Category Archives: Podcast Full Articles

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

Construction Workforce Development, Culture and Safety Ensures Job Site Success 

A construction company’s success begins with the successes of its individual employees. And according to Dan Clark, motivational speaker and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development, that individual’s success must be channeled through everyone in the company –– from the very top to the very bottom. The result? An engaged and improved workforce, and a culture of excellence and safety. 

In a special episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, host Mike Merrill welcomes Dan. They intended to talk about construction safety but what they really talked about was life. More specifically, they discussed how companies can support their teams, celebrate their successes and help everyone become the best versions of themselves.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t compete with others – compete with yourself. Competing with yourself requires a couple trains of thought. First, it’s understanding that people don’t see things for what they are, they see things for how they are in the present (perspective). Second is a person knowing the difference between what they do and what they are. It’s very conceptual but once an individual is able to distinguish their personal beliefs from reality, they can become the best version of themselves. A person who takes accountability for themselves (self-mastery) can have a rippling effect on their coworkers, which can have a positive effect on workplace culture.  
  2. A culture of excellence starts with the law of attraction. Clark’s definition of the law of attraction states that people don’t attract based on who they want, they attract based on who they are. Clark further explains that an individual becomes the average of the five people they associate with the most. Combined with the mindset of employees striving to be the version of themselves, companies in the construction industry will have a better time recruiting ideal candidates to come work for them (because extraordinary employees attract extraordinary candidates). 
  3. Trust and integrity improve safety. Trust is the heart and soul of safety culture, so companies should build cultures that support that. In addition, maintaining trust over the long term requires integrity from the employees. This commitment to service before self will lead to a sustainable source of trust within the company, which will create a culture of excellence.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Today we are sitting down with a wonderful guest, Mr. Dan Clark. Dan is the founder and CEO of The Art of Significance Leadership Development Company. Over the years, Dan has spoken in all 50 states, 71 countries, six continents, to millions of people everywhere. He’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, Super Bowl champions, NASA, MDRT, I think that’s Million Dollar Round Table, is that right, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

I had to look that one up. The United Nations. He’s been on multiple military tribute tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa. Dan has also appeared on Larry King Live, and even Oprah. That’s a big one. Aside from all of those wonderful things, Dan does a lot of other stuff that we’re going to talk about today. And we just wanted to welcome you on the show today, Dan.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, Mike, you’re my hero. As I travel and speak, it’s fun to see Mike’s company illuminated as one of the most important vendors in the room, suppliers, if you will. And to hear your reputation behind your back, I think that’s pretty cool. So, it’s an honor for me to be here. And in our stages in life, is not about time management, it’s about energy management. And you and I have so many other choices to take our time and our attention today, and we’ve decided to spend it together, so I honor you and thank you so much. I am excited to talk to you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, Dan, I’m really looking forward to it as well. A couple of Dan’s favorite topics, believe it or not, are actually workforce development, safety and culture. That’s what we want to talk about today and how those relate to construction leadership. What can you tell us about that, Dan?

 

Dan Clark:

Probably the most important place to start in any discussion as parents, as coaches of sports teams, as family owned business, leaders, and as leaders of Fortune 500 companies, we all have the same formula in which, or on which, we can create our culture, and it never fluctuates. Every culture is created between the strongest belief, the highest expectation, and the best behavior that the leader lives by, and the weakest belief, the lowest expectation, and the worst behavior that the leader tolerates.

 

Dan Clark:

The two operative words are belief and tolerate. And when we can shrink the distance between what we believe, what’s our strongest belief, what’s our highest expectation, what’s our best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, when we shrink the distance between them, we create what I call a culture of significant partner leaders. And then here’s the kicker, where self mastery is permanent. We’re not the best version of ourselves because it’s expected by somebody else. We are becoming better today than we were yesterday, the only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday, we’re not competing or comparing ourselves with anyone else.

 

Dan Clark:

And in a safety construct, well, “He’s not wearing his goggles,” or, “he didn’t follow that protocol.” We’re always rationalizing ourselves out of peak performance because we’re comparing. So we need self mastery to be permanent, and winning to be personal, so that leadership is automatic. We’re not just safe because I said so, we’re not just going through the motions because some leader or manager’s in our presence, we’re not trying to be a good kid just because dad is looking over our shoulder. We’re not keeping the speed limit and obeying the law because there’s a police officer in our rearview mirror, we’re actually taking personal responsibility to become the best version of ourselves.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore leadership is automatic, where we lead with and without a title, especially when in the building trades in the construction business, in the oil and gas, in the mining, where you actually have to hire contractors outside of your corporate culture. And in that day worker, in that organized laborer who shows up as a member of a wonderful union, you have to get them to buy into your culture of safety, you have to get them to buy into your culture of trust and peak performance, or you’ll never be able to rise to the occasion to have the quality control that whoever’s paying the bill expects of us.

 

Dan Clark:

Again, Peter Drucker said, “Once you get the culture right, the rest of the stuff takes care of itself.” I thought that would be a perfect formula and foundation to lay as the beginning point for the rest of our discussion here, Michael, I hope that makes sense. And we can dissect that a little bit more or whatever other questions you want to ask about culture. Because when it boils down to what you’re not willing to tolerate, it’s easier to get people to understand that, and we’re going to elevate that. You can’t come late, there’s no vulgarity, there’s no sexism, there’s no racism, there’s no bigotry or discrimination. Diversity, equity and inclusion become just part of our culture, is not a new conversation we have to have every day. We start elevating what we’re not willing to tolerate, everybody agrees on that, and the rest of the culture, and the rest of the stuff, the motivation, the peak performance, the personal accountability takes care of itself.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love everything that you’re saying there about the accountability as the individual. And I heard you speak at a AGC safety conference recently. And one of my takeaways was, how critical it is that as individuals, people are making these decisions, that they want to be safe because it’s the right thing to do.

 

Dan Clark:

And it boils down to reputation, the transference of trust. If we’re only going through the motions of peak performance, and increasing our personal productivity, and being safe, when the manager, when the leader, when the safety suite, excuse me, the safety officer in our organizations is around, as soon as they leave, everybody knows if they can trust us or not. And when we lose trust, we lose everything.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me ask your listeners, what are people saying behind your back? Illustrates, a army sergeant phones up the commissary and a young private answers the phone. The sergeant says, “Tell me what we got.” Private says, “We have 1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “What?” Private says, “1,500 rifles, 10 tanks and one fat-headed sergeant’s Jeep.” Sergeant says, “Do you know who this is?” Private says, “Nope.” Sergeant says, “This is the sergeant.” Private says, “Whoa. Do you know who this is?” Sergeant says, “No.” He says, “Good. Bye bye fat head.”

 

Dan Clark:

We have to answer, what do people say behind our back, and realize we can’t control that. And when we understand it’s indelibly tied to trust, we will go out of our way to never violate someone’s trust. And that’s the heart and soul of culture, that’s the heart and soul of the safety culture, that’s the heart and soul of peak performance.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think, to your point, this really goes back to leadership of the company, those that are in charge, the management, they’ve got to emulate that first, and I think the employees then can follow suit and be in line right behind them. Is that right?

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. Because the purpose of a leader is to grow more leaders who believe what you believe, not generate more followers. And so as I’ve spoken all these 6,000 speeches and 71 countries, I take a lot of pride in interviewing the CEOs, the leaders of all these organizations, including the military commanders. I just got through speaking at the Pacific Air Force Commanders Conference in Hawaii. And all of these CEOs and the highest level leaders, tell us that the toughest challenge that they have is getting everybody in the organization to care as much about the organization as they do.

 

Dan Clark:

And therefore it begins by saying, what do you believe? Here’s our expectation, here’s our expected behavior, but as you said, I’d rather see a sermon preached in here when any day I’d rather you walk with me than merely point the way. It’s not enough for us to just practice what we preach, we must preach only what we practice, which illuminates the real definition of the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want Michael, we attract who we are. We attract what we believe we deserve in employees, in friendships, in a spouse, in a significant other, in an income, in a job title, in a holiday, in a home, in a neighborhood. And we attract individuals into our lives, who will help us make that a reality. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most.

 

Dan Clark:

I believe that in my travels, we actually become the average of the five people we associate with the most when it comes to workforce development, and trying to recruit more people into the building industries, more young men and young women to find out what a noble profession it is. You build things, you create communities, you organize the environments wherein we create our memories, you are the most noble profession on the planet.

 

Dan Clark:

Oil and Gas, construction, mining, everything goes into the construction construct, if you will, meaning you’re providing a way for us to build the infrastructure of our lives so that we can become the full measure of ourselves and make our dreams come true. I honor everyone who’s in this podcast. But when it comes to workforce development, we can’t think we can recruit people into the building industries, we have to attract them. We become the average of the five people we associate with the most. If you hang around with five broke people, you’re going to become the sixth. If you hang around with… When you when you put a hard-to-catch horse in the same field with an easy-to-catch horse, most of the time you end up with two hard-to-catch horses.

 

Dan Clark:

When you put a healthy child in the same room with a sick child, most of the time, you end up with two sick children. Moral of the story, to be disciplined, healthy and significant, we must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to associate with extraordinary human beings, we have to attract extraordinary human beings. And in order for us to attract these extraordinary human beings, we must first be an extraordinary human being.

 

Dan Clark:

Let me step on some toes. If every time I go to a construction site and all I hear are vulgar, sexist jokes, I’m never going to want to work there, and I’m never going to want to hang out with these folks because they don’t think like I think or believe what I believe. If that’s the culture, what we’re going to attract are people who enjoy bigotry, sexism, racism, bad jokes, horrible language, and all of the above. And I don’t want you to think I’m a prude. I’m not trying to be self righteous, I’m just making a point that when we build our dream home, when we had our house-warming party when it was finally completed, every individual who worked on our home, the gajillion folks who put on our roof, who spoke broken English, if I can just be graphic, and the framers, and the plumber, and the electrician, these guys from the unions, and the general contractor, the individual came in and poured concrete, we were so amazed at the high quality of human being that they were who just happened to be in the building trades, who just happened to be an extraordinary finished carpenter in my beautiful cherry wood library.

 

Dan Clark:

So we don’t have to settle. What are you not willing to tolerate? And in this high competitive world in which we live, especially trying to attract people into the building industries, why not put out that good, clean, pure, powerful, positive culture that says, “Wait a minute, we’re different. And when you work with us, you actually leave the workplace saying, ‘I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.’” You actually leave the construction site, you actually leave the mine saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” Which immediately converts over to our personal lives, our wives, our significant others, our husbands.

 

Dan Clark:

We walk in the door and instead of saying, “Hey, give me a beer, leave me alone, I got to decompress for an hour, turn on the TV.” Instead of as kicking the dog, the ones we walk in the house, instead of us hating our job, we actually love our jobs because it’s helping us become the best version of ourselves. When we walk in the door we’re more loving, we’re more understanding, we’re calm so we listen, “How is your day, sweetheart? Come here, little buddy, hop up on my lap, tell dad how school was today.”

 

Dan Clark:

We get ourselves in a mindset where we want to never ever miss one of our kid’s games, never miss a school concert, a dance recital. Where our lives becomes so fulfilling because we’ve set a higher standard of performance based on our belief. I’m telling you what, it’s so critically important that we understand when it comes to culture creation, there are certain things we cannot control, so don’t worry about them. But we can focus on what we can control.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me give you an example. We have four children, one son, three daughters. And as our children became teenagers, we realized that all of their friends were being raised by parents in a different way than we were raising our children. In a perfect utopian world, wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a parent’s meeting where every one of the parents of our children’s friends came together in the same place, and we agreed on how we were going to raise our children.

 

Dan Clark:

This belief, highest expectation, best behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate, but it’s never going to happen, that’s a pipe dream. We can’t control what happens outside of our home, but we can control what happens in our home, when we proactively and on purpose create a culture of excellence, where when anyone walks through our doors, they know our expectation and they know our belief, and we’re not prudes, we’re not self righteous. We’re not saying, “Hey, we’re better than you.” When someone walks in our door, when our children’s friends came in our door as teenagers and young adults in college, immediately they knew they were 100% welcome. They immediately knew non judgmental friendship, unconditional love.

 

Dan Clark:

We don’t care if you have a purple mohawk on the side of your head. Everybody knew there was no racism, no bigotry, no sexism. Our expectation was kindness, honor, respect. We celebrated the social graces, Mike, please and thank you. When someone say, “Hey, give me that,” say, “Hey, what’s the magic word?” “Now.” No, no, not yet. Obviously, we celebrated please and thank you. And what did we not tolerate? Bad language, sexist jokes. No one smoked in our home, no one drank in our home, we said no. What you do outside of our home is your own business.

 

Dan Clark:

But we understand what we can control, and we are inviting everyone to come into our home and live by a higher standard of performance. Especially when you have three teenage daughters, and the tendency is to gossip or bad mouth. And we tolerated absolutely no gossip, we tolerated absolutely no drama in our homes. And one time I went downstairs to deliver some snacks and some drinks to my daughter’s and all of her friends and I interrupted a conversation where they were actually gossiping and bad mouthing two girls who were not in our home that day. What a perfect teaching moment.

 

Dan Clark:

I said, “Ladies, remember, we don’t have any drama. Remember, we are loyal to those who are not present. If you’re talking about some somebody who’s not in our home, the second you leave today, you’re going to worry and wonder about what people are saying behind your back about you, and that violates trust.” And we know that leadership and management and coaching and parenting is the transference of trust. It’s such a key ingredient to develop in this culture. And my whole point, Mike, is that now after all these years with our children being adults, we will run into their friends in Costco, we will see them at a ballgame, and they always make a comment of how safe they felt in our home, how special we made them feel, and how exciting they were to come into our positive environment, especially when they were coming from perhaps a dysfunctional family, or a negative situation, where they were not honored as incredible human beings.

 

Dan Clark:

So, creating a culture of excellence is such a vitally important part of the law of attraction, of taking our performance and our profitability and our organizations to the next level. And remembering that you can’t coach results, you can only coach behavior. You can’t say to somebody, “Be safe.” What the heck does that mean? As parents we can’t say to our children, “You ought to make responsible decisions.” What the heck does that mean? A coach can’t say to his players, “Go out and win the game.” Once the game starts, the coach is stuck on the sideline and he can’t do anything about it. Somebody on the field, somebody on the floor, has to make a play.

 

Dan Clark:

Now, we equate that to the job site in any aspect of the building industries or the construction industry, in the mine, an oil and gas rig, it does not matter, we need to take personal responsibility, make winning personal, and then again say, the only person, again, believe, the only person we need to be better than is the person I was yesterday. And when I start taking care of myself through the law of attraction, it’s amazing how others around me feel better about themselves, and together we rise.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. I love so much of what you said. And in my mind, the word integrity just kept coming up. I kept thinking, “This feels like, sounds like, smells like integrity.” What can you tell us about integrity?

 

Dan Clark:

Integrity is something that it’s the most important… If you made a list of 10 core values and integrity was the first, if you don’t have integrity, the other nine don’t matter. It’s that incredible. It’s the old-school my word is my bond, my handshake. We don’t need a written contract, even though the attorneys forces to do that. That when we go into a bank for a loan, there’s the five C’s, I’m only going to talk about character and competence.

 

Dan Clark:

Competence is your ability to pay. Obviously, one of the C’s is collateral. But the two most important are competence and character. Competence is your ability to pay the loan, but more importantly, character is your willingness to pay back the loan. And without those two, if I’m a banker, I won’t give you any money. And so that ties directly into integrity. Who are you when no one’s around? And that’s a safety message, that’s a personal achievement, personal greatness message.

 

Dan Clark:

Think about it in terms of this story. I’m flying on Delta Airlines, 757 jet, from San Diego, California, cross country to Tampa Bay, Florida. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour flight. 757 jet has 24 first class seats, I always get a window seat. All 24 seats in first class are occupied. And we’re now airborne for about an hour and a half of the five-and-a-half-hour flight, I’m on my 16th Diet Coke, and I need a comfort break, I need to go to the bathroom.

 

Dan Clark:

I excuse myself from my window seat there in first class, and I go to the front of the plane, and we’ve all seen the bathrooms on an airplane. With the high cost of tickets, don’t you think they ought to splurge for a little bigger room, is that too much to ask? The operating system of the door, it’s an accordion, you got to push in the middle, it folds in. It’s so skinny, you got to turn sideways and then you got to scoot in. And the lights don’t turn on until you lock the door. So I latch the door lock, the lights flicker on, I turn, and I’m this close to the mirror.

 

Dan Clark:

And making its way down the glass is the stinkiest, smelliest, most unidentifiable gunk you have ever seen in your life. And I automatically take into gag reflex. Water splashed from corner to corner. Used paper towels on the floor, crap everywhere. And then it occurs to the person who comes in here right after me, he’s going to think I did all this. I start cleaning up, I’m like, “Are you freaking kidding me? Oh my gosh.” I finished what I went in there to accomplish, and when I came out, I was livid, I was so freaking mad and grossed out. I’ve been raised to be a gentleman, so I didn’t say anything.

 

Dan Clark:

But to the best of my ability, I stood there in front of the other 23 first class passengers until I got eye contact with every single one of them. And to the best of my ability, I communicated, “Okay, which one of you low-budget bums trashed this bathroom, I want to rip your lips off.” It was so pathetic. I went back, “Excuse me,” I went back to my room, “Excuse me,” sat down on my chair in my seat. I’m looking out the window, fuming inside, and then I learned the lesson, you cannot buy class.

 

Dan Clark:

Because of the nature of what I do for a living as a speaker, as an entertainer, I’m invited to play golf on some of the greatest golf courses on the planet with CEOs, some of the wealthiest, most powerful CEOs on the planet, who have absolutely no character or class. They think their money and title makes them someone that they’re not. They think they’re their car, they think their house, or their job, when in reality they’re not. And for the listeners who are listening, I want you to understand the place from which I’m coming.

 

Dan Clark:

I played football for 13 years, and I was paralyzed in a tackling drill. One day in practice, the coach blew the whistle, two of us ran into each other full speed. The only parts of our bodies that made contact, Lyle’s helmet hit my helmet in a violent head on collision. My right shoulder was smashed into the cutting edge of my fiberglass pads, and we slammed to the ground. And when Lyle got off of me, my eye drooped, I had lost the speech, I couldn’t talk anymore. My right side was paralyzed, my arm dangled helplessly at my side.

 

Dan Clark:

Coach comes running over, “Clark, Clark, are you all right, what happened?” Rocasho mocasho my rah-rah. He says, “Whoa, are you from Spanish Fork, Utah?” Just kidding. He says, “You better get yourself checked.” I said, “Whoo.” A doctor that was present on the field, he came over and examined me. Pulls the coach aside, he said, “Clark’s got serious nerve damage. In fact, he might even have serious brain damage.” The coach look at him and says, “How will we ever know?” Nice guy.

