My father works in construction. His father worked in construction. His father also worked in construction. As my father’s only son I was not supposed to work in construction. I was supposed to avoid the steel beam that fell on my grandfather and left him in pain for the rest of his life. I was supposed to avoid the fingers that my father lost on one of his hands. I was supposed to avoid the cold winter mornings pulling around concrete blankets and the hot summer afternoons spent sweating in the heat.
I am glad that I did not avoid the construction industry. But my entrance into it was as unlikely as many other people. I think most people don’t plan on going into the construction industry; it ends up being something they happen into and discover that they like. It’s not a romanticized industry but to me it should be. It gets a bad rap. People should want to go into the ever-broadening range of jobs that are available in our industry. Here’s my story.
I had been married for a grand total of 3 months. I was 21, fresh faced, and full of enthusiasm for life. I was getting ready to start college and was quitting my job that started at 3:30 a.m. for a job I would work part time while going to college. It was a Saturday, my last day of work at my job when I learned that the new job I was supposed to start on Monday was not going to work out. But I had to go to work somewhere on Monday morning because I had to pay rent!
A quick call to my father would be the solution. In reality I didn’t know what my father did. I had no idea what a Project Manager or a Superintendent was, and he had been in the industry my entire life. I wasn’t supposed to know what he did. I was supposed to choose something else. In a pinch, my father allowed me to sweep floors for a couple of weeks until I could find something. To deter me and avoid the perception of nepotism, he called the person in charge of payroll and asked that I be started out at $2 an hour less than the lowest person on the payroll. He also didn’t have me sweep floors. He started me on a footing and foundation crew with the toughest foreman in the company. These guys knew how to work and I did not. Like so many others, however, that temporary job developed into a very enjoyable career.
I spent more than a decade working my way up the ladder at a General Contractor. I thankfully got to experience miserable snowy days and equally miserable summer afternoons. I learned to work with my hands. I learned what teamwork was. I worked nights, weekends, and holidays because somebody had to. I stood in awe as I looked at completed buildings and knew that my blood and sweat resided inside and would for decades to come.
I love this industry. I love the people. I love the buildings. I love the teamwork. I love the mentoring—the young and inexperienced being taught by the veterans. I love that every project is a microcosm for life and an opportunity to constantly learn. I love that now I get to help many of you build your projects more efficiently.
I believe that this is an industry that shouldn’t be thought of as a career you “settled” for, but one that anybody is lucky to be a part of. The rising generation needs to know that laboring for a living is a noble thing. They should also know that there are many professional positions within our industry and that the need for people is great. It’s our responsibility to be proud of our jobs and our industry to shape what is to come, which is more complex buildings with increasingly more technical components. We also need to let people know that in construction, experience matters. Knowing how to swing a hammer isn’t just something that comes in handy for weekend projects, it’s a rite of passage.
Dustin Chapman is a Customer Success Coach for FieldLens. While working as a construction professional, he built out well over 1 million square feet of multi-family, commercial, institutional, religious, tenant finish, apartment renovation, green building, podium, and financial institution projects.
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