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First phase of construction: Your people

By Barry Smith

I recently finished two tours as a project manager/superintendent on one of the largest construction projects in the Portland area. The owner and general contractor both went over and above in leadership and safety training. The programs offered not only were for the supervision, but for the craft workers as well. What was provided was both content rich and applicable not only to that specific project but for our industry as a whole.

I heard several comments from other trades, as well as from my crews, and although it was mostly positive, there were a few things that bothered me. Let me preface this by saying that the comprehensive program was one of the best I have been involved with in the construction arena. The presenters were knowledgeable and well prepared both to deliver the content and field a variety of questions.

What bothered me were comments suggesting that some never had been exposed to this type of training or wish they had more of it. Issues such as awareness, teamwork and communication were some of the topics mentioned and are crucial to our success in construction. They are all key factors in completing projects safely and on time.

Although the comments did not surprise me, they reminded me how our people sometimes get sacrificed on the priority list in place of cost and schedule. The fact is that our people are both our greatest asset and our greatest liability. Logic dictates that we put more into developing them than any other part of our business. In reality, we do it when it is convenient and we have the time and money to do it.

As leaders and managers in not only the construction industry, but business as a whole, we are faced with a challenge different than at any other time in history. Those of us in our late 30s and older learned from watching others do it. We were taught by example. We learned from our mistakes. The new generation is inundated with the Internet and hundreds of cable channels all full of information that although possibly correct, only provide information and not transformation. I spoke with a senior level project superintendent a few months ago from one of the biggest general contractors in the Portland area. He shared a serious concern about who is available and qualified to replace his generation as they look toward retirement.

Don’t let your training room look like the picture above — empty.  The bottom line is this, if we don’t start investing in our people and developing their skills both as leaders and workers, we will end up with an inferior product. It is no different than trying to build a project with only 70 percent of the drawings. You need all the information to do it right. Design-Build can work, but you better have a clear picture of what you want the end product to look like.

Barry Smith is a project manager and superintendent in the Portland, Ore., area.

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