 

Dan Clark:

I went back to normal, my speech came back, I could basically talk again, but my right side stayed paralyzed and my arm dangled at my side. I stayed paralyzed for 14 months. I went to 16 of the very, very best doctors in all of North America, 15 of whom told me I would never get any better. And if you ever heard that, and what happens if we believe it, you’re never going to get any better.

 

Dan Clark:

And my life hit a fast-moving downward spiral, until I hit what I thought was rock bottom, until I hit what I thought was deep depression. And now that I’ve recovered, serious questions are asked, “Clark, why did you go to so many different doctors?” Answer. I kept going from doctor to doctor until I found one who believed I would get better. We’ve gone full circle, my friends were back to the formula. Every culture is created between the strongest belief blah, blah, blah.

 

Dan Clark:

We have to understand that it’s the belief of the leader that creates the leader. It’s the belief of the leader that creates the expectation, and it’s the expectation that creates the behavior. And because you can’t coach results you can only coach behavior, we have to understand that behavior is created and sustained 100% by our belief, which brings me to the second most frequently asked question, “Clark, what took you so long to get better?” If the purpose of this podcast is to elevate people’s performance, to give us a mindset shift, a hard shift, a hard set shift, where we click off this podcast and we go be a better human being not because I said so but because you do. If that’s the real purpose, please listen in.

 

Dan Clark:

I stayed paralyzed for 14 months because I was asking the wrong questions. You see, I was asking the doctors how to get better, when I should have been asking myself ‘why’. And once we answer ‘why’, figured out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple, not easy. The heart is what makes it great. We still have to do hard things and put in the work. But when we do and focus in on the reason why our organizations exist, why am I coming to work, why should I be a better human being today than I was yesterday, why should I forgive, why should I be kind, why should I be respectful, why should I honor men and women, why should I always be the best version of myself? Once we answer why, figuring out the ‘how to’ becomes clear and simple.

 

Dan Clark:

And here’s the tragedy in corporate training. Most of the time, all we do is talk about skill set, “Can you do this? Show me that you can do this.” We go through an apprentice program. “Can you do all the things that is required to be an extraordinary electrician, an extraordinary plumber?” Can you do what is required of you to not just mix and pour the cement to the degree and the thickness and the level that we need it to be, but you have the skill set to not just smooth it out and make it a perfect patio, a perfect driveway, a perfect slab, a perfect floor for this huge warehouse or whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

But how are people leaving you, who hire you, who work side by side with you? Are you a class human being that inspires them to be a better performer, a better craftsman, a greater technician? You see, I don’t think we should just focus in on the ‘how to’ because that becomes very simple. And when we come to attracting the right people into our organizations… Do you realize the statistics right now on millennials, is that the average length of time that a millennial spends in one job is two years. And if we invest so much time and so many resources and so much money in training them up, and then they just jump ship for an extra five bucks an hour, based on how they do it. I’m going to hire you away from that company to work for me just because you’re a better-skilled worker, we’re missing the boat. They’ll never hang around, somebody will bribe them away for just a little bit more money.

 

Dan Clark:

What we want to do when we build culture, is start with the human being. And I bring this up because I stayed paralyzed for 14 months and hit rock bottom, thinking I was depressed. With suicidal thoughts, so confused like, “What a drag, my life fell apart.” And the reason why I went there, my friends, and we must talk about suicide prevention in the building trades because it’s hit an all-time high. Are you listening to me, brothers and sisters?

 

Dan Clark:

The reason why I was so confused and hit what I thought was rock bottom, is because I confused who I was with what I did. I thought I was a football player, when in reality, that’s just what I did. And when we identify ourselves in terms of what we do instead of who we are, we become a human doing instead of a human being, unacceptable significance is what we seek. My plea to the world, my plea to you on this podcast, is to itemize who you really are right now, not the motions that we go through, not the behaviors that we seem to wave as our flagship that this is who I am, no, no, no. Not what you do. Who are you, really? And this is the best story I can use to illustrate how we can answer that question.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m walking through the mall with one of my buddies. And somebody bumps into him and he spills his cup of coffee all over the floor. I said, “What happened?” He said, “I spilled my cup of coffee.” I said, “No, you didn’t.” He said, “What?” I said, “You didn’t spill your cup of coffee, you spilled what was in your cup? Had you had tea in your cup, you would have spilled tea, had you had orange juice or water in your cup, you would have spilled orange juice or water.” We can only spill what’s in our cup.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s put it into human performance. Let’s insert this whole story into culture creation. Is your culture inspiring people to become the best that they can be? And here’s how you find out. If you’re negative and the economy bumps into you, if you are negative and something that someone says, or interest rates, or competition, or a significant other, or a spouse, or something in our life bumps into you, what’s going to spill out? If you’re negative, what spills out is anger and resentment, and, “I want to fight, are you kidding me?” And trying to put somebody else down physically and emotionally, verbally, because our lives are stagnant and stuck. We have to put somebody else down, say something derogatory about someone, gossip about someone, physically hit them to try and make ourselves feel better about who we are.

 

Dan Clark:

We’re not rising, we’re stagnant and stuck, so we have to put others below us to make us feel better about who we are. Isn’t that crazy? Now that we’ve faced the brutal facts of reality, we need to do something about it. But think about this, my friends, if you’re positive, and the economy bumps into you, if you’re positive and interest rates, a significant individual, a competitor, anything in life bumps into you, bad weather, whatever the case may be and your positive, what’s going to spill out is unconditional love, forgiveness, “Don’t worry about it, man, I’ve spilled on myself before, I’ll just take my pants into the cleaners.”

 

Dan Clark:

A non judgmental friendship. Humility, the list goes on and on, of core values, which brings us to your question, integrity. You can’t buy class. What are you doing when no one’s around that makes you safe that allows you to return home safely to your family, which is what they want you to do, which they pray for the second you leave the home, in the early morning hours of that work day. It’s pretty important that we understand how all these stories and how my message all fits together when we talk about safety.

 

Dan Clark:

And let me just throw out a shout out to WorkMax. What you do, Mike, and your company, validates what I’m talking about. You give us the opportunity to increase our frequency of feedback, which allows us to not only change our behavior, but it allows us to pick the most appropriate behavior in every moment, to keep the dream alive, to keep us safe, to keep the profitability rolling, to keep the production moving, to keep the task and delivery date on time. What you do is so attractive to the world, and that’s why you’re growing your business, and that’s why everyone in this podcast, obviously needs to subscribe to you and become a customer.

 

Dan Clark:

I’m not just trying to pledge, to, I can’t even think of the word, suck up to you. This is refreshing, and that’s why I said yes to your podcast, bro, when you approached me and you told me what you did. And then when I spoke at the AGC safety conference, and you had your five or six people back in the booth, paying as an exhibitor to support the conference, we thank you for that, I was intrigued by what you do and why you do it, applies to my message to the world, and how we can fix what’s broken in our families and in our communities, in our schools, and especially in our companies, or maybe not, especially in our companies, but especially in our country, to heal America.

 

Dan Clark:

What you teach us through WorkMax is what I’m talking about, increase our frequency of feedback, so that we know when we’re not being integral, when we’ve lost our integrity, when our trust is starting to weigh, it’s starting to shift, and somebody that loves us, that cares for us, that admires and respects us because of mutual respect and support says, “Hey, Mike, I don’t think you should be doing that. Hey, Dan, your family expects you to come home safe, let’s not get complacent on the workplace. I don’t think you should climb up on that ladder all by yourself, that’s definitely unsafe, bro.” Whatever the case may be.

 

Dan Clark:

And you know what I learned through the safety conference, Mike, was intriguing. That during the pandemic, there was an organization, a company working in Las Vegas, a construction company. And they were ridiculed and threatened with a huge fine for not wearing their masks when one of their pole climbers, or electricity experts, wasn’t even strapped in. That we had lost our focus on safety, to put it on this crazy idea of masking up. We had shifted our focus of what really matters most. And so I challenge all of you to remember that if all of us on this podcast were belly to belly live today, and we were in a room, and we exited the room and entered another room that smelled so badly that our eyes watered, our noses started to bleed, we were in gag reflex, do you realize that we stayed in that smelly, rank, stinky room for five to 10 minutes, it would no longer smell? We had become desensitized, and it now was the new normal.

 

Dan Clark:

What has happened during COVID-19 and pandemic, in our families, in our schools, in our communities, in our workforces, in our high standards of performance when it comes to safety and quality? Have we not been desensitized, like this is good enough now? Have we not become complacent, working from home because there’s no leader or manager looking at us to make sure that we’re the best version of ourselves and doing everything possible to stay safe?

 

Dan Clark:

You see, it’s what’s been so beautiful and wonderful about this pandemic, is that it really has put all the responsibility on ourselves to be self starters, to be class human beings, to focus in on positive things at our families instead of arguing and escalating domestic violence, are you kidding me? This is the time to appreciate and to love, and to forgive, and to make a list of all the things that are going right instead of the things that are going wrong. Because we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.

 

Dan Clark:

If we’re all looking out the same window at the same lashing rainstorm in Los Angeles, somebody in our group will complain, “What a horrible day.” Someone else in our group will exclaim, “What a wonderful day,” and the weather did not change. We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Who are you and what’s going to come out when you’re squeezed, what’s going to spill out of you when someone bumps into you. And if it’s negative, I aint hanging around with you. If it’s negative, you’re not on my team, we’re here to win the Superbowl. If you’re on my team, go find your own team, and in any team.

 

Mike Merrill:

You’ve said so many great things, but I also keep coming back to not only were you paralyzed as a football player, but you were a first-round draft choice by the Raiders. This wasn’t some high school game or some city league game, you were in the big time and getting ready to go to the big stage. And so to go from that to paralyzed, amazing to come back from that.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. And again, it emphasizes that we can’t just put our… I can’t speak for women, but I can speak for us men. So many of us live lives of quiet desperation. “Be a big boy, don’t cry, I can handle this.” We think it’s a weakness to seek out for help, especially when it comes to sadness. And when we talked about suicide prevention, I was there. I’m glad you brought that up again. Because I was at the top of my game like everybody else on this podcast, and then something happens, and we get that punch in the gut.

 

Dan Clark:

Let’s go there, bro. We know so many people, family members, friends, who had COVID. And everybody in my family, my brother and all of his children and blah, blah, blah, my mom, COVID… My mom didn’t have COVID but everybody in my family got COVID and they had mild symptoms. I’m invincible, just like I thought I was when I was playing football. Could it happen to you? Nah. Could it happen to me? Nah, no way. No way, I’m invincible, I paid the price, it’s going to happen to somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

December 17th, tested positive for COVID, December 21st, I stopped breathing, I’m taken to the hospital. For the next seven days, and heparin shots in my stomach for blood clots, and Toradol for… My body hurts so badly. Every inch of it all, 65 inches, I hurt so bad. My cough was so brutal. I was waking up deer on Mount Olympus. They’re like, in the morning like, “What happened over there in that neighborhood?” And I was sitting home, after seven days, with pneumonia. Now that I’ve recovered, people are going, “Do you have any lingering symptoms yet?” “Yesterday I coughed up a box of Milk Duds I’d eat in a movie when I was nine.”

 

Dan Clark:

To battle COVID, and to think I was invincible and ain’t going to happen to me, and then to have it just blindside me. Almost every day, I push on the door, the door knob falls off, I pick up my briefcase, the handle falls off, I’m getting afraid to go to the bathroom. We have got to talk about prevention, not about rehabilitation. And in my situation, what allowed me to get better, was when I finally realized the difference between what I do and who I am. That everybody on this podcast is supposed to be here on this earth at this time. You are somebody very special. And we need to be the best version of ourselves, you’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Dan Clark:

There’s a reason why you weren’t born in the 1800s, there’s a reason why every single one of us on this podcast was not born 20 years from now. You’re on this earth for a reason, we better figure out what that reason is, and not try to live small and hide our light under a bushel, hide it so no one can actually see us. What we have to do is start dreaming a mighty dream. As I said, I hit a downward spiral where I thought I hit a deep depression. In reality, now that I’ve recovered, you know what I learned? Huge difference between being depressed and being disappointed. Giant difference between being depressed and being discouraged.

 

Dan Clark:

Psychologists will remind us about HALTS. When we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired or sad. When we’re experiencing any one of those five emotionally distorting and debilitating emotional conditions, we cannot feel, we cannot truly love, we cannot listen. It confuses us, and we start confusing activity with accomplishment, we stop serving others, which is the solution to feeling better about ourselves, and our lives seem to unravel.

 

Dan Clark:

But remember, no matter how bad your life is, no one ever hits rock bottom. You hit rock foundation, you hit rock belief, you hit the baseline core values on which you were raised. And regardless of what happens in the economy, our organizations never hit rock bottom, they hit rock foundation, they hit the baseline governing principles on which they were built, which takes us full circle to how we began, Michael, is still about culture, belief expectation, behavior, and what we’re not willing to tolerate. Eliminating the worst behaviors and the weakest beliefs in our organization so that we’re all on the same page, the same team, with the same goal. That’s how we keep people, that’s how we attract people, and that’s how we increase profitability, and more importantly, that’s how we fulfill the full measure of our existence to become who we were born to be. You’re going to make a lousy somebody else.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You’re talking about laws of attraction, and when I think of the labor market, the construction, especially as you well know, with your involvement with AGC, there’s just a huge shortage of good help. And so I think these principles you’re talking about now, are probably more critical than ever, that we figure out how to get these things right, so we can start attracting that labor force that we’re missing.

 

Dan Clark:

Yeah. In the dating world, all the surveys worldwide, in different countries and different cultures, every once in a while that pops up on the internet, and I’ll read it, it makes me smile. What do you notice first in a person? And the list goes on and on. I always see, “Notice someone’s eyes first.” Well, in our pandemic, in our mask world, suddenly we realize the eye is the window to the soul. If you pay attention in your own home, if you pay attention in your workplace, you can see if someone’s happy, you can see if someone’s in pain, you can see if someone’s unhappily married, you can see if someone’s sad. Let’s pay attention.

 

Dan Clark:

If the first thing you notice in someone is a smile, someone might be archaic and say, “Well, yeah, I noticed his body, and I noticed her body.” Well, I’m old. I’m 60 years old, I used to be chiseled, I used to benchpress way over 400 pounds around the four, 440. And now I’m so sold I’d bend over to pull up my socks and I think, “What else can I accomplish while I’m way down here?” And I wake up injured and all I did was lay there. “Oh my gosh, I better start stretching out,” because apparently, sleeping is a really tough exercise for me, I might pull something at 2:00am.

 

Dan Clark:

If we only attract people into our building trades based on their outward appearance, based on their outside skill set, what can you do with your hands? How qualified are you to do what we asked you to do on the ‘how to’ side? Eventually, they’re going to jump ship. We need to attract people not just based on what they look like on the outside or their skill set, but on who they are from the inside and how they make us feel better. The marriages that last the most are not those that originally started as a physical attraction, man, your heart, which is lust.

 

Dan Clark:

The relationships that last… I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. I got a buddy who says “Yeah, I’ve been married 20 years, not all in a row.” That’s funny. I’ve been married for 41 years to the same woman. And I’m not a genius in marriage counseling or anything else. That every morning if I wake up and I answer why am I married, and I can come up with a good answer, there’s a really good chance I can stay happily married for the next hour.

 

Dan Clark:

And if I could ask that question, why am I married, again, I can stay married for two hours. Eventually, a whole day, eventually, a whole week, eventually, a whole month. And if we stay happily married for two years, do you realize we’ll set an all-time record in the state of California? There’ll be marriage podcast, and talk about marriage counseling. So, let’s talk.

 

Dan Clark:

Love is a commitment, not a way of feeling. Romance is not love, romance comes from a Greek word that means erotic, so I don’t even want to talk about it. If I love my wife because she’s beautiful, that’s romance. If she’s beautiful because I love her, that’s real love, it’s a value creating love, that inspires both of us to become the best version of ourselves. Yet how many of us confuse love, commit, with romance emotion? What do we say our whole lives? “Oh, I love her so much, she makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” “Oh, I love him so much, he makes me feel differently than I’ve ever felt before.” So do breakfast burritos.

 

Dan Clark:

Maybe you just need a long cold shower and a box of Rolaids. What’s my point? We can’t focus in on the outside appearance, our skill set and what we do. We must always focus in on who we are and why we do what we do, that begins with integrity, a commitment to service before self, and a definite long-term dedication to excellence in all we do. I challenge everybody on this podcast to not just be safe for work, be safe on your ride home. Are you putting on your seatbelt?

 

Dan Clark:

If you’re finally off work on Friday and you’re excited to take your little guy fishing and you hop in the pickup truck, are you going down the dirt road 60 miles an hour without your seatbelts on because you’re having so much fun with your fishing poles and you’re talking about what you’re going to do that day together? We’ve got to make sure that we understand the subconscious and the conscious mind, that if we want to change a habit, we have to first identify what we want to change, make it easy to do, and then link it to an existing habit that triggers our desire to do the next habit, to create the new habit, to uplevel our performance, to uplevel our belief.

 

Dan Clark:

So, when we talk about safety, do it because I said so, and here’s the placard, and OSHA comes in trying to catch us doing something wrong. Let’s shift that and catch each other doing something right, because we’re doing it because we say so not because it’s expected by management or leadership or ownership, we’re doing it because it’s demanded of ourselves, it’s who we really are. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger and it’s still a tiger.

 

Dan Clark:

If you and I, Mike, are roommates in college, and we collectively agree to wake up every single morning at 6:00am, and go to the gym and push ourselves to our ultimate capacity of potential as a human being, and then leave the gym and study together for an hour to prepare for the exams of the day and to prepare ourselves to enlighten our minds, and we do it together, we’re only changing our behavior. But if you, Michael, wake up every single morning at 6:00am regardless of I do or not, and we’re still roommates, and you go to the gym and you push yourself, and you study for an hour regardless of I do or not, you do it because you say so, that’s who you really are. You can take the guy out of the neighborhood, but you cannot take the neighborhood out of the guy. You can surgically remove the stripes from a tiger, and it’s still a tiger. In country music what do we say? No matter where you go, there you are. The geographic relocation doesn’t really change much.

 

Dan Clark:

How many times do we see a wonderful, wonderful woman doing everything she knows how to do, to get out of a physically and an emotionally abusive relationship, only to jump back into a more dysfunctional relationship with a bigger loser than the bum she just got rid of? It’s because she’s still exactly the same human being in the law of attraction. We don’t attract who we want, we attract who we are. We must be willing to pay any price and travel any distance to associate with extraordinary human beings. In order for us to attract extraordinary human beings, we must first be extraordinary human beings. I thought I better bring that full circle as we wind up our time.

