When our foremen serve as gatekeepers of information on the jobsite, it is ineffective and counterproductive. Discover why it is essential for your bottom line, your crew’s morale, and your company’s future to have your laborers also able to read blueprints.

1. Laying out: Nothing sabotages you worse in laying out, than having a clueless person on the other end of the tape measure. When you are locking in on a benchmark or setting grade, you’re also down to a snail’s pace working with clueless people. Laborers who can look over your shoulder and read prints can get synchronized with you.

Once I worked on a commercial foundation crew under Al Elrod. Al, who was a member of Mensa, memorized the blueprints, but he also went over the prints with everyone before he rolled them up. I have seen him lay out all of the piers and footings on a 50,000-square-foot building without looking at the prints. Still, Al had zero tolerance for a lackey on the other end of the steel-tape. It’s just too frustrating having to hold someone’s hand while you are holding a plumbob in your other hand.

2. Forming: When it is time to set up forms for your footing, foundation, or slab, there’s no substitute for your whole team knowing the prints. Sending well-trained laborers who can read the prints with you expedites spreading out and assembling your forming materials. If you have a step-down or you are using different lengths of wall-ties, the more exposure your entire crew has to reading prints, the quicker you can button-up your next pour.

3. Rebar: You might not allow your laborers to tie your steel, but chances are they will be the ones hogging it in. It makes sense to teach them how to read the blueprints so they know what steel goes where. This will facilitate an economy of movement by handling your materials the least number of times necessary.

4. Cultivating a crew of problem solvers helps save you from embarrassing, expensive mistakes. There’s a funny insurance TV commercial highlighting an ancient Egyptian taskmaster holding up a set of prints. The pyramids are all cubes on the parchment. That old saying, “measure twice and cut once,” is only good if everyone knows their dimensions.

5: Ultimately, you are developing future leaders. Someday, the time and energy you have invested in your laborer will reap dividends for you by having a well-trained foreman on hand. Therefore, begin to equip your team from the bottom up ASAP.

Here’s the takeaway: If your team overly depends on you, you will never reach your full potential. Why waste your foreman’s precious time with unnecessary hand-holding? When your entire crew knows the basics of reading prints, they are more helpful, they can move quicker, they can act wisely at every phase of the project, and avoid costly mistakes, saving you precious time toward hitting your deadlines. Plus, when you are promoting from within, you are already ahead of the curve because your laborers will know how to read blueprints.

Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail craigcottongim@gmail.com.