Celebrating One Year of the Mobile Workforce Podcast

The Mobile Workforce Podcast is a year old! To celebrate this momentous occasion, the podcast did something special! Instead of Mike Merrill hosting, he sat in the hot seat and was interviewed on highlights from the podcast over the past year. 

In this special episode, Frank Di Lorenzo Jr., the client relationship manager at Preferred Strategies,  was our guest host. Frank asked Mike about the top takeaways from guests in his first year of hosting the Mobile Workforce Podcast and important themes that were covered, including company culture, the labor gap and the next generation of technologies.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Company culture needs to have diverse goals. It is important for contractors to purposefully develop their culture in today’s market to attract and retain top talent. That company culture needs to be multifaceted, promoting safety, diversity, and technology. This means that leadership must believe in all three and promote them from the top continually.
  2. The labor gap can be defeated. The labor gap is still a problem in the construction industry, so stakeholders need to be active participants in finding a solution. . The good news is that there are organizations like the Lime Foundation, founded by Letitia Hanke, that are attracting young people to the industry. Contractors can help their recruiting efforts by promoting the technology they use and engaging with job fairs at high schools and colleges. 
  3. Technology growth in construction is just getting started. Mike’s experience is that nearly 60% of construction companies are still on paper or spreadsheets to collect time and labor and production, and some of their project management initiatives. Even still we have reached the tipping point with construction technology where it is too productive for any contractor to ignore. Anyone that doesn’t adapt will find themselves struggling for work and eventually will have to close their doors.

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Episode Transcript

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Hello everybody, and welcome. My name’s Frank Di Lorenzo, I am the guest host on today’s Mobile Workforce Podcast, and I’m excited to be here. In today’s episode, we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of the Mobile Workforce Podcast. And I’m going to be turning the tables in interviewing our esteemed host, Mr. Mike Merrill. During our chat I’m going to be asking Mike what he’s learned from construction leaders over the past years in his predictions for what’s ahead. This is going to be really interesting. Thank you for asking me to be the host today, Mike. I appreciate it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, thanks for doing it, Frank. Looking forward to this. It should be a fun discussion.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

All right, let’s get into it. For starters, can you recap what you wanted listeners to from the Mobile Workforce Podcast? Great question to start.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. I mean, our goal really with the podcast is to really get those conversations going that that people either are having in different corners or within their groups and kind of put those out on a broader stage with a latter voice. We want to really help contractors increase their productivity, their profitability, enjoy technology that’s available that’s really out there and that could be at their fingertips. And so, I think there’s technology, there’s people, there’s processes, there’s all these components that are important in running a success, and we wanted to bring some of those together and help, again, bring those best practices to light so others can enjoy and learn from their peers in the industry.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Excellent. Excellent. Mike, I’ve known you, we go way back. I don’t want to say the years, because it’s a lot, but you’ve certainly been a force in the industry, still are, and so what you have to share today is going to be real exciting. So, you ready for the next question?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, sure. Bring it.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Have there been any themes that stuck out to you regarding company culture and construction?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think one of the recurring themes that we hear a lot about and that we’ve really enjoyed having discussions on is construction safety and the import of having a culture of safety. Safety can be viewed in many different ways. A lot of it, of course, initially when we hear safety we’re thinking of the physical side of things, but also emotionally and mental wellness and health safety, being aware of the general overall health and wellbeing of our coworkers and our staff and our employees. I think these are important topics today, and they’re conversations that we’re happy to have and start and bring more to the light that companies really can have a better understanding of maybe what they’re missing out on and some things that they can do to improve and of course be more successful in business.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, I really think you hit the nail on the head on that one, Mike. Great response. Thank you. What about how many company cultures can benefit a business’s or how can a company’s culture, forgive me, benefit a business’s bottom line?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I would say, again, a safe company is a happy company. Safe employees are happy employees. I think just like being safe it’s also important to be progressive and to be innovative. People want to grow, they want to learn, they want to expand. And I think businesses are very much like us as individuals. They’re like a living organism. To thrive and to grow and to progress they need to have constant attention and care to those things that will allow them to become what they can. And I think employees that part of organizations that are growing that are progressive and proactive on not only safety and culture and inclusiveness, these other things that are hot topics in society, but I think being innovative and trying to give them opportunities to not only expand their own personal career, but also their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. And again, the buildings and the infrastructures that they’re actually taking part in helping to produce.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yep. Absolutely. And Mike, we’re both supporters and members of the Construction Financial Management Association. And as we both know, a big initiative there is suicide prevention. And it’s a tough topic, we don’t like bring it up, but it needs to be addressed. And when you say safety and culture and inclusiveness that comes to mind as well.