 

Mike Merrill:

At what point did you connect the dots with this mindset? Because clearly, at some point in your life, and maybe it was when you were young and you were always this guy, but at some point you decided, “I’ve got to look at things this way.” Do you remember when that was, or was it an event, or did it happen naturally?

 

Dan Clark:

That’s such a good question, Mike. I could go really deep on that. But I think as I’ve… Because of what I do, I’ve written 35 books. I hope everybody can follow me, danclark.com is my website, obviously, and you can click on Training. And I have online courses on leadership and public speaking, how to tell a story, how to make it funny, provocative and emotional, which helps you in your presentations to win the bid, and you’re in the construction world, all of those things.

 

Dan Clark:

And we can take a deeper… And I have videotapes and great stories on record and blah, blah, blah. But as I’ve analyzed, as I’ve written 35 books, I think it began… My first memory, Mike, is when I was eight years old, battling with cancer in my throat.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh goodness.

 

Dan Clark:

And I don’t know what our earliest memories are of anyone on the podcast, but I remember being in the primary children’s hospital, and the cancer was on the wall of my vocal cords. And one more day before it was reversed, one more day, a miracle in my life, one more day it would have eaten through that wall and I would have never been able to talk, I would have never been able to sing. You’ll see on my website, I’ve got some gold records in country music. Some of you will love my songs. “Had I shot you when I met you, I’d be out of jail by now. My wife ran off with my best friend and I’m going to miss him dearly.” That’s a tear jerker. “How can I miss you if you won’t go away.” I got great songs.

 

Dan Clark:

But I would have never been able to record any music or be a professional speaker had that not happened. And so that’s my earliest recollection of realizing the significance of personal intensity, personal focus, our personal responsibility to take charge of what it is that we can do to become better, to heal, to do what is necessary, what is required of us.

 

Dan Clark:

And when I was 12 years old, I was in a weekly television series. I know that that same mindset came through especially in the audition. I was the voice of a cartoon character. And in high school, I was an alpine ski champion, a motocross champion, a Golden Gloves boxing state champion. This attitude of personal excellence has been part of my DNA, because I was bullied so many times, made fun of as a kid. Because of my athleticism, I was always playing on teams with kids who were older than me or associating with them. And for some reason, out of their insecurities, I would get beat up. I got in a fight every single day in the fourth grade, and it was just defense, it was not me going after this kid.

 

Dan Clark:

And to be pulled down and made fun of and told my whole life, “You can’t do that,” or, “You’re not good enough,” it accelerated my desire to prove them wrong that, “Yo, yeah, watch me.” And so that played out in high school. I got called American football player as a junior in high school, my senior year I got hurt in the third game, and I was worried about getting a scholarship. And I had to battle back in time to make the basketball team, which allowed me to get a football scholarship because they could see my athleticism on the basketball court and see that I had recovered.

 

Dan Clark:

And everything in my life is linked. I’ve connected the dots based on, I really don’t care what anybody says to me, I’m going to fire up. I’ve got so many stories where people have said, “No, you can’t, you don’t have what it takes.” And deep down inside of me, I’m not an angry guy, and I’m not a mouthy disrespectful guy, I’ll just say, “Thanks.” And then deep down inside, my heart starts to flip and burn. And I start waking up early and staying up late, and I can’t wait to prove them wrong.

 

Dan Clark:

I ran into this kid who beat the crap out of me. I defended myself, but he fought me every single day in the fourth grade. And when I graduated from high school, I was 372 pounds, state 100-yard dash champion. So skinny I had to jump around in the shower to get wet. And I was the Golden Gloves boxing champion. And in the first two summers after high school graduation, I grew two and a half inches taller and gained 87 pounds. And then one day I ran into this whistle dick. And he was looking at me like, “I sure hope he doesn’t remember fourth grade.” And he came up to my armpit, he hadn’t grown. I gave him the look. I didn’t have to say one thing, I’m just looking at him like, “Really?”

 

Mike Merrill:

It’s all you got?

 

Dan Clark:

“You were so insecure in those days, your life sucks so badly that you had to put me down to make yourself feel better about who you are.” And now I am not better than anyone else, don’t get me wrong, I’m just fired up to figure out who I really am, and can I do this? Let me see. Can I learn to paint, can I learn to play the piano, can I learn to play the guitar, can I learn how to fix a bad sink, can I fix a broken pipe? What can I do? Why not let curiosity drive me every single day to wake up earlier than most instead of later than most, and make sure I’m the best version of myself so I don’t die with my music still in me. And that’s my own personal motivation.

 

Dan Clark:

And people who just sleep and, “This is who I am,” good for you all, but not my circle of influence because I don’t leave saying, “I like me best when I’m with you, I want to see you again.” I want some inspiration. If I’m the smartest person in the room, I’m in the wrong room. I need to hang around with people who will push me in the weight room, who will push me in the recording studio, who will push me in the professional speaking world, who will help me become a better author, a better storyteller, a better speaker, a better dad.

 

Dan Clark:

You got to stop competing against others, my friend. I don’t want to be the best dad in a roomful of dysfunctional deadbeat fathers. If we’re playing golf in a golf tournament, and you’re playing on an 18-hole course, 72 par, and I shoot 108 and everybody else shoots 120, and I win the tournament because I suck less than you suck, that’s a bad system. We’ve got to compete against ourselves, so when I go out on the golf course, first thing I do is compete against myself, make sure my swing is as good as it can be, then I compete against the golf course one hole at a time. And then, I compete against my buddies in the foursome where we got a little action going on closest to the pin, or whatever we’re going to do, on an 18-hole bet. And it’s always in that order. It has to be.

 

Dan Clark:

And the same thing in the workplace. “Well, he did it, so I can do it,” or, “They’re not holding her accountable, why should they hold me accountable?” That doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. What we have to do is say, what is the task, what is the requirement, what is my highest strongest belief, my highest expectation, my expected best behavior, what must I do to prepare myself to always do that, be consistent, with integrity, service before self and a commitment to excellence in all I do, and the rest takes care of itself.

 

Dan Clark:

And there’s some people who don’t like me, and I get over it. They don’t want to be around me, I get over it. And that’s not pompous or windbag at all, that’s just basically saying, “Life’s short.” And I almost died in the hospital with COVID, and I was paralyzed for 14 months playing football. I’ve had enough kicks in the face, punches in the gut, to remind me, “You got to fight, you got to hang tough, and you got to be the best you can be. Don’t ever take one day for granted because we don’t know if tomorrow is my last day.”

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t know if this is my last podcast. That’s an odd and eerie feeling, but put yourself in my position. In one moment, my entire life was changed, from an athlete, getting all my attention with my body, to a philosopher, if you will, a speaker, a motivational, inspirational guy trying to fire people up. And that’s my greater joy. And let me just say this as we conclude. Now, in retrospect, Mike, my paralysis is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Don’t misunderstand. My injury was not one of the best things that happened to me, but who I became as a man, and what I learned about the sanctity of life, and time, and priorities, and relationships as a result of going through that setback, clearly makes it one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We have got to understand that adversity is what introduces us to ourselves. No one will ever know how strong we are, until being strong is our only choice. We really have to get up and go again every single time. Get knocked down seven times, get back up eight. And that day is a pretty good day. And then you hold on and never say never because in two more days, as my song says, in two more days, tomorrow’s yesterday. Ladies and gentlemen, don’t take your life, ladies and gentlemen, don’t give up, ladies and gentlemen, don’t think that’s the course of action. No one wants to kill themselves, they just want the pain to go away, and there’s always ways for us to find the solution. Guaranteed, hold on for one more day.

 

Dan Clark:

And I will help you, danclark.com. Follow me on Instagram, danclarkspeak, and you’re going to get some serious videos. Master the morning, own the day. I can’t tell you how excited I am for us to keep in touch. Please keep in touch, or this podcast is for not.

 

Mike Merrill:

I agree with that. You’ve got a podcast too, what’s your podcast called that you’ve got coming out?

 

Dan Clark:

It’s called Power Players. And now that you know my philosophy of life, I invite intriguing guests, Grammy Award winning songwriters, individuals like Amy Purdy, if you watch Dancing With the Stars. She had both of her legs amputated because of an illness when she was a teenager. And she made it all the way to the finals. Her partner was Derek Hough. So inspirational. Talk about you thinking you had a bad day, look what she’s been able to overcome.

 

Dan Clark:

I have Olympic champions and sports heroes, and individuals who you can believe, because they all remind us we have to be ordinary before we’re extraordinary. Every single amazing human being we’ve ever met who’s inspired us to greatness, was ordinary, they were exactly like us before they became extraordinary. In my podcast, Power Players, I’m going to extract from them, I have extracted from them, stories about resiliency and about how to get back up and go again.

 

Dan Clark:

And why each of us has a story to tell, and why each of us is significant, and not better than or less than anyone else. But we are commissioned by God at birth, in my mind, to become the best version of ourselves, that’s why we’re born into this world. To find out who we really are, what our talents, how can we make the world better so we don’t die with our music still in us. Podcast Power Players. I feel like I’m this walking billboard saying, “Okay, now, please, please follow me on Instagram, @danclarkspeak.”

 

Dan Clark:

But I have ancillary reasons, I really want to keep in touch. Because anyone who’s tuning in to your podcast, will obviously want to tune in to my podcast, knowing that we do become the average of the five people we associate with the most. And what you talk about and who you are as a man, Mike, is so much bigger than the building industries, is so much bigger than the construction industry. And I would hope people would think of me in the same way that what we talk about is not revolutionary, it’s bringing us back to what is really right. Those time-tested truths that have never, ever changed, that apply to every generation, Millennials, Gen X’ers, we Baby Boomers. My hair is falling out, I’m growing in places I don’t even need it, my only hope is my hair in my right ear will grow long enough, I can comb it up over the top of my head. And apparently, Michael, with all due respect, every time you got a gray hair, you just plucked it out.

 

Mike Merrill:

I do. Yeah, I do.

 

Dan Clark:

I don’t even want to worry, I don’t even want to bother.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, Dan, this has been a fantastic time. I’ve surely enjoyed learning from you and talking with you. I really appreciate you coming on today.

 

Dan Clark:

Thank you, Michael. And I’m a fan of yours, so we’ll definitely connect offline many, many times and see how I can serve you because you’re already serving me. Thanks for WorkMax too, I need to plug that one more time. It’s intriguing to me how someone like you would start a company based on what you believe. And that’s why your company is successful and why it’s going to escalate exponentially in growth and the service provided, because it’s built on the correct core principles that we’ve been talking about this entire podcast, so I congratulate you and I encourage everyone to investigate WorkMax and to support you. Because together we rise. You’re amazing. Thank you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, Dan. I sure appreciate it, and I really look forward to keeping in touch, for sure.

 

Dan Clark:

Thanks, man.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right.

 

Dan Clark:

I was just saying goodnight, goodbye, good morning to everybody.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you to the guests for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Dan and I had today, please follow Dan at danclark.com, follow him on all the socials, and check out his content there.

 

Mike Merrill:

Of course, if you enjoyed the conversation, we would also deeply appreciate a nice rating and review, and share this podcast with your friends. After all, I know Dan’s mission is very much like ours. We want you to not only improve your business, but your life.

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

Strengthen Construction Supply Chains Through Technology and Relationship Building

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic threw much of the construction industry into disarray, with projects going on hiatus and some businesses going under. And while the majority of the industry adjusted to new safety regulations and got back to business, the metal industry wasn’t spared. The virus caused metal mills across the country to close down or dramatically diminished their capacity, which caused supply chain shortages that are still being worked out today. Fortunately, Isaiah Industries President Todd Miller says technology and relationship building are two ways for contractors to get back on track.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Todd explains how technology solutions are helping contractors build better relationships with the suppliers as well as providing support for their sales and manufacturing processes. He also shares ways in which customers benefit from technologies like visualization software and artificial intelligence, and why the silver lining of the pandemic is how it’s led to companies thinking outside the box.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Develop strong supply chain relationships. While roofing contractors often think about the materials needed for projects, they forget about the people providing them with those supplies. But remember, networking and building relationships with suppliers is important. Not only are these key business relationships, they can provide support with product knowledge and suggest alternatives if certain items get discontinued.
  2. Improve productivity with technology solutions. Building products manufacturers have been late adopters of technology, but that’s turning around thanks to satellite visualization software and artificial intelligence. Today, workers can leverage this tech to measure buildings for things like roofing materials, siding and windows. On top of that, software can determine what products need to be ordered and connect to supplier databases, which streamlines communications and facilitates faster ordering.
  3. Technology can also boost sales presentations. Todd raves over modern softwares that can revamp home improvement pitches, especially when being conducted remotely. He emphasizes that virtual presentations means more prospective customers can be reached since distance is not a factor. Not only does this increase the number of sales meetings, it means contractors can sell more jobs. Post-pandemic, expect the use of technology to boost sales to continue.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. I appreciate the opportunity to sit down with you today and especially with our distinguished guest, Mr. Todd Miller, who is the president of Isaiah Industries. Todd is highly regarded in the roofing and manufacturing space, and one of the suppliers and providers of technology solutions and more advanced systems for roofing that roofers are enjoying today. So, Todd, grateful to have you on today and excited for the conversation.

Todd Miller:

Thanks so much. I’m really looking forward to today and appreciate the opportunity.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. I guess, first off, before we get too deep into the conversation, just wanted to ask, are there any associations or affiliations that you’re proud of or that your organization contributes to?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. So as you mentioned, we’re a manufacturer of metal roofing and metal building materials. So the two trade associations that I’ve been heavily involved with over the years, and I am very proud of the work that both of them do. One is Metal Roofing Alliance. Metal Roofing Alliance is more an educational organization that’s geared toward homeowners to help educate them about the benefits and other attributes of metal roofing. So that’s metalroofing.com, and then there’s also Metal Construction Association or MCA, which is metalconstruction.org. That’s much more of a technical organization. They get involved with a lot of the code issues, looking at testing of different systems and so forth, and they do some market development also, but another great organization over the years. So Metal Roofing Alliance and Metal Construction Association.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, that’s great. I know for us, those affiliations with different organizations that do such good work are an important part of our business, and it gives us opportunities to rub shoulders and compare best practices with other vendors in our space. So good to hear that you’re involved and plugged in to those things, and I think… Were you on a board before, or chair, or different levels of involvement?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So both of those organizations, I’ve been on the board, and Metal Construction Association, I chaired for a couple years. I did my stint there as well, but yeah, you’re right. There is so much. One of the things that I think I learned early on in my career was… especially in this little niche we call metal roofing, we really can’t look at each other as our competition. I think that even goes for contractors in their local markets. The lion’s share of the market is still other materials, and so if you can be together, you can be stronger together. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships. So a strong believer in companies working together for the betterment of all and the betterment of their industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I love that approach to things. That’s something that we try and do here as well. So great for you. So as far as your background with Isaiah Industries, can you tell us a little bit how that got started and maybe a little bit how you arrived where you’re at today?

Todd Miller:

Sure. So I was born into it. My father had worked for Alcoa Building Products back in the 1970s, left Alcoa in 1980 to start this company. So I was working here summers during high school and college, and that type of stuff. When I came out of college, I was looking at a lot of different opportunities out there. At the end of the day, I’m like, “There’s a business sitting over here that I already know and I already understand. I don’t have to learn. I can hit the ground running.” So my dad was good enough to let me come into the business. He wasn’t sure that that was really the right thing to do, but I think it worked out okay.

But back in the early years, our business has morphed a lot. So in the early ’80s, we were national suppliers to Pizza Hut and Dairy Queen, IHOP, 7/11, Dunkin’ Donuts. All those brightly colored roofs you remember from Americana and traveling down the highway with your parents. Those were a lot of the products we were making, and that was really fueled our business in the early ’80s. But as an example, in the early ’80s, Pizza Hut was building 400 stores here. By about 1988, they were closing about 200 stores a year.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So we saw that that commercial business wasn’t always going to be something that we could depend upon, and the interesting thing was there were a few contractors out there selling one of our product lines residentially. There were a couple of guys in Texas, and California, and Pennsylvania. So when I got out of college, came into the business full time, I just went out and started spending tons of time with those guys, trying to learn what they were doing, how they were doing it, and then we set about setting up other contractors across the country selling residential metal roofing. 

So we really were pioneers in this in terms of manufactured products. I mean, there were always sheet metal guys out there who would put a sheet metal roof on your home. But as far as manufactured products, we were really a pioneer, and it was just a real blessing to get to know folks who had pioneered all this, and to learn from them, and then to go out and spread it across the country. So today, our company, 90% of what we do is manufacture residential metal roofing. We get involved with… We enjoy working with churches. For us, we see that as very missional and something we enjoy doing. So we do some of that. We do some multifamily, a little bit of light commercial, but the vast majority is reroofing of single-family homes.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So basically, you’ve come up with a cure for shingles with metal roofing. Is that what I’m hearing?

Todd Miller:

A cure for shingles. Hey, I may have to steal that line.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. I’m the king of the dad jokes. So that tracks.

Todd Miller:

I relinquish my title. Good job.

Mike Merrill:

Good to know. I’ll give you my FedEx account. You can send the trophy my way.

Todd Miller:

There you go. There you go.

Mike Merrill:

So that. Yeah, it is actually fascinating. I know where I live, even residential areas, again, you’re seeing a lot more homes getting reroofed. Rather than the traditional three-tab shingles or even architectural, they’re going metal, and we’re seeing solar. I mean, it’s just a major infrastructure upgrade even in residentials. So it’s interesting to hear you are seeing the same thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It really is, and so we have seen the market share of metal in the residential arena go from about 2% maybe 20 years ago up to 13%, 14% today, which when you consider the size of the market, that’s pretty significant.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Metal has also, at this point… Well, a few years ago, surpassed tile as the number two most used product.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So metal is the second most used, what we call steep slope roofing material. So with the largest being asphalt shingles, of course.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So I guess to get to the topic of the conversation we wanted to have today, let’s talk about the relationship between a supplier like yourself and the contractors. I know today… I mean, I just saw the other day. At Home Depot, plywood was like 48 bucks a sheet or I mean, just unbelievable for 7/16ths OSB.

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Nuts, right?

