a certain percentage of every project to marketing. Perhaps they should also consider a certain percentage for training. Some industries commit a few pennies per man hour to training. This way the cost of quality is built into the labor rate. Some training programs offer a subscription service—where you pay a flat rate per year for unlimited access (such as in the Netflix model). These ideas and many more all need to be carefully considered and discussed.

At this point, I can honestly say MBCEA is committed to building it—the new Metal Building Assembly Training program—but how committed are you to come? Let’s talk about it!


Jennifer Heimburger has been with Heimburger Construction Inc. since 1999. Her father, Bob Heimburger, started the family business in 1978. HCI has been affi liated with Butler Manufacturing since its inception. Both Jennifer and Bob have served on Butler's advisory council, and Jennifer was the first female chairman in 2016. HCI achieved the AC478 accreditation in 2021 and strongly supports the efforts of the MBCEA to help other erectors attain accreditation.