Jim and Kevin J. Ahern of Litchfield Builders (Big50 2001) have made education a cornerstone of their Hamden, Conn., business. So much so, in fact, that the CGRs are sending three lead carpenters to CGR training. They may have two more candidates over the next two years. That means more than half of the 12-employee company could soon carry Certified Graduate Remodeler designations.

They've been fortunate in that the classes have become available in the past year-and-a-half at five local HBAs. Kevin Ahern is president of the Home Builders Association of New Haven County and was instrumental in getting his remodelers council to offer CGR training. "As far as employee return, it's a no-brainer," he says. Not only does education help reduce turnover but it acts as a sweetener for recruits. Ahern touts educational benefits in want ads and takes crews to JLC Live and the Remodelers' Show for seminars.

The Aherns' investment in a wall of CGR plaques won't be inexpensive. It'll cost about $12,000 to have Jeff Belair, Jamie Enes, and Jason Massey take the necessary classes. But Kevin Ahern says the return is showing already, in spades. His leads return from classes with a greater understanding of project management, of why Litchfield marks up 50%-plus, and of why leads need to make on-the-job financial decisions -- replacing broken tools, say -- to keep jobs moving. The men also better understand estimating. The company's goal is that they do smaller estimates without requiring an estimator's site visit.

Leads now come forward with ideas on how to make system changes, and they're offering more input in meetings. Ahern expects efficiency and profitability increases soon.

Frank J. Borkowski

The carpenters don't receive a raise on receiving their CGR designation, but "it probably triggers a better review," Ahern says. The company offers CGR training to anyone who wants it.

Ahern says he realized the benefit of education when, after working as a carpenter's assistant for two years after high school, he returned to school to get a construction management degree. "Education has been my philosophy ever since," he says.