Mike Merrill:

I think it’s great.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Okay. But it is a big initiative and it is important, and we’re both supportive of it. Next question, the labor was another issue that came up on the podcast time and time again, do you see light at the end of the tunnel?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think in construction we are adaptable and we are survivors. We get through great depressions and great recessions, and all types of different economic environments, material shortages, supply chain disruptions. I think we’re going to figure it out. It is a moving target right now, it feels like, and we’re definitely experiencing labor shortages everywhere. You mentioned earlier, the CFMA conferences and events and that organization, we try and stay plugged into what’s going on there. And when I go to a regional event in different parts of the country I’m hearing the same things. We just need more good help. It’s hard to find good help. We’re short-staffed, we have more backlog than we’ve ever had, we’re busy, we’re working overtime, and we just can’t quite catch up. So, some of the things that we’ve talked about a lot on the podcast have been the addition of more women in construction.

Mike Merrill:

And so that’s an exciting area that I think we can help fill some of those labor gaps and those talent gaps that construction companies have. I don’t mean just in the office and payroll, but there’s people that are drone pilots there’s women I talked to, a girl just a couple days ago at the National NECA Convention that was in Nashville, Tennessee. And I asked what she did for the organization, and she said, “I’m an electrician,” and I said, “That’s awesome.” I said, “What do you do specifically? What’s your role?” And she said, “I pull wire, and I drill holes, and I bend conduit,” and I said, “That’s awesome.” I thought she might be a project manager or something else, but yeah, she’s out there in the field getting after it, and I love seeing and hearing about those types of stories.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, me too, Mike. That’s a great one. And I swear I remember something about an inspiring story or a line foundation, does that ring any bells?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, we had a guest on a couple of episodes, Letitia Hanke. She’s a business owner and roofing construction out on the California Coast. And Letitia also started a foundation called the LIME Foundation. And she actually has a training facility and a program that she’s not only done in her area, but she’s actually setting up other locations in different parts of the State of California and expanding that out in the country. So, I think that’s a really important thing. I’m glad you brought that up. Not only do we need to hire more women in construction and look for opportunities to recruit some of these young and new age, more technical talents that are available, but I think making construction more attractive to them and really raising awareness that these are really great organizations to be a part of. It’s a great way to provide for your family. You can actually make some really good money doing construction these days. It is blue collar, but I’m seeing some of those blue collars making more than some of the white collars these days, and I love to see that too.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Oh, certainly, me too. And they have fun doing it. If it’s something they love and they have a passion for you just see it and it exudes kind of that energy. It’s great. I agree. And you mentioned LIME Foundation, we talked about CFMA. Another group I just throw out in the mix that’s doing some great things is the women in construction as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. NAWIC, the National Association of Women in Construction. And we’ve had the former past president on the podcast. We’ve had some of the regional presidents, just lots of great discussions around the opportunities that exist in construct for women. Had another young girl that’s recently graduated from college. She’s actually a drone operator for a large construction company. That’s her full-time job. And there’s a lot of young ladies out there that are very talented with the drones and very technical. And I think that’s a great asset and the technology that we’re seeing rise up that that is completely new to the industry altogether. So, really, really cool stuff going on.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It is leading edge. And you say that and I think I hear a drone overhead, they might be trying to spy on our podcast.

Mike Merrill:

It’s me. It’s me, Frank. I’m checking your lighting.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You are perfect. Thank you. All right. So, what I’m excited about too, what has made you hopeful for the future of construction?

Mike Merrill:

I think the thing that excites me about it is that not only are we being more safe and are we being more efficient, more green, we’re finding ways to reuse and use recycled materials, and to be cleaner in the way that we’re producing buildings, and we’re responsible as far as the planet goes, I think we’re also learning how to be safer. That’s an exciting thing to see. We’re building these incredible structures that almost impossible to the human eye. You don’t even have to go to Las Vegas anymore or Dubai to see buildings that are inspiring and structures that are truly amazing.