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So when prices are up like that and everybody is busier than ever, it feels like those relationships would be more critical than ever for companies to continue and keeping up with their workload.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I really think they are, and that’s one of the things. So metal has not been immune to price changes here recently as well. We’ve suffered a lot as an industry from COVID. A lot of the metal mills either shut down or had their capacity diminished because of the virus. So metal became short in supply because as we know, the building industry stayed very robust. A year ago, we all didn’t know that would be the case.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Todd Miller:

So what we’re seeing is shortages out there. Delays. I don’t think metal has anywhere near the issues that for some reason, the lumber industry does. We’re not seeing that kind of increase of those kinds of shortages, but can’t say that we’re immune to it either, and so a lot of folks are asking me, Todd as a contractor, “How do I protect myself during these price increases and these shortages?” I always have a number of things to suggest, but really, the number one is make sure you’ve got tight supply chain relationships. Realistically, I don’t know that contractors… Most contractors have often thought in terms of supply chain because generally speaking, products were fairly available. Sometimes they would even have two or three sources of products.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Then, of course, when the big boxes came on the scene, that opened up a whole new avenue of them to purchase their materials. But now, with things tightening up, I’m saying, “You got to know who that supply chain is and start to make sure that relationship is tight.” I had a contractor call me the other day. A fairly large asphalt shingle contractor out of Denver. He’s genuinely concerned. He’s on allocation from his shingle suppliers. He’s seeing shortages. He’s seeing products being discontinued, colors being discontinued. He said, “If we have a bad storm market this year in any of the hail areas,” he said, “I’m genuinely concerned where I’m going to get product from.” So he had reached out to us because he wanted to talk to metal guys and composite guys, and build his supply chain with those products as well as alternatives to asphalt shingles. I thought, “Kudos to you.” That’s really forward-thinking and was a great move on his part, I thought.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s brilliant. Really, I think in a lot of… and especially when you’re involving insurance companies and other things, a roof… You don’t think too much about it until it starts leaking, so. But once it does, it’s more critical than anything to get that repair before more damage, and more money are lost, and more…

Todd Miller:

You have to do something. Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So, yeah. So these are certainly interesting times.  

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. So in most parts of business, communication is always key. So wh at role are technology solutions and systems playing in having this more efficient communication and collaboration?

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It’s pretty neat because I think that building products manufacturers have always had the reputation of being pretty late adapters in terms of technology and not really knowing even what technology would be of benefit to our customers. So to that extent, I got to put a dig on manufacturers of building materials because we haven’t been the best, but the point is it’s getting much better. One of the areas that we certainly saw it originally was the use of satellite imagery to measure buildings for roofing materials. They can even measure siding and windows, and so a lot of manufacturers have been very proactive in terms of building relationships with some of the satellite imagery companies, and then making sure that their contractors were keyed into that as well

Then, of course, the satellite imagery companies have been saying, “Well, what’s the next step?” So the next step has been for them to build databases of products made by the various manufacturers, which requires the manufacturer to be involved, to have that database built of their products so that it facilitates ordering. So you can’t not only measure the roof, the software can go ahead and tell you all the products it’s going to take to build that roof as an example. Some of them also now will actually place that order direct with your supplier.

Now, here in the metal roofing industry, I mean, that’s been very, very helpful because many of our products have to be… especially if you’re dealing in the vertical seam products, standing seam type products, those are all custom lengths. So the ability to pull those satellite measurements to help you quote the job and even build the order is extremely helpful. It’s funny when satellite measurements first started coming out. I mean, I was the guy sitting there that’s like, “I don’t know if I trust this. How do I know this is accurate?”

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

Frankly, in the early years, there were issues. Generally, today, I would trust that satellite measurement over most guys with a tape measure.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

Todd Miller:

They really are amazingly accurate. So we use them pretty regularly to even do custom-length panels and things like that. So that was I think the foray maybe of tech, if you will, and the ability to use it to help better serve contractors was through that measuring and ordering piece.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I grew up in the industry as well, and I remember back in the day when it was paper blueprints. If all the sets were lent out, you may have to pull the ladder out and drive 30 miles to the project, and get up on the roof, and pull a tape, and… I mean, that on a steep pitched roof. That’s not always either a safe or easy task. So amazing advancements in so many different ways in technology.

Todd Miller:

Even then, you were still wondering, “Did they build the building to match the plan?”

Mike Merrill:

That’s right. Yeah, or, “That feels like an 8/12. That’s not a 6/12 either.”

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

But yeah, it’s interesting how many advancements we’ve had. I have to wonder. What does drone technology do to affect some of these things as well?

Todd Miller:

So that’s been huge as well. So most contractors at this point have a drone, and they’re using them for roof inspections. They’re using them to go out and capture images to bring back into the home to show the property owner, the homeowner, whoever. “Hey, here’s what’s going on on your roof.” It’s also taken us… Another thing that this all has done is partly safety too. I mean, no longer does that salesperson have to climb up on that roof, which opens you up to a whole new broad group of possible participants in our industry. People who previously said, “Yeah. Roofing interests me, but the same way I’m going to climb up on a roof.” Well, they don’t have to anymore. So drone imagery has been great.

The other great thing that I think was one of the early parts of tech coming into our industry was, of course, visualization software, and so visualization software. A lot of manufacturers have it now, and a lot of contractors, if they tap into the right manufacturer, can actually bring that visualization software directly over to their websites. But that allows the customer to upload a photo, and to play around with different products and colors, and that type of thing. 

Now, we’re getting into the next stage of that. I know our company is working with our supplier on visualization, and our next area is going to be using artificial intelligence so that… It used to be if you wanted to bring in a picture of your house, you had to go in there and pick all the corner points of the roof and tell it where the roof was, and then it would put the product on there. Well, with AI, it automatically does that masking and figures out, “Hey, here’s roof,” figures the right angle, that type of thing. So we’re really excited about bringing that into this as well, which is the cutting edge right now in terms of visualization type things.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It makes me think as you’re talking about all these advancements. It surely has impacted the sales process also because now, if you’ve got these tools as a sales option instead of the old paper, flip decks, or…

Todd Miller:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Then, we had PowerPoints, and now we’re just in a whole different world. So what impact have you seen that have on the sales process?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things that we’re really excited about right now is there’s a platform called Ingage, which is I-N-G-A-G-E. I think there’s some others out there, but I’m really smitten by Ingage right now. But Ingage is working with manufacturers like us to develop very interactive sales presentations. So yes, you’re exactly right. The old way of having a home improvement guy come to your house, he’d brought out the huge three-ring binder, and he’d flip through pages, and every once in a while, you’d catch a glimpse that his script was on the backside, so you knew he was reading through you.

But the cool thing about these new interactive presentations, which of course are typically done on tablets or something, is that they are not so linear. So one of the things you always ran into, if you were doing a flip chart type or just a straight PowerPoint presentation, was the customer would ask you a question, and you’d have to say, “Oh, well, we’ll get to that in a second. Just hold on. We’ll get to it. I promise,” or else you risk having to go down that rabbit trail, and then go down it again when the deck slide showed that. But these new ones, you can flip in and out. They aren’t linear. So if the consumer gets emotional about a particular topic, you can go there rather than delay that emotion and try to come back to it later on.

So I’m just incredibly excited about that, and we’re seeing a lot of manufacturers get on board with that type of an interactive presentation. Also, of course, one of the things that we’ve seen happen so much since COVID is a lot of contractors are doing virtual presentations rather than going into the consumer’s home. So this type of presentation lends itself extremely well to a virtual presentation as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I almost can’t even imagine going all the way back, rewinding the tape to the ’90s and the early 2000s when I was out there swinging the hammer. It’s just a whole different world in every way virtually, and digitally, and technologically.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. It is very exciting stuff, and we love the fact that… Again, we’ve seen that metamorphosis from measuring software and things like that to the visualization, and now to the actual sales presentation and bringing that all together in a way that helps contractors sell more jobs or sell more jobs professionally, or helps the property owner be more involved and emotional about what they’re buying. One of the things that we talk a lot about in sales is most customers buy rather emotionally, but they still got to have the logical end of things for it all to make sense.

So as an example, in our industry, I always tell people that after people have this metal roof installed, the thing that they tell everyone about is how beautiful it is. But by the same token, when they go to work and they’re standing around the coffee pot, they’re not telling people they paid $80,000 for a roof because it was pretty. They’re telling them, “Hey, I bought it because it’s sustainable. It’s energy efficient.” All these types of things. So these new presentations just offer this great marriage of emotion with logic to guide the consumer to the right decision for them, and we know as salespeople, sometimes that decision isn’t going to be our product, and that’s cool, but we have some great tools now because of technology to help them make the right decision.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, and I think just going back to a couple of comments you made earlier, the fact that we’re doing it safer and more efficiently, we’re not wasting fuel, and time, and resources, and again, risking people being in unsafe environments just to get an estimate together or just to go and double-check something. Then, we can do it digitally. We don’t have to drive to their house. There’s so many efficiencies gained that ultimately in the end, the consumer wins, the supplier wins, the contractor wins. It’s a beautiful thing.

Todd Miller:

Yeah. I agree, and one of the things that we have seen with some of the contractors who have adopted doing virtual presentations, video conferencing type presentations with property owners is some of them are saying, “I’m never going to go back. I’m always going to do it this way.” Just a good example you touched on. I mean, it used to be if a sales person was doing a professional presentation of a product, if he was really lucky, they might be able to do three presentations a day, but probably no more than two. I mean, they almost had to be right next door if you’re going to do more than two. Well, now, someone can sit and do virtual presentations five, six, seven, eight a day and be doing them 200 miles away, 300 miles away to increase the footprint of that business also. So I really see virtual presentations as a great way for companies to expand, expand their businesses.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and in between those presentations, they’re able to zip out 15 emails, put a quote together, answer a couple of voicemails, send some texts out. So everything else is more efficient too.

Todd Miller:

You add this with some of the tech we talked about as far as taking measurements and converting them into quotes. I mean, a lot of times now, that doesn’t have to be done by the salesperson. That can be done by an administrative type person who just knows that software extremely well. So it, again, takes that plate off the sales person, lets the sales person do what they do really well, which is sell.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So what does a contractor do to make sure that they’re aligning with a supplier that can help them best leverage these types of technologies and ultimately sell more efficiently and effectively?

Todd Miller:

I think that one of the things that we are seeing is for many years, the trend would be for you to have a manufacturer, a distributor, and a contractor, and very little opportunity for the two ends, the contractor and the manufacturer, to connect. I’m really seeing that change. So even if there is still a distributor involved, the manufacturer and the contractor have a relationship as well and know the power of that relationship. So I think the big thing for contractors is don’t be afraid to think, “Okay. Well, I’d buy this product from this distributor, and I can’t ever talk to anyone else.” Don’t be afraid to get some connections made with that manufacturer so that you know what tools they are offering, what tech they are offering. You know what’s coming next around the pike.

Especially, so many manufacturers too are doing webinars and educational type things. We as a manufacturer crave that relationship with contractors. So don’t think… I think the big thing for a contractor is don’t think that just your immediate supplier who is probably a wholesaler, a distributor, a two-stepper, don’t think you can’t go beyond them to build your relationships as well. It doesn’t eliminate the distributor, but it makes your business more effective by having that relationship upstream.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great advice. So one other point I wanted to touch on. Like a lot of different product upgrades, so to speak. I mean, I’ll call it an upgrade because I think it certainly is.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What return on investment that an end consumer could expect to receive from going metal instead of asphalt or barrel tile, clay, some other options?

Todd Miller:

So one of the things I will always train a contractor if they’re thinking of… Maybe they’re a roofing contractor, and they do a lot of shingle, and they want to get involved in metal. I always tell them, “Well, here’s the way to start that. Make sure that whoever does your appointment setting, whoever that person is on the phone taking calls or going outbound, responding to emails, and things, have them ask this very simple question. ‘Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones, how long do you intend to live in your home?’ If that homeowner says anything that sounds like 10 years or more or, ‘They’re going to carry me out,’ then you come back and say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s great. I think when you called us, you are talking about maybe an asphalt shingle roof. We have some products that we also find homeowners who are staying in their homes long-term, they really gravitate towards some of these other products. Is it okay if we bring those to your home as well?'”

You get your answer, and if they answer affirmatively, “Well, yeah, that probably makes sense,” then you suddenly have maybe not flipped that lead from asphalt into metal, but at least you’ve nudged the door open a little bit for metal, and so that’s… I forget where we started with this question, but that’s always my advice as far as how you start to build metal into your business as a contractor.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. If it’s 10 years or more, then it sounds like there’s extra value and a reason why. What would that value be possibly, and what are some of the reasons they’d want to go that way?

Todd Miller:

Right. So the metal roofs out today, and there’s a wide range of them in terms of product qualities, but even the lower ones are certainly easily a 35 to 40-year roof. Nice thing about metal roofs is you can usually extend their lives by repainting them at some point, if you want. So it’s not necessarily 35 years and it’s shot. You can probably paint it and get an extra 15, 20 years out of it. So I think the longevity, the sustainability is a big one. Energy efficiency is another big one. We typically hear from homeowners that they save about 20% on their summer utility costs with a metal roof.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

That’s because the metal uses reflective pigments in the paint, and we also take advantage of some thermal breaks and air gaps to keep heat out of the home and keep it out of the attics. So we reduce the AC load and the AC cost. Then, you also have some consumers who rightfully so really care about our environment. So they like the fact that a metal roof is made from recycled material. They like the fact that at the end of its useful life, a metal roof is 100% recyclable. Virtually, all other roofing materials are eventually going to end up in a landfill. I mean, that’s just the hard reality. so metal, of course, is 100% recyclable.

Then, I think the final thing is what they can do in terms of the design and the look of their home. I mean, most houses, you look at them, probably 60% of the house is roof. Yet, we tend a roof with the same materials that all of our neighbors do. So you can individualize, characterize a house, get that curb appeal up, which everyone cares about today. Thanks to HGTV. Everyone cares about what their house looks like, and so we can really help them design it in a way that makes it more appealing to them or appealing to others and probably adds value to it in that process also.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, this has been a very fun and insightful conversation. I’ve learned some things about metal roofs today, and some of the technologies that they can leverage, and also enhancements in my utility bill reduction strategy. It’s great and useful information I think for our listeners. So before we wrap up, I just had a couple of questions to end on, and I just wanted to ask you more on a personal level if that’s okay.

Todd Miller:

Sure.

Mike Merrill:

What’s something that you are grateful for in your professional life that you’ve learned over your career?

Todd Miller:

Oh, well, I think absolutely that not being afraid to build relationships with who one would think are my competitors. So that’s happened a lot through those trade associations. I mean, those are folks who, yeah, I’ve learned a lot from. Just the other day, I had a competitor. I was in a pinch for some metal, and I went to a competitor. I said, “Hey, you don’t happen to have any of this?” Today, I placed a PO for 8,000 pounds of metal from him that he did happen to have.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Todd Miller:

So I think that that willingness to realize that your competitors can be your friends and you’re not working together in a nefarious way, but you’re working together for the good of your businesses and the good of the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That’s great advice for any of our listeners, I’m sure. What about, is there a skill, or a superpower, or something that you’ve learned to embody and enjoy as a trait over your career that you could share with others?

Todd Miller:

Well, the thing that comes to mind when you asked me that, and I can’t say that I know exactly what caused this, but I’ve been blessed with a tremendously loyal team. We have about 55 team members, and our average length of employment across the company is I think around 17 years at this point.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Todd Miller:

I’ve got tons of folks who have been here 20, 25 years, 30 years. In fact, the first employee my dad ever hired is still working here 40 years ago. So I don’t know what it is, but I can say that I’m incredibly grateful and feel incredibly blessed by the loyalty of our team, and that really… Our customers are the ones who benefit from that because our customers know that they’ve got years of experience here. So if they have questions or they have problems, they can get those things taken care of because they’ve got skilled, knowledgeable folks here who can do it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. What about maybe a challenge you’ve overcome over the years or something that was really difficult and you worked your way through? What was it maybe, and what did you learn? 

Todd Miller:

Oh, goodness. I think one of the challenges has been that as a small manufacturer, we always had to look like a much larger company because realistically, I mean, here we are, this little metal guy, and the guys we’re selling against are the Owens Cornings, and the CertainTeeds, and the GAFs of the world. We’re not only selling against them. We’re selling at a much, much higher price. So I just think that one of our biggest challenges has always been helping our business to be as professional as it possibly can be, realizing who it is that we’re competing with.

Now, another way we have done that though is by being very personal in what we do. Everyone who comes to our company with interest of any sort gets a personal response from me. I had someone the other day say, “Well, I know what I got from you was just an automated email.” I was very pleased to go back to him and say, “I don’t use automated email. What you got was really an email for me.” So we take a very personalized approach to business as well that I think also helps to differentiate us from some of the behemoths out there that we compete with, which are great companies and do very well what they do. I just think being smaller, and more nimble, and having our great team here, we’re able to take things a step further a lot of times.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, I love that personal touch. Good for you.

Todd Miller:

Yeah, we enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

It obviously served you well.

Todd Miller:

We enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

All right. The last thing, so what… If there was one takeaway that you wanted our listeners to come away with from the conversation, what would that be?

Todd Miller:

Okay. So I’m going to tell a story on myself. This was probably, I’m guessing, about 1989. I got someone who called me on the phone. They were doing a survey. I don’t know who it was. It doesn’t make any difference, but the question they asked me was, “I’m sure you’ve heard, Todd, about this thing called the internet.” “Yeah. Yeah, I know a little bit. I’ve got a prodigy account or something where I could dial up.” They said, “What do you think the internet is going to bring to your company in the future?” I thought about it a second. I thought, “We’re a manufacturer. We bring metal in. We crunch it up. We put it in boxes. We send it to people.” I’m thinking, “I don’t know possibly what the internet is ever going to do for us.” So that’s what I told them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Todd Miller:

Of course, in hindsight, nothing has changed has changed our business more than the internet then partly because people could find us and we could be known. So I guess the big thing I’d like to encourage folks as a takeaway is there are so many opportunities out there to use today’s great technology in your business. Don’t be afraid of it. Make sure that you’re using it to its fullest. I mean, the things that you folks do, helping to track people, and track time, and all those types of things that you folks help people with. I mean, that is just really valuable stuff that saves someone time and also brings greater efficiency into what you’re doing. We got to face it. I mean, everyone talks about it. The labor market being tight for skilled trades is not exactly loose for white collar trades either.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Todd Miller:

One of the things we learned last year was this shortage of labor is not because of unemployment. Unemployment was suddenly 30%, and we still couldn’t get enough people or get the people that we needed in our industry. So again, using tech, using what’s available through your suppliers to stream… maybe not streamline your organization, but to make your organization more effective and more efficient. Don’t be afraid of it. That’s probably my biggest advice.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, great. That was a great way to end. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Todd. Had a great time and look forward to keeping up with you here in the future as well.

Todd Miller:

Sounds good. It’s a real pleasure. I greatly enjoyed it, and all the best to you.

Mike Merrill:

Thanks, and you as well. Thank you to the guest for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. As always, we very much appreciate your listenership, and if you enjoyed the conversation Todd and I had today, please give us a rating and a review, and follow us on LinkedIn or on Instagram, @workmax_. Of course, those five-star ratings and reviews always help us to bring more valuable guests in on course of our goals here. We really want to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

How The LIME Foundation is Closing the Labor Gap

Workforce shortages in the construction industry cause businesses to turn down projects and miss deadlines every single day. And while the competition for experienced workers is fierce, hiring away from competitors and recycling through employees puts a Band-Aid on a bigger problem: the lack of young people choosing construction as a career. Frustrated by this disconnect, ARS Roofing CEO Letitia Hanke decided to take action. She founded The LIME Foundation – a nonprofit that introduces young people in Santa Rosa, California to the trades and connects these prospective workers to construction firms seeking to hire. 

