There are many things you can learn in the classroom: ordering process, contracts and documents, estimating, scheduling - basically all the fundamental information you will need to know. But all that aside, there is not one thing you learn in a classroom that can prepare you for the field. Your most comprehensive knowledge of the construction industry will come directly from the jobsite.
As soon as I stepped foot on the jobsite, I knew that everything I had learned in school, everything that my professors told me about, everything I expected, wasn’t the way I had anticipated it to be. I can divide my work experience into two categories: the work and the workers.
THE WORKIf there was one valuable thing that I learned during this summer, it was that nothing goes according to plan. Something unforeseen will always arise on the jobsite - whether it be a labor shortage, workers quitting, late shipments, wrong materials (or in some cases no materials being delivered), and in some extreme circumstances, a strike or two. I encountered all of these mishaps during my tenure on the jobsite.
The atmosphere of the jobsite as a whole is one of those things that you have to experience to understand. I was a little worried at how much exposure I would actually receive when I took the position with Shannon’s, since they are mechanical contractors who work in the fields of pipefitting, plumbing, and HVAC.
Yet, once you are on the jobsite you are exposed to everything. From demolition to carpentry, electrical to painting, all these trades are working side-by-side. It is as though the entire workforce is one team, working towards one goal - completion.
THE WORKERSAbove all else, the single most valuable experience and lesson I learned from the field came from my fellow workers. After my first day on the job, eight of us sat down for dinner at a restaurant. Our head foreman looked at me and asked me how much I was paying for school a year. After I told him he started laughing and said, “You will learn more sitting here for 20 minutes than you ever would in a classroom.” A little bit of an overstatement; however, I never imagined how close to the truth he really was.
I was told once that if I were to be in charge of a construction project, I needed the respect of my workers; they are the heart of any construction company. Working side-by-side with these tradesmen showed me just how important they are. The workers all showed respect for their foreman, project manager, and even for the boss of the company. During break times it was as though they were all best friends catching up on old times, but once break was over, they knew that the foreman was there to make sure they were getting their job done.
There is a fine line between being someone’s boss and being someone’s friend. With the opportunity I was given last summer, I think I realized where that fine line is; maybe a little hazy and unclear at times, but you have to learn to balance the two. You not only need the respect and loyalty of your workers, but you need their trust as well.
The crews on these jobsites are like families. To sit there and listen to all the jobs they have worked on together over the years and the things they’ve experienced with each other really made the learning experience. A bond truly grows between these men. Construction life is hard and ever changing; on the road everyday, different jobs, layoffs - the only true consistency is the work and those who will be shoulder-to-shoulder with you when this work is being completed.
Last summer’s work experience with Shannon’s was one I will never forget. Not only was it my first real look into the construction industry, but I learned more than I possibly could have imagined. I will admit it was not a typical internship where I sat in an office all day and learned the ordering process, scheduling, how to write documents and contracts, estimate materials and labor costs.
Granted, I was able to touch several of these aspects before I took my place in the field. However, I do not believe this is what really makes a construction manager, or even an architect. It’s the real-world experiences - actually being in the field and seeing everything first-hand. It is the unforeseen mishaps, the working and assembling of the materials, the frustrations of wrong orders or screw-ups, and the bonding with your foreman and fellow workers.
To understand construction, you have to work construction. I would not trade my time in the field and my time spent with my co-workers for any amount of education I could have received in the classroom. And above all else, I was able to break in my first pair of work boots.