Mike Merrill:

I was just down in Dallas, Texas, and looking at the Cowboys stadium and seeing what they did with that building, and we got some customers, actually KPost Roofing contractor down in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is a premier sponsor with the Dallas Cowboys. They actually did the roof on that building. So, just seeing what these companies are doing and the buildings that they’re involved in building and creating and doing it safely is just really cool to see from an industry that is really known as being a little bit behind when it comes to the adoption of technology and innovation from the rest of the world’s technological standards.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Mike, it just came to me when you mentioned Nashville, I was also at NECA, honored to be there. And I remember walking down one early morning to get to the convention center and there’s quite a bit of construction going on there. And it was a nice building, I think, next to the JW Marriott being built. But what really struck me was some of the workforce, some of the folks, few guys and girls down there taking pictures of the building, their work, and you could see the pride in what they were doing. It was exciting. And the other thing that I love because of the adoption of technology is how much smaller a footprint in staging in things there is to get these buildings in place. You know what I mean? We are now adopting technology to a point that you can see.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, they’re building them in tighter quarters. Again, I mean, there is a lot of regulation, there are a lot of things with OSHA, and with the EPA, other organizations that are in place to help make sure that we’re doing things not only safely, but responsibly as far as the environment goes. So, I like to see those things too. I think it’s important that we’re aware of the environment around us, and that we take that into account, but I know, just like you, looking at that Music City Center, the Nashville Convention Center, I mean, there was this on the ceiling like it’s a fretboard of a guitar, and I’m looking at these chains that are hung from a ceiling.

Mike Merrill:

They had to be a hundred feet tall that look like guitar strings, but they’re twisted in an artistic fashion. And I’m seeing the architecture, not just the construction, but the way that they design. And the inside of the buildings even decorated. And it is just an amazing place to be, and to behold, and to know that a lot of those folks that were there at NECA they’re doing projects like these all over the place. And I just love to see blue collar guys win and do well and do things that are notable and inspiring, because I think they work really hard, and I think they deserve more credit than maybe we often give them as a society. And those are my people. I’m cut from that same cloth.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. And Mike, we started you said something that resonated with me when we talked about… You made a comment about, construction is a perceived industry lagging in technology. I think we’d all agree that’s generally, I’ve spent 36 years now in the construction technology space and the joke always was they’ll buy a backhoe before they invest in software, right? But on observation, I’d love your opinion on this from your senior expertise level, I’m seeing that kind of a paradigm shift there.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

And I think part of it might be the millennials and the younger folks now entering our industry because 10, 20 years ago I would meet with a wall of resistance when talking about our technology might help a new potential company, but now I’m almost was pushed on the technology side by the next generation, “Hey, if I can’t do it all on this device I don’t want it,” or, “If I can’t find it on YouTube it’s probably not worth looking at.” What’s your thoughts on how that entry into our industry of the next generation millennials and so forth, maybe Gen Z, I don’t know, has affected our adoption of technology. Any thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, I think we have a lot of work yet to do. I still feel like… I mean, you mentioned at NECA, we had a booth there. We talked to about 350 different individuals in the electrical space, and we asked certain questions and we try and learn and understand what’s going on in their business and what things are important. And we figure it was somewhere nearly 60% of the companies and the people that we talked with are still on paper or spreadsheets to collect time and labor and production, and some of their project management initiatives. And so, I still think we’ve got more than half of the industry that is behind, but at the same time, we have other companies that are really digging deep into technology.

Mike Merrill:

They have drones, they have robots, they’re using BIM, right? They’re doing all of these things that we talk about and that we see and that we kind of preach about every day, and they’re doing them really well. I mean, they’re employing IT staff. Some of them have software engineers on staff to help plug in and integrate their multiple systems that they’re running and managing. So, I think there’s a disparity. I think companies that aren’t on that technology train are late to the party. I think it’s going to get tougher for them to compete in the industry. And right now the getting’s good everywhere. I mean, we heard that a lot too. But I think those days are numbered of companies saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m just going to stick with my paper.”

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Right. Right. Very good thoughts on that. And it kind of leads me to this next thought, what are your thoughts on how the pandemic… I know the pandemic has given us kind of a quick shove, I’ll call it, into remote workforces. And we also have a labor shortage in general, which you touched on, how is technology helping companies do more with less? Less people in a sense. I think I see some companies, maybe they’re reluctantly doing it, but they almost find that their best avenue to success is tech technology, because they can’t just hire more bodies like they used to maybe in the past.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Well, I would say, I mean, this is your wheelhouse really, but BI, and dashboarding, and data that is at people’s fingertips, even in the field that they didn’t have before without physically talking to somebody or visiting the site in person. I think that collaboration opportunity is better than ever. And I think the pandemic has forced companies to get used to working remotely, not only on a construction project, but actually collaborating, getting on teams meetings, and Zoom meetings, and conference calls, video calls, video chats. I know, for us, I mean, we’ve been doing that for 15 plus years to do presentations remotely. And even five years ago even large companies would struggle to get on those meetings. They weren’t fluid or fluent or able to successfully navigate those with ease.