In Part 2 of their conversation, host Mike Merrill and Letitia discuss construction’s dire need for expanding its workforce and how The LIME Foundation is a model for tackling the labor gap. They talk about the foundation’s training programs, why construction companies benefit from investing in young people and showing them the path to long-term careers. They also dive into how others can learn from Letitia’s model and create training programs in their own communities.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Promote career opportunities in the trades industry. Recent generations have been taught there is one path to a good career: graduate high school, graduate college and get a professional job. But not everyone wants to risk going into debt or attending a university. Many others don’t realize the vast opportunities working in construction and trades can offer. Rather than waiting for prospective workers to find you, go to them. Whether it’s job fairs or formal training programs, make recruiting new workers a priority to combat worker shortages.
  2. Invest in training brand new workers. Taking the time to train someone brand new to a trade may sound like a lot of time and money, but it’s well worth the investment. Competing for experienced workers has its limitations, whereas there’s an expansive market for prospective new hires. Another perk? A newbie is highly trainable and less likely to bring shortcuts and bad habits from other job sites.
  3. Seek out trade training programs – or start one yourself. While The LIME Foundation is only in Santa Rosa, California for now, there are still plenty of construction and trade programs throughout the United States to connect with. And if there isn’t one, take a cue from Letitia and explore how you can take action to bring educational programs to your region and attract a new generation of workers to the industry.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down for part number two with our dear friend, Letitia Hanke. She’s the founder and CEO of ARS Gutters and Roofing and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, we would love to have you go ahead and take a listen there and be excited for you to hear some of the great things that Letitia was able to share there. But for today, we want to talk more about your entrepreneurship.

If you haven’t listened to part one of mine and Letitia’s conversation, I encourage you to give it a listen. We talk about her start in roofing and also advice for up and comers and especially women in construction among other things. So a bit more about Letitia. She’s a celebrated entrepreneur who’s been featured on Mike Rowe’s Returning The Favor, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and was also named residential contractor of the year for 2020 by Roofing Contractor. Good job. But more importantly for the conversation today, Letitia is the founder of the LIME Foundation and it’s a nonprofit organization for young people to learn about the trades and get training in Santa Rosa, California, and discover real-world opportunities in construction. So welcome again, Letitia, let’s dive in.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay, great. Happy to be back.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you. So the construction industry is facing issues with this labor gap. People are busy, there’s a lot of work to do, and there’s not enough people to do the work. What can you tell us about that and what you’re doing?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, first of all, I didn’t realize that the lack of workforce in construction existed everywhere. I thought it was just here in California. And this was about six years ago when I first started thinking about how we need to bridge this gap and start training young people. And before that, we were already having a hard time finding employees to want to go into roofing. So at first it was just about me. I was just like, I need roofers, how do I find roofers? And then as I just started talking to my fellow contractors, general contractors, painters, they all started saying the same thing. Like, “We can’t find workers either. What are we going to do?” And I just said, “Well, how about, if I were to start a nonprofit that trains young people in the trades, would you guys be interested?” And they said yes. And that’s really how it all started.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And that was in 2015?

Letitia Hanke:

2015 is when I started the nonprofit. And it took a couple of years for me to actually develop the program and actually get, because I needed to have contractor buy-in. Back then, a lot of us were like, it costs a lot of money to train a new person, someone who has no experience whatsoever. We would rather hire someone with a bunch of experience and a bunch of attitude than to just train somebody from scratch. So I really needed that buy-in from the contractors and luckily we were all at our desperation point, so it was pretty easy for me to say, “Okay, are you going to be willing to train them from scratch?” And they said yes. And so it worked out very well.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So, what all is involved? What are the different components of your nonprofit?

Letitia Hanke:

So, the program’s called the NextGen Trades Academy. So we’re training young people, ages 16 and 24, many just right out of high school or maybe they’ve dropped out of high school, went back, got their GED, dropped out of college. Just all the ones that are just not sure what they want to do in life. And our class teaches them about all the different trades that, right now we’re working with 17 different trades in that industry, and simply introducing them to a career in the trades. That’s really all we’re doing, is saying, “Hey, here’s what roofing is all about, here’s what you can make, here’s a contractor telling you a little bit about what it entails. If you’re afraid of heights, you’re probably not going to want to go into roofing. If you don’t like going under these houses, you’re probably not want to go into plumbing.”

So we just introduced to them this new world that literally they’ve never heard of and letting them know that they can go straight into a career making 17 to $22 or more an hour, because it depends on what company or what trade you’re in. They’re starting people at $25 an hour to start with no experience, just none. And, I didn’t know it was going to explode like it did and it did. It just ended up exploding and now we have all these young people learning about these trades and then going straight into a career in construction.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. Man, that beats the heck out of the fast food joint down the street, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. We’re talking about that often. Sometimes they’re actually working at the fast food joint and taking our class at same time. So, they finish our class, they graduate, they put in their two weeks notice and next thing you know, they’re working for a solar company making $26 an hour. So yeah, it’s pretty nice. Yeah, it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

The more the benefit to the community too, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I have to say, especially to our community here in Santa Rosa. In 2017, we experienced a huge fire, the Tubbs fire, and it burned down 5,500 structures here in our town. And, imagine trying to rebuild all those homes when contractors were already busy, they were already busy before those fires. So, what’s really helped this community is to have a workforce, to have someone to draw from and train so that way, we can get our rebuilding done faster. So it’s been great for the community because we’re getting people back into their homes. So, it’s very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I know you’re, clearly you’re removing barriers from people to have an opportunity. You’re creating something that didn’t exist before and broadening horizons of somebody who maybe didn’t have a direction, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. I’m one of them. So I was in college, I mentioned before I think, I was in school and in my junior year I started working for a roofing company. I had just turned 20 years old, I was still in college at the time. Well, by the time I reached my senior year in college, I was in quite a bit of debt because I got student loans to get through college, and I ended up dropping out of college and my senior year, because I ended up getting promoted at the roofing company that I was at. I became the office manager of this business. And now I’m making $50,000 a year, which was huge back then for me. And I’m just like, finish college or… But like I said, I was in debt. I was 20 something years old and all this debt.

So what we’re helping is a lot of these young people that are kind of being taught through life that, you graduate from high school and you go straight to college. Many of them don’t want to go to college. They don’t want to go, some of them can’t afford it, and now we’re just saying, “Okay, here’s another option for you. If you don’t want to do that, here’s a great option for you. And now you’re not getting into debt and now you’re moving directly into a career.”

Mike Merrill:

Wow. And I would imagine because of obviously your company ARS, you’ve got an opportunity to hire some of your graduates. Is that right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, I get first dibs. Really, roofing is not the most, when I asked my students, every class I ask, the first day of class: What industry are you interested in? They usually say electrical. And I think it’s just because they just think that’s like the best industry to be in and they don’t really realize it. But it’s so rare that I get them to say roofing. And I remember I’ve hired four of the graduates and I have one of the graduates with me now and another one moved on to work for a bigger company after working for me for two years. And I remember that that student said roofing the first day in class, and he said roofing the second day, the last day of class, and I literally hired him like on the spot. He was one of our top students in that class, I’m just like, “You’re hired.”

And it’s been great for me because my other, my seasoned, I won’t call them my old employees, but my seasoned employees, they’re seeing how by hiring someone who’s green, we call them green, brand new into the industry, they’re able to train them exactly the way we want them to be trained. They’re learning the skills the way we want them to learn it. They’re not coming in with bad habits. I know many of you listening to this about those bad habits. When we would hire seasoned employees that have been in the industry for 20 years, they think they know everything. You can’t teach them anything. I’m just like, “Well, if you’re going to work here, you’ve got to do the work the way we do it because we’re certified, we’re this and that.” And they come in with attitude and stuff. The difference now is we’re bringing them in and they’re learning quickly, and now we get to train them the way we want them to be trained. And that’s a value. And that’s what my contractors are seeing. They’re just like, “Okay, this is actually working.” So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’ll bet, they’re not bringing their shortcuts with them, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So, how are you… You talked about one of your students moving on to a different organization. I imagine you’re getting feedback from other contractors that are benefiting from this. What are they saying?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think the biggest thing that they’ve been saying is just that they didn’t realize it. A lot of us just didn’t want to spend the extra time and the extra money to train someone green, but now they’re seeing the value of doing that. And that’s why they’re referring us to more contractors, they’re hiring more of our students. And they’re not even thinking about hiring a seasoned person because they know that all they have to do is move up some of the employees that they already have, move them up and then train these people to move them up and that’s actually working out better. And it’s just been great to actually just seeing more and more and more con… We started off with 11 contractors and now we have 168 in four years.

Mike Merrill:

Oh my goodness.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s working. It’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, what a blessing and a benefit to… Talk about a win-win win, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, absolutely. They just needed to see it. Sometimes it was hard for them to see, but as they keep hearing their other contractor friends saying, “Oh yeah, I hired this graduate and now they’re running their own crew after a year.” And that’s all it takes for them to actually see that as happening and working and now they’re going for it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s incredible. So, the LIME Foundation is primarily in the Santa Rosa area, right? Are there organizations like this or have you collaborated with any other institutions to this point?

Letitia Hanke:

We are mainly in Sonoma County. So we’ve actually been able to do the program throughout Sonoma County, and we’re in talks right now of down in the Bay Area as well, doing the program in that area, in Santa Clara County and also many other areas like Napa county is a lot of different counties and stuff they’ve been contacting us about how to bring the program to their location. And for me, I always tell them the same thing that starts with a… I need contractors first, it has to start with a buy-in of contractors that are willing to hire. So that’s the process, but yeah, we’re definitely working on that expansion for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’ve been at this for well, six years since you founded, it sounds like the last three or so plus in action. How many students have gone through this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

So we had 185 go through, 142 have graduated from the program. So they actually made it through in graduation, that means that they’ve got a B at all the classes. They’ve got to participate, do the homework that we have for them, and then they get certified, the Cal-OSHA, which is a safety certification. They’ve got to pass that course, it’s a 10-hour course. So they do have to take quite a few steps to actually graduate from the program, but they also know what’s at the end of that tunnel. They know that they’ve got this great opportunity.

Most of our students get hired within 30 to 60 days. So, we’re now up to 81, as of our last class, we’re up to 81% of our students being hired. We had a class where we had 100% of our students that graduated. They were nine students that graduated, 100% of them got hired within 30 days. Contractors were waiting for them. They’re like, “When are they graduating? What time?” So, I like that a lot actually, but some of them are not work eligible. For instance some don’t have a driver’s license to be able to drive vehicles, so they have to work on getting their driver’s license or they’re still in high school maybe they’re still juniors or seniors and they have to graduate. We do recommend that they graduate first. So once they graduate from the program, then we can get through… Once they graduate from school, then we can get them hired, but we have to make sure that they’ve graduated first.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. What an amazing impact! You must be so proud, honestly.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Oh my gosh. It’s just my favorite thing. I love it so much and just being so connected to these young people and seeing their journey and just, oh my gosh, it’s just so beautiful. It makes me so happy every day to wake up to continue to do what I’m doing, because I just know that I’m helping to change these young lives. So it’s really…

Mike Merrill:

For generations, right?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

You’re changing generations.

Letitia Hanke:

My goal is to go full circle where one of my graduates starts their own company and then they hire graduates from the class like I am, and I’m this close to that. One of my graduates has been working for a contractor for four years and he’s been a journeyman now with him for two years. So he’s got another couple years and then he’s able to get his own license. And then one of our female students started her own company. Once she graduated from our program, she actually started one of her own companies as well. So she doesn’t have an employee yet, but I know she’ll pick from our group when she’s ready. So I’m just really looking forward to that day because that’s been on my dream board actually, when I first started, that’s what I wanted to have happen. So I’m looking forward to that day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, you mentioned a dream board, is that like a vision board or something?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, my vision board, yes. My vision board is, I look at it every day, it’s in my closet and I have to go in there and to get my shoes. And so I get to look at my vision board.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a good place for it.

Letitia Hanke:

I know I’m in there every day, that’s where I’m going to look at it and I just get to constantly look at those things that I want to see for my future. And I’m always changing, as I achieve the goals, I put up new ones, but it’s just great to be able to see those things come true. And just to keep me going every day, working towards that vision and working towards those goals. It keeps me motivated.

Mike Merrill:

Very inspiring. You probably mentioned, you don’t want to do roofing anymore, you just want to do more of this right?

Letitia Hanke:

I won’t say that out loud, but yeah. That’s my retirement. My nonprofit is definitely my retirement. If I had a chance to spend the rest of my life helping these young people, I would do it in a heartbeat. So yeah, that’s my retirement for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Sounds like you’re well, on the way. And I know we could use one of these in Utah, I know that. Everybody I know is months out.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, months. Months out. Yes, we’re working on it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, we’ll see if we can help plug in a few more contra… We’ve got a lot of great customers that are larger roofing organizations around the country.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s wonderful.

Mike Merrill:

So I’m hoping, I’ll send this episode to many of them, see if we can get some of them to play.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

So, tell me with how this is working out, what, number one is just like you planned it and then maybe what’s been a pleasant surprise for you about this so far?

Letitia Hanke:

I think, well, I planned out doing this class, helping a few students, but I didn’t expect Mike Rowe to contact me about it. That’s number one. It’s gained this national type, people knowing about it all over the place. I thought I would be confined to little Santa Rosa, Sonoma County. And now from just even that show, people in Kentucky and Florida and Georgia and everywhere, Colorado, even Utah, people contacted us saying, “Hey, how do we get that program here at our place?” And that’s what I wasn’t expecting. I was not expecting that I could do this program around the country and around the world really. So that makes me super excited to know that I can help so many more people with the model that we’ve already built and have put together. So yeah, it excites me everyday every time I think about that. So we have a little list of all these other cities and states that people wanting the program and I’m just like, great, let’s make it happen.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love it. So we’re plugged into our local AGC chapter here in Utah, and they’re just finishing, I think our ribbon cutting ceremony will be in probably late June, maybe early July, and they had a huge training facility and over $4 million of the labor materials for that work donated from the contractors here locally. And it’s a safety and a training facility for something very similar to what you’re doing, train the trades and get more qualified people ready to enter the workforce because there’s such a gap.

Letitia Hanke:

And that’s funny. So, it’s very expensive here in California. So California is very different from other places. So in order for our students to be able to do hands-on training we have to have worker’s comp and it’s very, very expensive. So we said, okay, we’re just going to do this class as an education type piece and without really a lot of hands-on. And it’s been great to know that we can do it, just education, education only, and still get them hired. And the contractors are doing all the hands on training. They’re there working for them. We thought they’ll have an apprenticeship. Nope. They’re just hiring them and then training them right then and there. So, that’s been nice to not have that expense of that. And then knowing that this is just from education, that we’re getting these young people hired for full-time positions. So it’s really great. I would love to do some hands-on with them, but it just costs quite a bit over here in California.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I can imagine.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So, for somebody who wants to bring more awareness to the trades and start making an impact in their community, what advice would you have for them?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, number one, you can contact me.

Mike Merrill:

There you go.

Letitia Hanke:

I’ll help you do that. But I realized that people may have a passion just like I did to start their own nonprofit and do their own training, which they absolutely should do. But maybe you don’t feel like doing all the work because there’s a lot of work involved in it. They can contact someone like us or look in their regions where they’re located because most likely there is a training program somewhere where you are and you just have to do a tiny bit of research and find it and just get involved in that because it’s working and it’s working because these are young people that are, they’re ready to go right into the workforce. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly okay for them to go straight into the workforce and we just need to be teaching that more out of school, at a young age, that there are other options for them. So I’m working on that right now as we speak.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s very inspiring. Again, I can think of probably 10 podcasts that we’ve recorded, at least that breached on this topic at some point, and everybody’s saying the same thing. There’s a gap, there’s not enough skilled labor coming out of high school and colleges, people are not going into the trades like they have been in the past and it’s a lost art, we need to start figuring out how to foster these young boys and girls, young men and women to get involved.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, and it’s hard to make up the time because we’ve had this gap for so long I’ve got employees that are aging out and then I have new ones. You know what I mean?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Letitia Hanke:

It’s already there, that gap is already there. So how are we going to make up for that lost time? I still don’t know that answer. I just know that I’m working on it and we need more and more and more people to work on it. And the jobs are there, the opportunities are literally there. We just need to make sure that people know that that opportunity is there, especially our young people. So we can do that, each and every one of us can make that happen. And like I said, feel free to contact me. I would love to help you work your way through it, or if you’re interested in our program, figure out how to have it there.

Mike Merrill:

So, what’s been your secret? You mentioned earlier that they could start their own, or if they didn’t want to do the work, they could call you, but everybody has good ideas. It’s not hard to come up with a good idea, but the execution is where the challenge is. What’s been your secret sauce to help you do that?

Letitia Hanke:

My team. Oh my gosh, I literally surrounded myself with some of the most magnificent people. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. Yes, I always have ideas. There’s always that idea, but to really truly implement that idea, you’ve got to have a great team around you. So number one, my roofing team, they’re so amazing that it gives me that free time to actually be able to spend over here on the non-profit. So they run that company, they make sure everything is going nice and smoothly, so I can have that extra time. So, that’s number one.

But then if you’re going to start a nonprofit, that’s a whole other business. They call it a nonprofit but I’m telling you it’s a whole other business. So, I have a great team over there as well, that they believe in the vision they believe and they have the passion. Remember, I was mentioning that earlier, they share that passion. And so it just makes it that much easier to make it happen. And they want to see it grow, they want to see it build they’re experiencing firsthand what it’s like for these young people. Luckily we stay in touch with a lot of them. So we get to really hear their stories and see how it’s changed their lives. And that’s all we really need to hear is, why don’t you students tell us how much this changed their lives and that’s it for us. So yeah, surrounding yourself with the right people, you can make it happen. That’s all you need.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Which to me, when you say that, I’m thinking people that you can trust and that also trust you, right?

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. You need to be able to trust them. And you want to make sure that they’re the right people for the job and how it, it’s just how much dedication, how they dedicate themselves to it. And I have luckily found some of the best people I feel in the entire world. So, I’m very blessed, again, very lucky, very blessed to have great people that I’m surrounded by. And your family, my husband, my son, you’ve got to have good people, my parents. They’re all just great security for me and making sure that they are supporting me in every way, because yeah, it’s a lot of time away from your family and your loved ones when you’re building something like this and just to get their buy-in and their understanding of how I’m trying to change the world. They’re like, “Go change the world, we’re here. And so, that means the world to me.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Well, you’re clearly an inspiration and you are to me, but to many others as well, and I can see why.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, who inspired you?

