is one of the few industries
where a lone guy can start out with a few bucks and a few people, and end up a major player
. The reason for this is that while they may have an office
, some truck
s and other equipment
, a construction company is at its heart people
. Get the right people to bid
the job and you can make money. Get the jobs done right, grow with sense and pretty soon you can compete for jobs worth millions. Mine is an industry where it is lterally possible to start with nothing and end up pretty darned rich.
But the key to that equation is staffing. Tthe wrong people can turn sure money makers to disaster. Construction is a career where you have to prove yourself every time, because you are always working yourself out of a job.
I work for a company that seems to believe that a very few good people can take a group of crash test dummies and create a building. Sometimes that works, other times it does not. Right now i am remodeling a school. Remodels are difficult, challenging work, but the challenge often makes them interesting, because you must find creative ways to stuff ten pounds of stuff into a five pound bag. Occasionally you get to stuff a one pound bag.
Buildings are often built to a deadline. School contruction is often subsidized by the state. The state allows a fixed period of time for any job it authorizes to be completed, and changing that date can often prove hellish.
This isn't because the government is stupid, arbitrary or any other libertarian fantasies. It's because they want the project completed. They know that a potential loss of funding is a good way to keep everyone focused on the job at hand. It's to prevent dithering on the part of the school sytem. It's to keep the contractors moving forward, driving toward a date. It's so they know how much money they're really spending. And so they don't get a half-finished building dumped in their lap.
The job I am working on is approaching a scheduled completion date. To that end, my company ramped up labor on my jobsite. My company has sent a lot of crash test dummies, but they didn't get much done. So finally they sent us a few people they promised had skills.
F has been in the trades for 21 years, and has some definite skills. But he's always drifting from company to company. After working with him, you can see why. He's stuck in his ways, and really doesn't want to be there. He'd be fishing if his wife would support him. Worse, he doesn't think beyond right now, and there are a lot of skills he doesn't have that he ought to after so long a career. At the end of the day, the only thing he cares about is his paycheck.
The also sent us two residential guys. Residential electricians are specialists. They can go like banshees pulling rubber wire and are hell on devicing, but that's about it. Commercial work moves at a slower pace, but requires a ton of different skills, and thought before beginning any of them. Their saving grace is both have brains and a good work ethic. IF they had come earlier in the job, I'd have invested a bit of productivity early to train them in some needed commercial skills, so they'd be rockin'n'rolling right now. But the end is nigh. I have to orient what they do around what they can do, rather than what needs doing most.
Then we have B. He's a young kid, and we were told he was a journeyman. He has the same certifications i do. Chris let him take charge of the entire school library because he needed someone skilled to offload that task on.
But he's no journeyman. Quickly, it became clear that he was lost. As Number two on this job, i found myself helping him often. i don't mind answering questions, that's part of my job. But when you don't know the size of unistrut or how to build or locate a rack of conduit then you can't do the job. I knew how to do stuff like that before the end of my first year of apprenticeship. I do in an hour what takes him all day.
Worse, B. seemed to know he wasn't up to it from Day One. He was a little too polite, obsequious even. He tells tall tales in the classic picture of a young man overcompensating. Right off, i spotted him as a bullshitter. And that gets under my skin.
Chris and i agreed B wasn't getting it. I'd have fired him for lying about his skill level. It's okay to be a second year apprentice as long as you don't pretend to be anything else. But Chris rightfully likes the fact that B will do anything without complaining. He thinks B's trainable. And while Chris has abandoned his fundamentalism, he's hung on the generosity, forgiveness, the willingness to give of himself i've seen in many Christians. In other words, he's hung onto all the good stuff. He wants everyone to succeed.
So he gave B to me. Told me to "ride him hard". And I did just what he told me. B wasn't happy at all about his demotion, He's a bit scared of me too, because he knows that I caught on to his weaknesses right away.
So I did just what Chris suggested. Today's lesson introduced the fine art of conduit bending. Turns out B arrived with a clue. But not very many. And I am capable of doing things with conduit bender that make even good journeymen envious. I've invented tricks that aren't in the book. So I had B. bend for me. I watched him work, and then starting telling him how to work. He was pissed off, told me I was cramping his style. I didn't care, and made him do it my way anyway. And I promised him that if he did it my way, he'd never go back.
To his credit, B swallowed his pride and did what I told him, exactly as I showed him. Slowly, he began to catch on. And then he understood, stopped complaining. He even became enthusiastic. By the end of the day, he told me, "I may be a journeyman, but you are a master electrician."
I told him, that i was just a journeyman.
And I began to see hope for him. He has five years in the trade. Five years where no one ever took him aside, invested a bit of time in teaching him the right way to do things. Five years where all they cared about was 'hurry up and slam it in'. Five years where no one ever decided to let him work on the things he couldn't do, and invest the time to help him over the rough spots.
Today when you read the want ads everyone wants 'experience'. But how do you get experience if no one trains you? How do you get your foot in the door? Where will all the skilled labor come from if no one teaches? Companies seem to think that if you invest in your people, they'll just leave. Sometimes they won't train you because you might want a promotion. Promotions come from outside rather than within. Like business is a zero sum game, where a gain for one is inevitably a loss for others.
Maybe Chris had the right idea all along. That if you invest in someone, put in the time, maybe you both can win. Maybe investing in someone is the best way to make someone who fears you come to your side.