Mike Merrill:

And now, I mean, people are going to church through Zoom, taking Zumba classes, or whatever it is. I mean, it’s all remote. So I think the pandemic has forced the construction industry to not only embrace, but depend on these technologies. So I’d say that’s a positive silver lining that’s come and kind of raised from the ashes of some of this really tragic and terrible stuff that’s going on. So I think if we can learn to fail forward and use these tools that seem to feel new to a lot of companies to our advantage, and rather than resist, lean into this technology opportunity that exists, because it’s everywhere you look, and construction’s just kind of a little bit lasted the dinner party on a lot of fronts with that.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yep. And quick comment on that and then I’ve got another question for you. Surprise, surprise. But if we can deliver to the field, when you mentioned data and business intelligence, what comes to my mind is arming the field with, what I like to call the three Ds, access to data, dialogue, and documents. If they can see their data, the corresponding dialogue around that data, or collaboration if you will, and then the documents to back up that data, invoices, POs, things like that. If they have that at their fingertips, it’s just… Well, and they can be much more impactful and immediate decision making to correct something before it’s too late. But two, they don’t have to run back to the office as you alluded to. And the technology’s there today to do it, finally, which leads to my next question. You can certainly comment on that and then answer this question. So here we go. What has surprised you the most about the adoption of mobile technology and construction up to now?

Mike Merrill:

I would say really there’s two parts to that. Number one, I’m surprised at how well some companies are doing with it. I’m not necessarily surprised at the ROI and the money they’re saving and making, the profitability they’re realizing, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see that they’re acknowledging the benefit. And that the companies that that get it and that really understand it, and work through the challenge, that depth where it gets really difficult and hard, and it would be easy to just shrink back to old habits and go back to the status quo, but they lean into it, and they say, “No, we’re going to get through this. We’re figure it out. We’re going to get this in place, because we believe it’s important.”

Mike Merrill:

Once they get to the sunny side of that hill they’re always so grateful and so excited about this whole new world of opportunity that they now have, because they’ve recognized that they are so much more fish than they ever could have been with those old methods. So that’s pleasantly surprising. On the opposite side, I am still shocked when you talk to a thousand or 2000 employee company that truly has paper reports and Excel spreadsheets, and is still emailing and communicating through old methods to build these projects. I mean, they’re doing a great job. Some of these companies are doing hundreds of millions or even over a billion dollars a year in revenue, and yet some their processes are still on paper or in spreadsheets. So that still surprises me that they haven’t just made that switch.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Me as well. I mean, Mike, I’ve spoken to one or two of actually your clients using your technologies. And what I love is as resistant as they may have been to adopt it initially. When I asked the loaded question, “Hey, let’s say we had to remove that, you’re going to go back to your paper process, you’re not taking away my mobile device now, you’re not taking away my technology.” And once they adopt it, they become, let’s say dependent, but it improves their process and improves their job. They don’t want to take it away. It’s just getting over that initial discomfort to adopt it, I think.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and to our point earlier, and something I touched on as well, this new generation that’s coming out of college, they’re not going to know what to do with these old school systems. I mean, at least a Google Sheets, collaborative and live, I mean, it’s still not where I need the data, and I need it to speak to other systems, and we need integration, that’s a key thing in everything that we’re doing, but I just think that the rising generation and then the baby boomers that are outgoing, I think that that tide is turning. And the sooner companies can recognize that and enjoy the goodness that there is to be had, the better off they’re not only going to be financially just from a P&L standpoint, but actually the culture and the thriving, growing, excited, just innovative spirit of that company will be more attractive to these young kids that grew up with an iPhone in their hand.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