Letitia Hanke:

My mom. Oh my God. I’m not going to cry? Let’s turn this off. My mom, oh my gosh, she means so many sacrifices for me and for my brother. And she’s so smart. And there were things that, and my dad, he’s been in construction, he’s a pipe fitter, retired pipe fitter. So construction’s literally been in my brain for years, as they’ve just brought me up such the right way in life about just having morals and believing in prayer and God and how I can make and change the world if I really want to do it. And my mom, the sacrifice that she made for her career to have me and my brother instead, those are the things that I’m just like, I appreciate that she gave up those things for me and now I get to do the things that she wanted to do in life. And she just really wanted to help others as well. So my parents inspire me every day and my kiddo, my son is a huge inspiration to me as well. So yeah, my family.

Mike Merrill:

All about family. That’s wonderful. Well, you deserve all the goodness you can get your hands on.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you so much for joining us today. I sure enjoyed this conversation, Letitia.

Letitia Hanke:

Me too.

Mike Merrill:

How do people get involved? If they want to donate or get involved with the LIME Foundation, what can they do to help?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, we surely can’t do this for free, so donations are great. We are a nonprofit, we’re a 501(c)(3), so there’s mentorship that’s available. Even if you’re out of area, you’re still able to be a mentor if you’re a contractor, so you can get ahold of us for that. And also donations are always welcome. We need to pay for those tools when we run out of the ones that were donated, we need their uniforms, just the instructors to go through the program. And we’re talking donations from $5 to $50 to $5,000. Everything matters. You’d go to our website, the limefoundation.org and LIME is linen-lime and Lime is my son’s name spelled backwards. My son’s name is Emil, E-M-I-L. And that’s how it became the LIME Foundation.

From my story of when I was younger, I was bullied. I grew up in an area that was predominantly white, and I was pretty much one of six black students in the whole school. So I was severely bullied. And so LIME Foundation kind of came out of what I went through as a kid. And my son started experiencing racism when he was about seven years old. And I started talking to him about what I went through as well, and how music is what really helped me get through those bad times. So you may not know, but part of LIME Foundation is also an arts and music program for disadvantaged youth that have gone through really hard times in their lives. And so when I wanted to name my non-profit something that meant the world to me, it was my son’s name spelled backwards because kids used to bully him and tease him and call him lime and names.

And so LIME is something that makes me always remember how important it is to be able to help others and to get people through their hard times in life. So LIME Foundation, at the limefoundation.org, you can see all of our videos, you can donate to us and help us and connect us with other contractors and people that just want to change lives.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful, Leticia. Sure appreciate it. And there you are owning it again. You just keep owning stuff, don’t you?

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much for this opportunity. And hopefully someone will make contact with me.

Mike Merrill:

They will. I’m going to make sure of it. But we really appreciate the opportunity to shine a light on these important topics and your inspiring and incredible story of perseverance.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

All right, well, we’ll have to do it again down the road and check in on your progress, if that’s okay.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you so much.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Thank you. And thank you to listeners for joining Letitia and I today for our important conversation, we appreciate your listenership and we’re excited to bring you these great conversations and especially talk about things that are so important, our industry and the LIME Foundation and all these great and important details about how we can all dig in and help improve our industry. Again, our goal, the podcast is to bring you valuable conversations that can help you not only improve your business, but also your life.

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

Breaking Barriers and Paving the Way for Women in Construction

The construction industry has made positive advancements in recent decades, especially when it comes to technology, engineering and safety. But one area in which the industry continues to lag is the makeup of its workforce. In 2019, women comprised only 10 percent of the construction workforce. And while there is some silver lining – including a growing number of women managers in the field – there’s more work to be done. Fortunately, there are leaders like Letitia Hanke paving the way for women to enter the field of construction and build successful careers.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Letitia talks about her journey starting out in roofing to now being president and CEO of ARS Roofing. She and host Mike Merrill discuss breaking into the business, navigating the industry and why mentorship is imperative for up-and-comers in construction – especially women who need to see themselves represented. They also talk about how construction leaders can ensure a level playing field for all.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Find a mentor (or become a mentor). It can be intimidating to start a new job or navigate a new industry, which is why mentorship is critical. Whether it’s booking time with business coaches or chatting with leaders in other industries, everyone can benefit from having trusted mentors to get advice from on navigating the peaks and valleys that come with a career. Mentorship can be especially valuable for women to build a sense of community in an industry they’re outnumbered by men nine to one in.
  2. Network, network, network. They say if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Letitia advises networking and building relationships throughout the industry. By sharing best practices with peer groups and sharing notes, everyone can work together on making the industry better across the board.
  3. Prioritize expanding the construction workforce. Like every other industry, the construction space faces worker shortages and is in need of top talent. But leaders can turn this around by broadening who they recruit and conduct outreach to. By being inclusive of women, and workers of all ages and backgrounds, the construction industry will gain a competitive edge.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we have a fantastic guests on that we’re really excited about, and that is Mrs. Letitia Hanke. And Letitia is the founder and CEO of ARS Roofing Gutters and Solar out of Santa Rosa, California. Letitia has been featured on Mike Rowe’s show, Returning the Favor. She’s also been on the Kelly Clarkson show. Super cool. And she was named Residential Contractor of the Year in 2020 by Roofing Contractor. But Letitia is a lot more than just a construction entrepreneur. She’s a founder of The LIME Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on helping young people in the Santa Rosa area discover real-world opportunities in the trades. Hello, Letitia and welcome.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

Mike Merrill:

That’s good. Well, so how are you doing today?

Letitia Hanke:

Pretty Good. I’m super happy that it’s Friday.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too. That makes two of us. So you started ARS Roofing back in 2004. So we’re, gosh, 15, almost 20 years now, quite a while. And you’ve grown the company up to about 24 employees now. So how did you get started in construction and what inspired you to take the leap into business for yourself and especially roofing?

Letitia Hanke:

I wasn’t really expecting to get into roofing. I was in college, I’m a musician. I’m sure you can see the drums in the back. So I was actually in college at the time for music and performing and recording arts, but I was broke all through my college career and I needed a really good paying job. And when I was about 20 years old, I applied for roofing company, simply as the receptionist, answering the phones, filing. And I got connected at this wonderful company and started working there. And then after a few years, my boss decided that he wanted to retire and approached me about possibly buying his company a few years later. And I’m just like, “I’m not a roofer. I don’t run a roofing company, but I’m not a roofer.” And he’s like, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.” And literally, few years later, after being in the field, I was able to get my own contractor’s license and started my own business.

Mike Merrill:

Every little girl wants to grow up and be a roofer. I know.

Letitia Hanke:

I knew that when I was nine years old, I wanted to be a roofer when I grew up.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Love it. So now that you’ve been doing this for a while, what would you change or do differently if you could start over? What do you learn now that you maybe didn’t understand when you first got into this?

Letitia Hanke:

I was trying in the very beginning, I didn’t really know a lot what I was doing as far as being a business owner. I didn’t take a business class. I didn’t really know how to hire employees really, because I just, I got kind of thrown into it really. So in the beginning, I feel that if I had taken a few more business classes, learned a little bit more about finances, profit and loss. I learned all that later on in life when I’m just broke. And then I finally started learning a little bit more with my accountant about how to read my numbers, how to be able to do my job costing. And that helped me so much. So finance, learning a little bit about the numbers early on. I think that would have definitely helped me be in a better position years later.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that answer. I hear that a lot. That’s the biggest challenge. We’re blue collar people in the construction industry. And so the business side is often where maybe the gap could be that’s.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

So speaking of that, kind of leads into my next question. If you were going to give advice to somebody who’s listening that may have interest in starting their own business, or maybe they’re newly started, what are, aside from finance and job costing, what are some other tips that you would give those folks?

Letitia Hanke:

Don’t start with your own money. I remember, when I owned my house at the time when I first started, and I took a loan out on the house so I could have the money to get into there. And I’m just like, “Oh my goodness, what am I doing?” And then the market crashed and it was just crazy. And I’m just like, “I’m going to lose all my money.” And so I recommend, and I even tell a lot of people now when I talk to them about starting a businesses, there are different grants available out there for starting a small business. And then there’s other programs, like small business administration, the SBA loan, which is what I got to actually start my company. So it’s great to have that opportunity to actually have some seed money to start off with so that way you can have a little bit of cushion because that cushion becomes very important.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Construction is definitely not for the faint of heart. So I feel your pain. I actually grew up in construction, had a construction business for over a decade also before I helped start our software company. So definitely know the bumps and bruises that you can take along the way.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct. Ups and downs.

Mike Merrill:

So also you don’t fit the typical profile of a roofing contractor, I’ve been to tons of roofing conventions and a little bit different packaging. So what can you tell us about that?

Letitia Hanke:

Well when I first got into roofing, well, I don’t know any other African-American roofers at this time, especially here in California. But it was a big challenge for me, getting started as a female because I go to all these different male-dominated networking events and it’s all men in there and I’m walking in, Miss Roofer. And it was a very interesting experience in the very beginning because they just weren’t really accepting me into the industry because they’re just like, “Who is this lady that thinks she’s a roofer?” So it was challenging in the very, very beginning, but I pushed through.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Yeah. I was doing a little research and I did come up with some statistics. One of the stats was that only 10% of the people working in construction comprised of women.

Letitia Hanke:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

And that’s overall. 87% of those, so 8.7 of the 10, were working in office positions. And then only two and a half were tradespeople.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s right. Yeah. And there’s 3% are roofers. And then I don’t even know what the percentage of African-American roofers. I haven’t even made it that far to research to see how many are actually women of color that are in this industry as well. So that’s a whole nother set of numbers.

Mike Merrill:

And kudos to you for pushing through whatever those barriers may have been, or may still be. Obviously you’re thriving, which is fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. It feels good.

Mike Merrill:

You have such a positive energy and a vibe and just a fantastic smile and I can feel your energy even through the monitor. So I appreciate it.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you. I’m excited to be here. Just talking about it makes me really happy.

Mike Merrill:

I could tell. So even within that, so one other statistic that was interesting that I’d to drill down on a little bit, is only 13% of ownership in construction are women. So what can you tell us about that number? And what’s been interesting to you in that experience?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah, I think it’s just because it is a male-dominated industry that it’s intimidating. You have to have a really thick skin to really push forward and keep going in there, because everyone that you’re working with, most of the contractors that I’m working with are male or were in the very beginning. Now’s a little different, I’ve been encountering so many more women, finally getting into the trades. But in the beginning, it’s just very intimidating.

Letitia Hanke:

So if you’re not ready for that or prepared for that. I had really great mentors that were women that were in other industries like property management, but that’s really male-dominated as well. And those mentors helped me to just prepare myself for it. And they said, “You’re going to get this, this, this, and this, just ignore it and keep going.” And I just always listened to that advice that they gave me and I ignored it and kept going. So that’s what got me through. But some women and people in general just if they can’t handle that extra pressure, it just makes it that much harder for them to focus on what needs to get done. And I just focused, I stayed focused through the whole thing and that’s why we’re where we are today. So it’s been great.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And I love that you mentioned mentors because I know that I hear that a lot. That’s a critical piece. What would you say about the mentors that helped you through that journey?

Letitia Hanke:

It was just that they’d been through it. So they were able to really kind of prepare me for it. And I have business coaches as well. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without really great coaches. They’re both females that have just really gotten me, even my therapist, I have a life coach, a therapist, and a business coach. And they just really get me through that day to day and just keep me very, very focused. So that’s definitely something I definitely recommend is that, if you’re going to start a business or get into this kind of industry, you need someone that’s going to help hold you accountable, number one, but also someone that you’re going to be able to talk to when those times get really rough because you have peaks and valleys. So just remember that, there’s always those peaks and valleys.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that you mentioned that. I know when we look into the, even the professional sports arena or other areas, everybody has a coach, the best people in the world have that third person perspective that can help guide and direct. And I love that you’re tapping into that, even in business.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. For sure. It’s very important. They give amazing guidance on the time management, helping me with my time management and being able to have family time or just even just my own personal time instead of working all the time. So my coaches have helped me with that these years.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. As an entrepreneur, it’s a slippery slope, right?

Letitia Hanke:

You’re working all the time. My son is 18 and I’m just like, “Oh wait, weren’t you just a baby yesterday?” Because time just went by so fast. And when you’re working a lot, it’s just like, “Oh wow.” Before you know what your kid is 18 years old. So it’s crazy.

Mike Merrill:

As an entrepreneur of the business we’ll gladly take any minute you’ll give it. No question about it.

Letitia Hanke:

That’s correct.

Mike Merrill:

So one of the other statistics that I was able to dig up, 64% is the increase amounts from 2004 to 2019, of women-owned businesses. So that’s a big number and that’s great to see. Are you witnessing more of that? Are you seeing that in your peer groups or among the associations you’re involved in?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. And it’s so wonderful because I felt so alone. This was 17 years ago when I first started my own company and I felt so alone. The women that I would see at these networking events, they were usually the office … just your statistics said, they were the office managers or the receptionist of those construction companies, but they weren’t actually the contractors. So it was hard for me to really be able to connect. And so definitely over the last 10 years, for sure, so many more women contractors getting into restoration and painting and just all these grueling type industries in the field. And I gravitated right to them. And we connect with each other and talk about all the things that we sometimes can’t talk about to the males and we can relate to each other and really have that, we can rely on each other and help each other through those hard times. And I’ve just been seeing so many more women and I’m trying to get more women too, into construction as well. So it’s important.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. There’s this common theme I keep hearing and that is, networking and other people and associating and comparing notes, helping.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

How important has that been?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s been great because I couldn’t do this alone. If I attempted to do this alone, I would have been gone a long time ago. And networking and talking to other contractors, male or female, just talking to them about best practices. We’re not enemies. Even other roofers, I have other roofers that are my friends and we talk about best practices and how’s it going for you? And those things are very helpful for all of us. We don’t have to be enemies. We can work together and be able to create something even better if we’re actually working together to make the industry a little better. So that’s been very valuable for me to have that networking.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I absolutely love that. So it sounds things are really moving the right direction, which is just fantastic.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

There’s still probably some barriers and some challenges. Have you had some experiences where you feel you didn’t get the job or you didn’t get something because of these other unique things about you compared to the typical roofer?

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I touched on it a little bit, number one, being a female already is just one of those things where sometimes other contractors have disparaged me. They don’t even know who I am and they’re telling customers, “Oh, you don’t want to go with her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” But I’ve had to deal with it as being, not only a female, but also being African-American. As a female, when I first got into the industry, my very first encounter at a networking function, and back in the day when I first started 17 years ago, I just wanted to be one of the guys. I would wear my jeans and my boots. And I’m walking in, just try to be one of the guys.

Letitia Hanke:

And I was wearing this polo shirt with my logo on it. And we were at this networking event and one of the general contractors was hanging out with his buddies at the bar and I just kind of walk up and they see my logo and he’s like, “Oh, you worked for ARS roofing?” I’m like, “Oh no, I’m actually the CEO.” And he’s like, “From the kitchen to the rooftop, huh?” That’s what it was like for me in the very beginning, was that. That was my very first networking event, by the way, the first time I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. But being Black, experiencing the racism part of it, customers that don’t want to shake my hand.

Letitia Hanke:

I used to hide a lot in the very beginning. I would sign my name L.R. Hanke so they would think that I’m a man. I didn’t have my face on anything. And I remember a couple that I encountered, I went to their home to sign the contract, they didn’t know I was Black. And the wife just jumps when she answers the door. And I’m about to come in and her husband comes over and I’m just like, “Hey, great to see you.” And I put my hand out and he looks down at my hand, looks back at me and down in my hand again and he walked away. And I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, do I go inside this home or not?” And I go in, ready to sign the contract. And she’s like, “Oh, I think we’re not going to do the roof. We appreciate you coming by.”

Letitia Hanke:

And I’m just like, “Well, I’ve got the sample boards here you like asked for, to look at colors.” “Let’s just do that on your way out.” And I’m like, “Fine, no problem.” And I’m walking out the door and the homeowner guy, he comes back over and he says, “I just want to let you know, we have an alarm system on our house. And if anyone tries to break in, it’s going to go off really loud.” And that’s what he said to me as I’m walking out the door. And that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve had to overcome and get through.

Letitia Hanke:

But that day when that happened, that was about eight years ago. That changed my life forever because I literally went back to my office. And by the way, I told him, thank you very much for that information. I went back to my office, took his contract, put it through the shredder and then I completely rebranded my business. I put my face literally on everything. If you go to my website, my face is everywhere. And then I changed my name to Letitia Hanke and I kind of came out and in so many ways, because it was my way of being able to say, “Okay, I’m not going to hide anymore.” And my business literally catapulted from that day. Because now people wanted to support a Black-owned business and they wanted to support a woman-owned business. And that’s how we’ve climbed to the top. So I should be thanking them for that. But that’s what I’ve dealt with over the years.

Mike Merrill:

What a difficult, yet incredible experience. Good for you for being strong, doubling down.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, for sure.

Mike Merrill:

And owning it. I absolutely love that. I’m very inspired by that. What advice would you give to other construction leaders, especially women, that are trying to break into this? What can they do to be proud upfront and own that earlier?

Letitia Hanke:

It’s a great industry to be in. Construction, in general, but I love roofing. I think it’s just a really beautiful art form and anyone who wants to break into construction, you just need to believe that you can do it. I was 20-something years old when I first started training in roofing. And I didn’t think that that was something I would ever do. It was never on my mind to actually own a roofing company. I knew I wanted to own a business. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a business owner, I was a little entrepreneur when I was younger. But I just took that chance and took that risk. And then it all paid off in the long run. So it’s really just being willing to take that chance and that risk and trying it out. And if it fails, it’s okay. Being okay with failure is all right. And what if it doesn’t fail? What if it ends up being a multimillion dollar company? Just take that chance and that risk and go for it.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love it. Good for you. I love how you, again, have continued to just buckle down and persevere and push through even among such ugliness and divisiveness that I can’t believe, even whether it was seven or eight years ago, or I can’t believe in the last 20 years that that could even happen.

Letitia Hanke:

Yeah. I know. It’s hard. You’re still there, but now it’s different because everyone knows I’m Black. So it’s great. I don’t really have that many issues anymore and they know I’m female right off. I think that was just a great decision to make. And now I don’t have that trouble. They know who I am when they call me. So it’s been great. It’s actually been a blessing. So again, I should be knocking on their door and thanking them for that.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. I love that. I hope they listen to this.

Letitia Hanke:

If you’re listening.

Mike Merrill:

So what advice would you give to companies that want to hire a more diverse workforce and want to help to improve those areas that we clearly still have room for improvement, as a country and as an industry?

