As an eighth-generation carpenter who served a “two-year indentureship without pay” under his father, a Bavarian immigrant and craftsman, and later a four-year apprenticeship through the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, John Habermeier takes education seriously. So much so that he has begun “Synergy University” for his employees at Synergy Builders, in West Chicago.

Held once a month, Habermeier says the educational program “is a structured process to develop entry-level employees [both office and field] from initially being hands-on and working their way through an apprenticeship program to becoming managers in the industry.”

Participation is voluntary for Synergy Builders' 18 staff members. Topics covered include estimating and cost analysis, sales skills, design concepts, communication and people skills, and project management.

Habermeier says he wants to “eliminate any ceiling they have in their career,” giving each staff member a way to grow into their next position within the firm. A common question asked within the company is, “Who is your successor?”

The “school” has been a great success. Habermeier finds that employees are talking more among themselves about big-picture issues and says that staff are more likely to “proactively problem-solve.”