No question. They’re totally dependent. I keep pointing it out, but my kids would never let me forget it. We have six of them. So believe me, I know. But in spreadsheets you mentioned, and I remember or recall one instance where the project manager had a spreadsheet, showed it to me, and was so proud of it. “Look at the pie chart of my spreadsheet. Look at how made it was.” It was impressive. But I asked a question, and maybe I shouldn’t have, but I said, “How do you know that cost number is accurate? What does it come from?” “I don’t really know.” “Well, that’s something we should talk about, right? That’s something we should fix.” As we know, Excel’s a great tool for interacting with some data, but it’s not a great silo database in of itself. I mean, I’m sure you would agree. Any thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, I think the biggest thing is, we live in a real-time world. I mean, Amazon Prime and on demand. I mean, my family, we watch half of our movies at home now that are new releases, sometimes pre-releases. You can get the Disney stuff at home before it hits the theater. So, we’re used to that type of world everywhere else we go in our day-to-day life, why in the world would we take our business that’s the heart and soul of our income and how we provide for our families and our employees, families? And why in the world would we go backwards in how we’re managing our affairs there when we would never do that in life?

Mike Merrill:

The paper’s dead. It’s not alive, it’s not growing, it’s not shareable without physically handing it to somebody. And in this virtual real-time world we’ve got to move forward, and I think the building trades are catching onto that like never before. It’s really exciting to see. I think it’s only going to help us get more efficient. Again, not only safer, not only faster, not only more profitably, but it’s just a better way to do things.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Agreed. Thank you, Mike. That’s great answer. And we’ve both been longtime, I think servants, to some respects, industry professionals in construction. We both have a passion for helping contractors just get better and improve. And there’s so much technology today to help do that. And the other comment, Mike, I’ll make, and I’d love your thoughts on is the price points. It’s no longer just the purview of big boy any longer, the price points continue to come down, cloud access, mobile access. So small contractors, and how you define small is an opinion, but almost any contractor who operate that way can leverage these technologies now. And what are your thoughts? Would you agree? What are your thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I had this conversation dozens of times at that NECA event just this week actually. Two days ago, I was there on the trade show floor and I continued to have really good discussions with companies that had 10 or 15 or 20 employees. And they were pleasantly surprised to hear this same system that we’re talking about, the same mobile technology that you can have for cheap, because you don’t need a lot of access or licenses or data, you can have the same data that this 6,000 employee company is using, the same tools. And so, you’re never going to bump your head on that ceiling. You could just expand and grow, right? To your heart’s content and you’re never going to outgrow that system. So, that wasn’t the case 10, 15, 20 years ago.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Right. Right.

Mike Merrill:

Implementations might cost a company 30, 40, 50 grand to even get a system in place of any size. And so, today, when you can be set up, really on your own possibly, in 30 minutes and ready to go, I mean, that’s just nuts, but it’s there, it’s available, it’s possible, and you can take advantage of it even if you got 10 employees.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

So Mike, would you agree? We could almost summarize and say that unlike 10 years ago, today, both cost and technical complexity, I’ll call it, should no longer be a barrier to entry into using tools that are available today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, most systems have a more modern UI or user interface that there’s a lot of self-serving options. There’s default settings, maybe different systems offer different tiers possibly of capability, and if not… I mean, in our particular case it’s the same system. So we’ve just automate a lot of those things. And then, YouTube videos, and training, and the Zoom stuff, all these things that have happened you don’t have to send three guys on an airplane for a week, and feed them, and pay for them to overtime, and they’re away from their families, and charge a couple hundred bucks an hour or more for every guy.

Mike Merrill:

And that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. You can pay those people to train you from their office remotely. And even if the hourly rate is the same, they don’t have to jump on an airplane and incur all those other expenses in order to get you the same benefit, maybe even better. They’re more efficient when all those tools are at their fingertips and when they can do things remotely. So, I can’t see any side of this that isn’t so much better than it was even five years ago at this point.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, one thing I’ve always appreciated with you, and you just did it again by the way. We talk about business efficiencies, cost savings, but you always bring it back to people, and the people of the most important thing away from their families, you said a few times. So, how technology can also help the lifestyle and the culture, as we started with, of our people, it’s always been top of mind for you and I’ve always appreciated it. So thank you for mentioning that again.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, thanks for pointing that out. And I know you feel the same way. And a lot of the folks that we call collaborate with and work within the industry, especially from the technology side, a lot of us understand that. And I think software just makes your life better. Good software, good systems just improve your experience. And this is really no different. And I think an improved experience makes better happier people.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And with the technology adoption, I said this to nick it to somebody I was speaking with. I don’t know how to use these systems, so I asked him, “Do you have a cell phone?” Yes, he has an iPhone. I think it was an iPhone or may have been an Android, but he pulls out his iPhone, I said, “Do you text on it?” “Yeah, I text the kids.” “Okay. All right, they text you. Do you use LinkedIn?” “Yes.” “Do you ever Google or anything?” “Yes.” “You have more technical proficiency than you realize to adopt these tools. You are already happily there. Bravo, let’s move forward.” Would you agree with that? I’m just kind of curious.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think, again, if you look at anybody’s phone, I mean, I’ve read and heard and seen all kinds of different studies. The average company is using between five and nine applications to run their business on their phones. I know personally people usually have four to five times that. I mean, a lot of people have over 50 apps on their phone. You might have 12 or 16 or nine, whatever the number is on your home screen. And every one of those are an app. You’re logging into your bank account or checking your Gmail. They’re all applications. So, it’s the same stuff just for a little bit different purpose and it’s more related to business.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Exactly. Yep, exactly right. Well, onto another question. Let’s pretend for a moment you have a crystal ball and we’re going to do a lightning round. So, are you ready? What are your predictions for, the first one, supply chain improvements? Go.