Letitia Hanke:

I think it’s about changing your mindset. I know when I’m talking to contractors or talking about a contractor, a lot of times they say he, he, he, instead of they. It’s just starting to be more inclusive. There are a lot of females and young females that simply don’t know that they can be in this type of industry because we’re not telling them that. They’re not hearing that. And so we’ve got to change ourselves into always thinking that it’s a ‘he’ thing. It’s not a ‘he’ thing, it’s a ‘they’ thing. And if you want to have more diversity, you need to do more outreach. So diversity is in many different levels… 

As far as diversity goes, diversity is in many different ways. It’s not just your color or your race, but it’s also whether you’re hiring women, people young and old LGBTQ community, diversity is a big whole thing. And unless you’re reaching out to those communities to join your team, you’re going to always be seeing the same people. So I just always make a little extra effort to make sure that I have a very well diverse team at my company.

Mike Merrill:

Well, you’re a great example to many of the rest of us. And I appreciate you sharing that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So many great efforts. You’re doing so much good work. I don’t know how you … Do you ever even sleep?

Letitia Hanke:

No.

Mike Merrill:

Doesn’t sound like it.

Letitia Hanke:

My coach helped me get sleep. My business coach. She’s like, “Okay. So at this time you go to bed and at this time you wake up in the morning and start work all over again.” Yeah. She helped me be able to actually go to bed at a regular normal people’s time so yeah, I have good work and home life balance now that I’ve had some really good coaches in my life.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. So with ARS, tell me, in 2021, what are you excited about? What’s next? What’s new?

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, 2021. What’s next is just getting through this pandemic, number one. I’m looking for that. I’m looking forward to getting back at my company, my team, we do quarterly events. So we do team camping trips and bowling nights. So I’m actually really looking forward to being able to do that again with my team, because I hope to just be able to be a family together. I have a really fun speaking engagement coming up for the 2020 Roofer of the Year. That’s coming up in Texas in September. Key note speaker, and that’s a really big thing for me because I’m actually going to be talking to my peers of roofers around the country. And that is huge for me through all these years to be able to do that. So I’m looking forward to it. I’m very nervous, at the same time, and like I said, just getting through this year is going to be a really great thing and definitely a goal of mine. So yeah, lots of good stuff happening this year, though.

Mike Merrill:

That’s exciting. This is ironic, but I was on with our marketing director earlier this morning. We are just signing up for that same event. So I’m planning on speaking as well.

Letitia Hanke:

Well, I will see you there.

Mike Merrill:

Maybe I can give you a post-COVID hug, we’ll see.

Letitia Hanke:

That would be so exciting. I do miss hugs.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, me too.

Letitia Hanke:

I’m a hugger. I’m sure the contractors are like, “Wait, she’s hugging me. What’s happening?”

Mike Merrill:

Right! You’re a hugger, a roofer…I see in the back, you’re also a drummer. It looks, or somebody is. What’s the deal with that?

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. I come from a long line of musicians in my family. I mean, literally since I was nine, I’ve been playing drums since I was nine. I started off playing the trumpet when I was seven, piano since I was 12. It’s definitely my way of getting away. The stress that I endure on a daily basis, my getaway is writing music. Being able to, I play my drums up in church and I’ve been growing up in the church, playing the drums since I was really young. So it’s definitely something that I love to do. And music is a big part of my heart.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s awesome. So is that the set that Mike Rowe gave to you?

Letitia Hanke:

The set that Mike Rowe gave to me is actually at the church still, because it’s huge. It’s a huge kit and I can’t fit it in this little room. This is my practice kit. But no, I left it there at the church, the way he presented them to me. So I get to play them when I’m there. So it was a huge surprise. Mike really just made me and my day it was a great thing that happened.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That was really, that was a tearjerker to watch, actually. I enjoyed watching that too.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh, I cry still. Every time I hand one of my students the tools, because at the end you saw all those tools that he gave to us and now we get to give them to our students from our academy. And it’s just, I cry every time. So yeah, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

Mike Merrill:

It’s awesome. It’s a DeWalt tool kit. And it looked, if I remember, it was about $65,000 worth of tools that he donated to your school?

Letitia Hanke:

Yep. And now they’re not having to spend 500, $600 for tools and it’s been really great.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, fantastic. Love to hear that.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So kind of wrapping up the conversation side of things, I wanted to ask you a few more personal questions. Nothing too crazy.

Letitia Hanke:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

So in your life, your work-life balance, whatever it is, what’s been one of the key differentiators that’s helped you find success? I feel you’re successful. What do you think?

Letitia Hanke:

Well, prayer. Prayer has gotten me through some of the worst and the best times of my life through this career. But again, earlier I mentioned, I know I said it already, but it’s really been all my mentors. It’s been having someone to speak to and talk to about the business part and the life part and figuring out how to be able to have that fun and persevered through the best and the worst times.

Letitia Hanke:

Here, where I live in Santa Rosa, we’ve had so many fires, so many huge fires and just different opportunities for us to not persevere through it. And yet we kept getting through it. And my mentors and my coaches have really helped me be able to stay focused. It’s just about staying focused and having your mind on the prize. And for me, it’s just being able to keep my employees working and helping them take care of their families. And so that’s been the greatest thing that I can say right now, is just being able to have my prayer nights and talking, and listening and implementing the things that my coaches tell me to do. So that’s been definitely my saving grace.

Mike Merrill:

Ah, good for you. I’m a person of faith and prayers. Very helpful and necessary for me, too.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes. Yes.

Mike Merrill:

I appreciate your sharing that. And really, again, being honest, you don’t think of, oh the roofer, what a blessing in my life, but when your roof’s leaking and somebody has to fix it, so you can get back to normalcy.

Letitia Hanke:

That is correct.

Mike Merrill:

Fires or-

Letitia Hanke:

Exactly, exactly. Wind storms, the list goes on. Yes. I mean, we come to their rescue and we’re there to take care of them and keep them, I say safe and dry. And that’s literally what we do. So yeah, we’re a very important part of construction, keeping that roof over their heads.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, speaking of, also another, I guess question that I ask everybody is, what is Letitia’s superpower? When you put your cape on.

Letitia Hanke:

Oh my gosh. I think it’s my passion. I have to say, I have passion for life, passion for people. That’s really, I think that, I know for sure, that’s the thing that keeps me going. If you’re going to call that my superpower. I genuinely care for others and want to see others succeed. I’ve had people that have come to my rescue and have passion to helped me through my hard times. And I just to pay that forward. And I think that’s really one of the, if you ask my friends and family, they would say that my passion is definitely, I would say my superpower. Because it’s what keeps me going and making sure that I can always help others whenever I can. So yeah, I would say that.

Mike Merrill:

You clearly have a kind heart to plug that passion into because that shows also.

Letitia Hanke:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

All right. So, to wrap up, what would you hope that the listeners come away within our conversation today?

Letitia Hanke:

I’ve said a lot of stuff. I think the one thing is, and I may have mentioned it earlier, is just, don’t be afraid to take chances. In my life the risks and the chances that I’ve taken to just try it, to give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? That’s literally what I’ve been doing through this whole journey. And just listening to my gut and saying, “Okay, this is something that I could do.” And I really feel that if you just are willing to take that risk and take that chance, it could turn out to be something absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I can literally say that’s what’s happened for me.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, thank you, Letitia. You are such an inspiration and I just appreciate the opportunity to kindle a friendship. I hope we can see each other in September, and get a chance to talk again before that.

Letitia Hanke:

We will, for sure. 100%. I’m looking forward to it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. In fact, we’ve talked about this before. We’re going to record a second episode about Letitia’s foundation called The LIME Foundation.

Letitia Hanke:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So stay tuned for that. We’re going to do that next and release that in a second episode so we can focus more on the great work she’s doing there.

Letitia Hanke:

Yay, thank you.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thanks again, Letitia. We’ll talk to you again very soon.

Letitia Hanke:

Bye bye. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

And thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Letitia and I had today, please follow us on Instagram, @WorkMax_ and on LinkedIn @WorkMax. And give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you listened to this episode on. Those ratings and reviews are very helpful for us to continue to bring valued guests and these valuable conversations, to not only help you improve your business, but improve your life.

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Driving Experimentation in Construction Through Creativity

Experimental projects encourage creativity in the construction industry. At the forefront of this is Alfonso Oliva, Director of LERA+ – a spinoff of structural-engineering firm LERA. LERA+ pushes the boundaries of creativity with the principles of engineering by way of design optimization, software development, simulation and 3D modeling. The result? A jaw-dropping portfolio that includes some of the most iconic buildings and structural art in the world. 

As exciting as these projects may be, most construction firms don’t require such high levels of experimentation. However, there’s a thing or two to be learned about introducing new levels of creativity to projects and optimizing projects through technology, such as computational design and digital fabrication.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Oliva breaks down how structural optimization technologies are being utilized in construction projects across the country and how construction firms can incorporate creativity and artwork into their projects. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Experimental projects begin with research. There’s no shortage of cut-and-dry construction projects. But on the occasion a firm is allowed to think outside the box and experiment with new possibilities, the process begins with a big question mark: why not? From ideation, a team should analyze their concept as if they were in school, questioning and researching to determine what’s possible and understand the boundaries they can work within.
  2. Technology, creativity and engineering go hand-in-hand. According to Oliva, most anything is possible when seen through the lens of these three factors. A creative idea relies on engineering principles to understand its boundaries, while technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) solutions enable construction firms and consultancies to streamline projects and move them forward.
  3. Technology will always be second to human judgement. There’s no question technologies speed projects along and eliminate repetitive tasks, but what solutions like AI can never replace is human judgement. Whether it’s from an engineer, fabricator, architect or client, technologies help guide the way, but people will always understand the beauty and feel of a project in a way technology could never replace.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime technologies and WorkMax. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And we have the opportunity today to have a wonderful guest, Alfonso Oliva, director at LERA Plus and an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Alfonso is a highly regarded expert in structural engineering, as well as an installation artist and a skilled sculptor. Today, we’re talking about structural optimization technologies and how these things are being used today in construction projects across the country. Also, how construction firms are bringing a new level of creativity to structures around the globe. Hello Alfonso, thank you for joining us and welcome.

Alfonso Oliva:

Hi Mike, thanks for having me first of all and hello everybody to all the listeners.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, before we get too deep into the conversation part of the podcast, can you tell us a little bit about your background and share some of your history?

Alfonso Oliva:

Sure. I’m originally from Italy. I was born in the south of Italy, close to Naples and that’s where I started my studies. I started with surveying engineering, that is somehow related to what we’re talking about today. It’s still in the engineering field. Did a lot of that and then that’s where my engineering path that brought me here started. I signed up for civil engineering in my university in Cassino and I took my bachelor there. And then while when I signed up for the master, I had the opportunity to basically apply for a scholarship. That is what brought me here in New York. I applied for the scholarship. I won the scholarship and I came to New York and I basically started a mastery thing where you instruct engineering with a focus in structural engineering. Finished that master, went back to Italy to finish my other master in civil engineering. And then I came back to New York to start working.

And that’s when I started working on tall buildings. Doing that, I found a lot of processes that were repetitive in my opinion and I wanted to cut down and that’s where the optimization starts kicking in. I got interested in that. I started another master in computational design with focus on optimizations at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Completed that while I was working. I was applying those concepts there. I moved to another company, it’s LERA, where I’m working today, started the LERA Plus group, thanks with the support of the partnership. And then while at LERA, since we are a research group and I’m passionate about research, I started a PhD in computational design with focus on sculpture design. As matter of fact, LERA Plus today focuses on the arts. We’ve talk more about that but of course also works very closely with LERA on tall buildings, museums and all the likes.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, you must love school.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Research and learning more about processes is one of my passions.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s amazing. I was looking on your LinkedIn profile and it just kept reading education, education, more education. You’re working on a doctorate degree now, is that correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

I actually completed my doctoral degree in January this year.

Mike Merrill:

I didn’t see that congratulations! 

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Maybe I didn’t update my LinkedIn profile but that’s done. And I think I’m done with school for now, I think.

Mike Merrill:

Congratulations. You still have long black flowing hair. There’s no gray, so you’ve done something right.

Alfonso Oliva:

There are some, I’m not going to get close to the camera but there are some.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well again, thank you for joining us today. You’re certainly very, very experienced in some pretty exciting projects. I know that LERA Plus has worked on such buildings as the world trade center, freedom tower, buildings, two, three and four in New York City and a lot of other iconic structures. What projects are most fascinating to you that you’ve worked on to date?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very good question. A difficult question, honestly because LERA works on a lot of interesting projects and I think that’s what I love about the company. It’s very diversified. We work from anything that goes from super tall buildings all the way down to the design of a chair. We span across all of that. It’s a very interesting question. I must say that one of the projects that was the most fascinating in terms of complexity yet simplicity, is definitely the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. It was a very interesting project. We went through many different phases. It was actually supposed to happen in Chicago and then the project was relocated but the complexity technically was definitely due to the geometry itself, right. It was a big challenge for us but also a big, exciting moment. We were able finally to put everything together, to put all the research effort and the computational processes, with the longstanding experience of LERA into engineering. What we did here is that we developed new systems. We developed new piece of softwares or extension for software to support three different processes.

One was the engineering processes. One was the beam process. And the other one of course, was the computational process. The computational process was sometimes bridging across these two. Sometimes it was bridging across the architectural and the engineering and sometimes was bridging across the engineering and the construction. It was a complete process, a complete optimization of the process. And I must say that the final result was very exciting for the whole team. You need of course, in this kind of projects and in this kind of advanced workflows … That’s how I like to decide to define them. You need highly trained people. And that’s exactly what made this successful. The highly trained people are not only within the LERA Plus group but they extend within LERA. We have experts. The engineering side understands what we are doing at LERA Plus. The people in the beam department understand what we are doing in the LERA Plus department. And that’s what makes that optimization of the workflow successful.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s very fascinating. I can’t help but think when I hear you speak about this, the details and the level of involvement of so many parties, it sounds like very little happens on accident in these types of structures that LERA Plus is working on. Is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely. That’s one of the main benefits, I will believe. You cannot blindly rely on what the computer is doing, if we want to define it like that. Meaning, you cannot just drop an algorithm in the process and hope that the algorithm is actually doing something for you but you need to closely monitor what’s happening and have your engineering judgment applied to it. If you do that, then what happens is that you are actually benefiting from that process and you get to a closer level of detail, just to get to your question, right because all the sudden, you save all the time that you would have put into what the algorithm is doing and you can focus even more on the detail. You can be, “Okay. Now, I can trust this algorithm. I’ll keep monitoring. I’ll make sure that it’s doing what I want but I can also look closely at what it’s doing at another detail because I have more time.”

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing is the creative genius, as well as the applied understanding of that design, is always a critical or secret part of the equation. Would that be correct?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. There is always a mix of that, the engineering judgements will never be left alone or it will never be taken off from this. It’s actually a very strong integral part of it. And that’s why we were able to create all these processes and melt all these different group of people together.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s amazing. I’ve traveled the world in different places and seen many of the buildings actually that LERA Plus has been involved in. When I go to the website, I think I probably saw at least a hundred and would lose count. And many of them are familiar and very infamous buildings and structures. What aside from just working on these types of projects, sets LERA Plus apart from other companies?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, interesting question, Mike. I think I should probably say collaboration and I know that this word might sound a little bit simple for such a complex question but it’s exactly what it is. And allow me to mention a couple of examples here, LERA Plus … Basically, I am not LERA Plus, right. What LERA Pluses is, is a set of people coming together and creating that research environment. We have a lot of internal collaboration.

I’ll give you an example. One of the co-founder of LERA Plus, Nidhi Sekhar, she’s been with me since the very beginning of everything. It’s accomplished a whole other series of tasks, right but that joins very much with what I’m doing. And then there are people in the engineering field. One of them being Antonio Rodriguez that has been leading our virtual reality research platform that also plugs in into what we are doing very tightly and keeps reinforcing that group. That’s one of the reasons why LERA Plus today, it’s still alive and it’s actually expanding. As I mentioned before, now we are heavily involved into the arts and we are designing … We are expanding our business into sculpture design, both for the engineering optimizations and computational design.

Mike Merrill:

Alfonso, tell us, how do experimental projects encourage creativity throughout the construction industry as a whole?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. Experimental projects are the key. This ties directly back to the first observation that you made on me basically being constantly in school since I was born. And the reason for that is because I had … This was like more like 10 years ago or 12 years ago I should say, when I started working in New York. I felt that it’s very difficult to do your job, meaning design your structures and at the same time, keep that research going, right. That was my reason to continue my studies back then, right.