Mike Merrill:

I think we’re going to see a lot more automation. I think systems are going to… They’re already doing it. They’re auto ordering when inventory levels are low. I think mobile technologies are getting better for controls to be put in place to continue to recognize when you’re running short or when you need more of something. And I think the ability to get those from a supplier and the ability this supplier to get those from their supplier will continue to improve and increase just like Amazon over the U.S. mail service. I think everything is going that way. And so, I’m excited about those improvements, because as we’ve all seen, there’s been major disruptions for all types of other reasons in society with everything going on and it’s making us figure this stuff out. So I think having it really, really broken like it’s been, ultimately, will be a blessing in disguise one day because it’s just forcing us to figure it out sooner.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You know what? I agree with you. Out of every adversity or challenge there can be something that good that will come from it. And one, I mentioned to a client, probably a month or so ago, walked into their big conference room, and prior to the pandemic, for example, their conference meetings were the speaker phone they had in the middle of the table and that was it. Now there’s screens and cameras, because they’re doing Zoom meetings everywhere. Technology adoption right before eyes. Okay, next one here, wearable technologies. What do you think?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, we’ve had guests on the podcast that talk about… Amy Pierce was just on, she’s an incredible technology expert. Her episode, I think comes out next week. Keynote speaker, a really, really sharp girl. And she talked a lot about that, wearables, hard hats, helmets that are reading heart rate and pulse, and can actually detect fall detection. And if somebody’s struggling or staggering, I mean, really it’s BI for the boy. It’s just like my-

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s measuring heart rates, and blood pressures.

Mike Merrill:

Your pulse, if you’re overly stressed. I wear a Garmin fenix 5 watch for my trail runs, it’s doing my heart rate, it’s doing my BMI, it’s measuring everything about my physical health.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I don’t know if I like it though when the phone tells me time to stand up and walk around, but it is a good thing, it is a good thing. And wearable technologies are certainly making a splash into our industry big time which is exciting. Another topic, highly interesting one, diversity on the job site.

Mike Merrill:

I think this is more important than ever. I think we really need to redefine to a degree what the role that we’re looking to fill looks like right now. Again, a lot of us may have this stereotypical thing in mind when you’re thinking of an electrician or a plumber, and that could be anybody. Man, woman, young man, young woman, it doesn’t matter their ethnicity or anything else. These role can be filled by anybody who has a desire. I actually, interesting point, we found a really cool ladder system that was exhibiting right next to us. And these ladders are actually they’re made of Kevlar.

Mike Merrill:

So they’re actually shock resistant, and they’ve got a ladder that goes like 16 plus feet tall that weighs like 29 pounds and can hold 400 pounds on it. And the vendor was telling me that one of the largest solar installers in the United States is now employing over 50% of their field installers as women, and it’s because they can carry this ladder now. And so, that’s an innovation. It’s not software, but it is technology. It is innovation, and it is allowing for women to enter a workforce that was a struggle before, because of the size of their frame or their strength they had a harder time carrying those big ladders that they would need to get up on those roofs. And that’s not a problem anymore because somebody solved it. So I love that.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, and as a side benefit, you say Kevlar, I can’t help but mention it may be bulletproof too. I guess is always a good thing.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s right.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

GPS technology. That’s permeating everywhere now, even in data analytics, which I’ll mention, but what are your thoughts on how that’s impacting our industry?

Mike Merrill:

I think it’s revolutionized so many aspects, and not just finding the job anymore, but how we do it. I mean, the system knows already where the job is. The office knows where the staff and the personnel are in relation to the job. If there’s a question or a safety issue or a challenge, or a problem, they’ve got data analytics and dashboards to view who to reach out to, who’s physically closest to that site, or who’s actually in proximity of that issue. So I think just that visibility, not just for navigation, but visibility of where our resources are at, whether that be equipment, tools, employees, where a form was completed, where a picture was taken, just validating, I think having that data in a litigation or lawsuit or some type of a liability situation with OSHA or with workers comp it’s just allowing the truth to be known more readily by more people. And so we can get to the facts quicker and get back to building things and improving safety.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Or say the facts are friendly. So I think you’re right about that. This one’s exciting to me too, they all are, but I saw this at Future-tech, robotics and drones. And when I say robotics, Mike, the vests that make you stronger, almost helps you lift the weights or hold the drill. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, I’m sure you have, but what are your thoughts on how that’s impacting our industry?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s amazing. And we talk about making the ladder lighter. Well, how about making the vest assist in the lifting and making you stronger? I mean, it’s a real thing. That’s commercially available today. I saw a dog-looking robot at the Trimble booth at NECA this week. I was talking to one of the folks at Trimble, Rocco Bognet, and we were talking about how much more safely certain tasks in construction could be done because now a robot can do what a human previously would’ve had to do. If there’re fumes, or if there’s a temperature issue, now we can send a robot in.

Mike Merrill:

Drones, I mean, that’s a whole other level. If you’re in the roofing industry, even as an estimator, you don’t have to pull that heavy ladder out anymore. You can sit there from the comfort of your car, on the street, parked safely at the curb, and get every measurement, every view that you need, and there are a few hundred bucks. And now there’s a new opportunity for a drone pilot, and it doesn’t matter their age, or their gender, or their skin color. They can fly a drone, why? Because they’re using mobile apps, right? They’re using Snapchat so they can fly a drone.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Like one of our kids is a weasel with Xbox, I tell him, “Hey, maybe you could have a career in flying a drone or something. Let’s work on that.” So, I think you’re right on.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I don’t mean to undermine that that is a skill.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Oh, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Flying a drone is a lot harder than being on Snapchat, but the point is, is that that same tool that you’re using to get on Snapchat now, that mobile phone, that device, could enable you to fly that drone. And you could get a certification. You could get an opportunity to be an intern somewhere and actually have a career in something that maybe you’re not ever going to really a true helicopter pilot, but you could certainly fly a drone and provide a value. And again, it’s a safety measure, it’s an efficiency tool, it’s a fuel savings. How much greener is charging the drone battery versus the fuel that it takes for an organization to dispatch and deploy a force of people to go do those multiple jobs and things that somebody could do safely from the street in a drone? And maybe they were in a Tesla, or a hybrid car, or some other way that, again, we’re just leaving a greener footprint. So, I just see everything’s better with good technology.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. And drones, I mean, surveying, safety inspections. It’s back circles back to what you said in the beginning, improve safety, more inclusiveness, because anybody can have the skillset, it’s not a strength thing anymore. So, I think you’re right on there. What about construction software and the innovation path? What you think about that?

Mike Merrill:

I mean, this is a different level of discussion, but we’re seeing big money investors getting into the space, putting a lot more money in. We’re seeing that software companies there’s always consolidation, and these things go into cycles, but lots of large companies are investing in smaller businesses to expand their footprint and take advantage of their technology to then get it to more people. And so that’s allowing for additional innovation, that’s putting more money into higher developers and software engineers and innovators. And I think as more companies adopt these technologies, of course, they’re going to give better feedback and more feedback, and then that feedback’s going to produce the opportunity for those engineers to develop better systems and to streamline further.

Mike Merrill:

And we see that every day in our business. I know you do in yours. The products are getting better, they’re getting faster, they’re getting easier to use easier. That’s really the key. When you talk about innovation, it’s one thing to build a better mouse trap, but a mouse trap that everybody can use safely without getting their fingers snapped on that’s a better mouse trap, right? One that nobody gets hurt by, but it still solves the same problem. And I think technology’s able to provide a path that we can do things quicker, easier, safer, greener, more efficient. And all of that equals more profitability, less wasted money and revenue and resource. So, there’s just no reason to not find those tools. Yeah.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Sounds like win, win, win. So, last one, Mike, really quick. So, over the last 30 years in the industry we’ve seen systems get better and better. So now contractors have collected really reams and reams of information of data. I used to say if I could pick up the old server and dump it on the desk there’s probably more data than I could ever get my arms around. So, how do you see tools like Power BI, or data analytics, or leveraging that data impacting our industry, if at all? What are your thoughts?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I mean, yeah, the paper things, the easy answer is there’s no need for the paper and that’s a great first step. But more than that, without wasting time I now have visibility right at my fingertips. And digging through a report that’s 42 pages versus having a dashboard that’s shows me something in red when there’s an issue, because it knows the parameters, I can now make a decision in seconds that might have taken me hours, right? And when we do that, now we’re not in the way of the next guy either. So, everybody wins when the guy before them gets done quicker and more on time, and more properly like BIM and other things that these collision detections beforehand. I mean, all of that feeds into Power BI and it just helps us build better buildings quicker.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. Well said, Mike. Thank you. So, lastly, and you had to know this one was coming, because I know you asked all your guests these last questions. So you ready? What is the main takeaway you would like the listeners to leave with today?

Mike Merrill:

I would just say, and this is what most of our guests echo this in one form or fashion or another, but plug into technology. I mean, leverage the goodness that’s there to be had. It’s everywhere. There are opportunities for you to improve processes in just about every facet of your business. And I think prioritizing those is important, but do something, fix something, find something. It doesn’t even have to be broken. What’s something that’s a hassle? Identify that, and then look at options to improve that. And guess what? If you do 1% better every day, in a quarter you’re going to be a hundred percent improved and it’ll change your business forever, and it’ll change your culture, and it’ll change your mindset where your perspective will be different. So, lean into the goodness, adopt technology, don’t resist it, and I promise you you’ll be grateful that you did.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well said, Mike. Thank you. Next one, what’s something you’re grateful for in your professional life?

Mike Merrill:

I honestly just feel so blessed to work with so many incredible people. I love the technology for construction industry. I love the construction industry. It’s the heart and soul of what makes America the most amazing country in the world, in my opinion, but also the world. The world is tied to the heartbeat of our buildings and construction and growth. We all live, or work, or eat food at night in restaurants that somebody built, somebody wired, somebody plumbed, somebody poured the concrete on. It just touches every aspect of our life. So I’m just thankful to work many great people that make all that happen.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Excellent. Thank you, Mike. Last one, what skill have you developed that you would say, quote, has become your superpower, end quote?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I think if I had to boil it down to one word, I would say positivity. I think it’s a gift that I was born with to try and look on that bright side and find it, and if I can’t find it, work to create it. And I think it goes back to people really. I think my love for people and learning about them, listening to them, trying to see I can be helpful to them, maybe being mentored by them. I mean, something that I’ve really learned in my later years to enjoy is what could I learn from this kid? Or what can I learn from this elderly person? I don’t think that when I was younger I recognized how much I could learn from others. And so, I think just leaning positive on all of the good things that are going on around me, despite all of the craziness and the things that are depressing and difficult.

Mike Merrill:

I don’t like turning the news on anymore. I used to watch the news every night like my parents did, and their parents did. I get what I need from the sources that I choose, but generally, there’s a lot going on, I try and stay plugged into it, but I’m focused on controlling this world that’s around me and those that I love and those that I work with every day. And so I think just remaining positive and trying to help create an environment where not only myself can be optimistic and happy, but I can bring that optimism. And that happiness to others is really what it just feels like that’s what I’m here to do, and it makes me excited that I get to live in such a wonderful time, despite the craziness that we have all these great things that are exciting to enjoy in life. Good time to be alive.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, I’ve always said it, you are just a quality human being, simply put. A professional, I appreciate it. It’s been my honor, honestly, to have this dialogue with you on the podcast today. In today’s world, my handshakes are more virtual, so I’m going to give you a virtual handshake. Great job. Anything else you’d like to say for the listeners before we depart?

Mike Merrill:

No, just thank you for listening, and thank you for plugging into the conversations we’re having. Love to hear your feedback. Who else do you want us to bring on? What do you want us to talk about? What’s not being discussed that should be? And what are you loving that we are talking about that we need you to do a little bit more of? And that would be really awesome if we could just get your feedback and continue to have your support, sharing the episode, giving us those ratings and reviews, and just lock arms with us and we’ll continue to try and bring this value to you free of charge.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Folks, you heard it straight from the man himself. You have ideas you think would be good for the podcast, you’d like to be involved, send it on in. I think Mike would love to hear it. So, Mike, thank you. And thank you listeners for today, and everybody have a great day. Take care.