All I’m trying to say here is that experimental projects are nothing else than an extension of the projects that we do in school, right. It’s basically our need for basically feeling that something is new, that something it has not been done. And it’s also a big question mark. Why not? Most of the research that we do, they … Some of them actually, I should say, I don’t want to say most of them but some of them, they actually do not have an aim, right. We are shooting in the dark. The reason for that is because we want to also consider things that over the years has been considered not good, impossible, not efficient in the field. We try with a small percentage or with a bit of the percentage of our research, to basically try to reinvent processes. Expand the projects that are … I would say, they are part of the foundations of the whole innovation process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. We’re at a software company here at WorkMax and I know that from time to time, we’ll have what we call a no bad ideas meeting, just to reset the stage and to get the creative juices flowing again. And it sounds like you learned that from your studies and in school but that actually gets applied practically when you are out in the field, working on these real projects.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. Everything that basically goes into the research projects. All the effort that goes there, it is not wasted. And we actually get that or part of that, that’s the beauty of all the different process that we develop. And we basically apply that in a project that actually gets built at the end of the day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I keep thinking of the … I don’t know the exact quote but Albert Einstein basically talking about the thousand times of failing was learning a thousand times it wasn’t going to work. He was that much closer to the actual end result that he was after.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly. Yeah. Failing is also always going to happen. And it’s a good thing. I think having that emotional roller coaster through a research project to a design process makes everything more interesting, right. At the end of the day, we are humans and we want to be connected also with the human side of feelings. And that’s what motivates us the most.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What’s fascinating about what you’re saying to me, is I’m thinking of the fashion industry and we’ve all probably seen these shows where there’s people in these extravagant costumes or outfits walking across the catwalk and I’m thinking, “There’s no way on earth anyone’s ever going to wear that in public.” It looks crazy, it doesn’t look beautiful maybe, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

The art industry and the comparison there, maybe with what you’re doing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah, definitely. It’s exactly what you were mentioning before, your no bad idea meeting, right. Nothing is a bad idea, as long as you think it’s a good idea. And the reason for that is because over the years, we’ve built all these barriers. We built all these barriers that we are living within, especially in our industry. And the processes that we have to date, they don’t allow you to look beyond those because you need to move fast through that path but if you break out of that path for a little bit, just to explore what’s out there … And maybe it’s a jungle, maybe it’s difficult to see what’s going on because it’s unexplored. And it has been that for many years but if you start looking through, poking through, looking at all the beautiful trees and all the things that are around, you understand that there is way more. And then eventually, you can reconnect that to the original path and integrate it within the design process. I think that’s what’s beautiful about innovation.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I agree. And even on the technology front, when I think back to when we started in business back in 2003, they had PDAs that were PalmPilots and that was a smart device. That was the smartest device that existed. And then Blackberry came on and now iPhone and Androids and the iPads. And I’m so thankful for these innovators that have pushed technology to where they’re able to land today. And I feel like in your line of work, it’s a very similar situation.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. We hope very much so and we have done … To date, I believe we have brought a lot of contributions to many different fields within our industry, that of course made me and all the people in the group and other people in the company very happy, even about contributing in a different way to a project or to a solution, to a design solution or anything like that. And we always strive to make things very, very perfect and processes even more complex, to then deliver something that is more optimized the next time and then more optimized and more optimized.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I’m sure there are many firms that have learned from designs and approaches to solving challenges that LERA Plus has undertaken but also at the same time, I’m sure that LERA Plus has learned from other engineering and design firms to again, move the greater good further down the innovation path.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, that’s a very good point. I also believe that there has been … Of course, as in any other business, a little bit of a lack of cross collaboration between different firms. Of course, I do understand the business point of that but I must say that at least in the last … Probably more in the last five to six years, there are many groups and many collaboration groups. I’ve collaborated with other engineering firms and what brings everything together, is actually the computational side, that I think it’s a beautiful thing because I would love to see more engineering firms collaborating together, more architectural firms collaborating together in order to advance the whole industry as a whole. And I think that happened somehow in the tech industry. That’s why they moved way faster than of course, what we are moving. We’ve been in a period of stall for a long time. And now, we are moving a little bit faster but we are still beyond, I believe.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And you’re mentioning on the technical side, it makes me think of artificial intelligence or AI. I know LERA Plus is doing some exploration in that area. What exactly is going on there with LERA Plus and also the industry with AI?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As we mentioned before, we’re always up to some research project, this being one of them. This is a research project that is led by Nidhi Sekhar. She’s been doing a great job at it. It’s of course in the early stages. It’s tough to say where it’s going but we see potential applications within the fields. What we are very hardcore about in terms of artificial intelligence, is that we strongly believe that it will not replace humans, right. That’s something that people have been mentioning in the past and everything. We are not on that train of thought.

The way in which we want to use artificial intelligence, is to basically overcome or even implement those tasks that now are impossible, right. For instance, if you have to do 3000 iterations of a process to match something, you wouldn’t do that. You will then basically get a human go through that pain for such a … Let’s say, little reward. That will be a common applications and actually, one of the research projects as we say, that we are releasing in our new newsletter, where Nidhi Sekhar has been working on recognizing a sketch, literally enhanced sketch and then going to a data set of thousands of different sculptures and matching that sketch with existing sculptures. The reason for that is because we want to motivate people in understanding that anything is doable. Anything has value. Your sketch, your scribble that you have here, could be something. Get inspired from these other sculptures that have been built in the past and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Repurposing the work that somebody already did.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

That’s brilliant. When we talk about AI, one of those areas in design engineering is of course 3D modeling. What are the benefits of 3D modeling versus 2D and how is the industry utilizing that today?

Alfonso Oliva:

Big topic here. I feel like we historically and up-to-date actually, believe it or not, that it’s still a lot of 2D going on, right. We build things out of 2D drawings but the fabrication process, it’s actually … It has advanced way more, right. We are using robotic arms. We are using all sorts of beautiful machinery that think in 3D, right. What’s going on? Where is the missing link? Why are we not advancing? If you look at the complete workflow from the design, all the way to the publication, what it’s missing in the middle. And that is something that actually I’ve been tackling with a group at Autodesk.

I’m part of the executive North America committee with Autodesk, with another series of brilliant engineers in the field, from all the different companies. And that’s where I’m talking about cross collaborations and seeing that happening more and more and we recently actually released a white paper on this topic. How do we go in the middle of the workflow and we change how things are done? For instance, if the engineer carries their design in 3D up until it hands that over to the fabricators, how do we transfer that 3D knowledge and all that data, right because that’s all there is, it’s a bunch of numbers. How do we transfer that directly to the fabricator without going through 2D drawings and the fabricators having to rebuild a 3D out of that. It sounds like a very simple task but it’s not that simple. And it’s something that as a committee, we are very strongly pushing in the field and we hope it’s going to be implemented soon.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I had a chance to read through that white paper and it was fascinating to underscore, like you said earlier in the conversation, that human element is still a critical part to the design process.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, definitely. The human element, as I mentioned, even before … For instance, in the case of AI, it’s always going to be there. You need that engineering judgment, you need that fabricator judgment and all of that. That’s the integral part. All that you want to do, is to basically automate those repetitive tasks or as I used to call them and I still called them, boring tasks that nobody wants to do of course.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I understand that. And I’m sure again, a lot of the things that you’re sharing are very technical but when you go and see a beautiful building that has unique or almost seemingly impossible characteristics from an engineering standpoint, how can this structure be? And yet it is so beautiful. And I know that there is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes. You’re talking about maybe even hundreds of people to bring a project like that to life and allow us to have the opportunity to enjoy those beautiful structures.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, definitely a lot of people behind that and a lot of coordination.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think that’s the other point with … I used to run track in junior high school or you’re on a relay and you’re handing the baton off from one person to the next and you have to have a proper handoff in order to continue to execute and achieve your destination or your goal. Kudos to you and your team at LERA Plus for continuing to collaborate in that way so successfully to bring these buildings to life.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thanks. Thanks for that.

Mike Merrill:

One of the things that I keep thinking also, is where can the listeners learn more about some of these topics? Are there any publications or forums or places that you can point them to understand more about what you’re talking about?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes. Well, the first place, it’s our website of course, LERAPlus.com or LERA.com. You’ll find a mix of information there. I’ve done a lot of speaking and talks in the past that are available online. One of them that I did for the center for architecture, it’s an interesting one because it talks about the intersection of engineering technology. How to live in between the works and how to apply one field to the other and vice versa. If you go … Yeah, on the center for architecture website, you’ll definitely find the talk. And of course, we are also on social media, like Instagram and Facebook. Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Beautiful. What are some speaking engagements or opportunities you have coming up where you’re sharing more of your insights?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. As I mentioned, over the years I have been speaking a little bit in many different venues. I’m very thankful for people inviting me to that, both in the US but also internationally in Europe and in Asia. And this year of course, it’s a little bit different because everything is online. We might resume maybe towards the end of the year. Some people have been contacting me and they’re planning an in-person event. That will be very nice.

Yes, there are different opportunities in Europe that we are still working on in consolidating. There is one that is set in place here in the United States. In November, there is going to be the CODA Summit it’s called, it’s a conference that is focused heavily on art and the CODAworx group. It’s a very interesting group because they aim on connecting designers, artists in this case, people that are in charge of public works and then technical people, so engineering and fabricators and so forth. It’s a venue that has it all, this event is going to be in November. If you look for CODA Summit November, you’ll find it. And we are speaking there. We’ve been speaking there for the past two years. It has been a great experience and you meet a lot of interesting people.

Mike Merrill:

That’s wonderful. We’ll be sure to link that in the show notes so that the listeners can have a chance to check that out. I have to also wonder, what … I know that you work with different software products or solutions companies like Autodesk and other software vendors. What are some of the tools that you utilize in order to accomplish the great work that you’re doing at LERA Plus?

Alfonso Oliva:

Yeah. We work with many different software in the company. Part of the workflow or the … Let’s call it the typical workflow, even though we do not have a typical workflow. I just want to stress that out. A lot of the companies that we work with, of course, they are McNeel, that is on the Rhino and Grasshopper side. And then of course Autodesk, very heavily involved on a lot of their softwares. The ones that we use the most are Revit and Dynamo. And the reason why I’m mentioning these softwares is because we’ve done a lot of custom development for plugins for the softwares or external softwares that link to it. And these wouldn’t have been completely doable without the collaboration with them, meaning getting in touch with people at Autodesk, getting in touch with people at McNeil and understanding how to do all of that. They’ve been helping us a lot on that enabling new features for us to expand our tools.

And then on the structural side, we basically use a lot of different products. We use CSI products that are the standards in the US, like SAP2000 and ETABS. And then we also use other softwares that are more common in Europe, like SOFiSTiK and all of that but the idea behind it is to always expand on it, right. There is some limitations that come with the softwares. The reason for that is because the developers cannot, of course, put in a software every single function that any company might need, right. They have a foundation, a super strong foundation that you can start from but then the key is to be able to expand and branch off and create your little workflow from it.

And that’s what we do. We’ve been doing that internally. Three years ago, we actually started a software developer company within LERA, it’s called Supple Technologies. The partnership and I’m also a partner of it, Antonio is also partner of it and with that, we’ve been actually serving clients. We’ve been developing software, we’ve been developing plugins for clients to streamline their workflows. It has been very interesting because we served architects, engineers, artists, you name it.

Mike Merrill:

What I’m hearing from all of this and what I love is that I’m getting a very clear sense that the arts are alive and well, they are not dead. Despite all this incredible technology and algorithms and integrations and 3D modeling and AI and all these things, the human element is still present in every aspect of the design and engineering process. And it shows, it shows.

Alfonso Oliva:

Definitely, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Rounding out just on more of a personal level. I just wanted to ask a few questions. What’s one of the processes or skills that you’ve developed over the years that has served you well in your experience?

Alfonso Oliva:

Oh, very interesting questions. And since we are in the personal one and I’m very much of a person I should say, I learned over time to actually believe in my ideas. I think that’s a good answer to this question. I must say that at the beginning of my career, I was a little bit intimidated by that because of that part I was talking about before. I was confined within those two worlds. And I was like, “No, I need to do this in order to get there.”

And then at some point, I just naturally diverged and I went into the jungle that I was talking about before I got lost but I had a lot of fun in that jungle. And then eventually, I got back on the path with a lot of new things. Yeah, I think believing in yourself is the best tool.

Mike Merrill:

Wonderful. And I was just going to ask what’s your personal super power for Alfonso? Is that the same thing or is there something else?

Alfonso Oliva:

Well, part of it it’s to basically keep your interests alive. I’m also an artist, as you mentioned before. My gallery represents me. It’s not my gallery but the gallery that represents me is in Chelsea. I make sure to keep my art alive, my own art of course, it’s all computational art. It’s a bunch of algorithms creating things. And that’s definitely what keeps me motivated and keeps me going and also gives me ideas for my work at LERA.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. What’s a challenge that you overcame earlier on in your career that you’ve been able to work past and build into become a strength?

Alfonso Oliva:

Huh. A big challenge, it has been to … I must say because a lot of people are going to relate to this, a big challenge it has been, “How do I keep doing things differently when I have to complete this task, right?”

And the easy way to answer that is through an example. When I started working in New York City, I was working on tall buildings. And as I mentioned, I was doing a lot of repetitive tasks and I was like, “I want to automate this but I have no time.” … Because the time that I have is the time to accomplish that task and the way in which I overcome that challenge, that I invested into something, right. I started creating a list little by little, all these algorithms that while I was working on my machine, would run on another machine and accomplish the same task over and over again and starting optimizing it. That’s how I started basically understanding and trying to overcome that, right. The way I should answer your questions is through validation. Meaning, you have to invest some time. Nothing comes with nothing. The first part is going to be an investment to validate something but then in order to overcome the little gap that you want to fill, you can basically validate your option and step over and keep going.

Mike Merrill:

You literally cloned yourself, is that right?

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, exactly but the other version was smarter than me. That’s what I found out. And that’s why then I kept going with the other version.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. That’s great. Well, the other version won’t get gray hair either, right.

Alfonso Oliva:

Yes, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s awesome. To wrap up, what is one takeaway that you would hope the listeners would have at the end of our conversation today?

Alfonso Oliva:

I think one of the takeaways is that remember … Always remember that at the end of the day, no matter which kind of task you are completing, if it’s for work or for a project or for research or anything, we are humans. And we need to respect ourselves for that. Don’t stress too much if things are not working because some things are meant not to be working, right, for you to teach something. And keep believing in what you’re doing somehow down the path is going to bring you some gain, even research that you consider dead, believe it or not, after three years, you’re going to be able to take a little piece of that research and apply it to something that you’re doing. At the end of the day, just keep believing in yourself, keep believing in your knowledge and in your ideas. And eventually, they will lead to something down the road.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. Never give up and learn to pivot, is what I’m hearing.

Alfonso Oliva:

Exactly, yes.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you, Alfonso. This has been a treasure for me to spend some time with you today. I really appreciate having you on the podcast.

Alfonso Oliva:

Thank you very much for having me and I’ll see you soon.

Mike Merrill:

All right, thank you. And thank you to the guests also, for listening to the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Alfonso and I had, we ask you to please give us a rating and a review and also share the podcast episode. If you want to learn more about what we’re doing here at WORKMAX, you can follow us on LinkedIn at WORKMAX and also on Instagram, @WORKMAX_. And again, we sure appreciate the five star rating and reviews and the sharing of these episodes with your colleagues and friends. We, of course in the end, want to help you not only improve your business but your life.

Why Construction Safety and Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand

Why Construction Safety and Mental Health Go Hand-in-Hand

Mental health is a subject that isn’t broached often in the world of construction, but according to Stuart Binstock, CEO and President of CFMA, it needs to be. Binstock is on the board of trustees for the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP). CIASP’s goal is making people aware that the problem exists in the United States and around the world with groups similar to CIASP. Based on recent trends, the group’s work has never been more critical. 

In 2018, the Center for Disease Control found that construction had the highest suicide rate of any industry in the United States. During one presentation Binstock gave, he asked a group of construction companies, “How many of you have had a suicide on the job or are aware of an employee who has died by suicide?” Two thirds of attendees raised their hands. This is an alarming reality, but it’s one the construction industry can change.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Binstock shares why people need to talk about mental health, how the construction industry can prioritize mental health in their company cultures and where to find the resources to educate employees on these matters. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Construction workers are highly susceptible to mental health struggles. In the construction industry, the majority of the workforce is caucasian men between the ages of 20 and 50 – a group considered at high risk for suicides. This correlation demonstrates why more construction companies need to recognize the problem so they may take steps to protect their employees.
  2. It’s time to invest in a culture of caring and well-being. The construction industry’s “Macho Man” stereotypes are destructive and detrimental. These include things like perpetuating the tough guy mentality and ignoring alcohol and substance abuse. The most critical assets a construction company has are its people. Investing in safety tools such as needs analysis, integration checklists and toolbox talks are steps in the right direction to keep everyone safe – but it’s also important to allow space for people to open up if they’re struggling with something.
  3. There are free resources to navigate mental health concerns in the workplace. Construction workers are not mental health experts but they can learn to notice the warning signs and take steps to help colleagues who are having a hard time. CIASP’s website, www.preventconstructionsuicide.com, provides free resources on how to navigate mental health concerns in the workplace.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill:. And today, we are joined by the president and CEO of CFMA, Stuart Binstock. And Stuart is highly regarded as an expert in construction finance. I’ve known Stewart for many years, and we’ve worked together within the CFMA organization. I’m really excited to have him on today. But we’re going to take a little bit different spin on things, and shine a light on a topic that’s a little bit different from construction finance today.

Mike Merrill:

We’re going to talk about a topic that Stuart and I both feel like is probably under-discussed, or not discussed often enough, and that is mental health. So Stuart actually leads the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. So, we’re grateful to have him on today to have this important conversation and discussion. And welcome today, Stuart. We’re excited to have you.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you, Mike. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Before we get into the deeper part of the conversation, could you just share with the listeners a little bit about your background and what CFMA is?

Stuart Binstock:

Sure. So, CFMA is a national organization. We’re an individual member association. We have somewhere right now between 8,500 and 9,000 members, in 99 chapters around the country. Our membership is composed primarily about 65% of folks on the finance side of construction companies, and about 35% of companies, folks like sureties, CPAs, software companies that want to work for those companies. So, it’s a very powerful synergy that we bring everybody in the construction industry together to talk about construction finance.

Stuart Binstock:

I’ve been with CFMA now for about 10 years. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over those last 10 years. We’ve gotten… probably increased membership by about 20 to 30%, and probably, in terms of revenue, about the same. But perhaps something I’m most proud of is that we’ve increased member value, I think significantly, over the last 10 years, through a myriad of things that we’ve done. But I think our members get a lot of value for spending less than $500 for being a member of both the national organization and a local chapter.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great, Stuart. Thank you for that Matt ground. And we, as an organization, at About Time Technologies and Work Max, we are involved every year. And we go to the events. We plug in. We rub elbows and talk to folks that are members of CFMA, and just a lot of value that the members get and come away with. And I notice they always come back every year. Nobody ever seems to leave CFMA. They just seem to keep coming.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I think folks like you have really… We are kind of the sweet spot for companies like yours, that you… I mean, you essentially… I hear this from companies all the time. We need to be at the CFMA annual conference. It’s the most important event of the year for us. Because that’s where the decision-makers that will decide on our particular product, we can find them all in one place.

Stuart Binstock:

And yes, we have a very dedicated group of members, Mike. It always kind of amazes me. Our founder, David Casey just did an interview with our chair, Pam Hepburn. And he said… She asked him, she said, “What is the one thing that kind of surprises you still to this day?” And he poignantly said, “I think it’s the passion of the leadership, the volunteer leadership of CFMA, that has never waned. And in fact, it almost seems to have increased over the years.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I can attest to that. I see it, like you said. Every year, at the national conference, we go to the local chapter conferences. And we just… We do get excited every time we get to get involved with the CFMA event. The biggest surprise to me is how plugged in, like you said, the passion, but also how companies are willing to share best practices with one another. Even though they may be competitive in some environments, they still work together and try and raise the level of everyone’s performance together.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, the best example I can give you of that, Mike, is something we… on our website, we call the Connection Cafe. And it’s an opportunity for members to raise questions to members and get them asked… answered by the 8,500 to 9,000 members. It’s incredible the amount of information that our members share with one another. They are competitors, and they’re not going to tell them the secret sauce and any thing that makes their company particularly different, but they will share information for instance, on ERP systems.

Stuart Binstock:

I got to tell you, our members can be brutally honest and make comments that I’m sure makes some of the ERP whince a little bit, but it’s a very open and honest conversation. I think it’s… By itself, its worth the CFMA membership is just plugging in and looking at the connection cafe on a daily basis. And I think you’d get just… It’s kind of like a CFO one-on-one on that listserv.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I can attest to that. I’ve been in some of the chat threads where there’s 50 or a hundred or more comments back and forth. And you got people from Ohio locking arms with somebody in California, and Virginia, and Florida. And people are weighing in from everywhere and, again, sharing what they’ve learned so that everybody doesn’t have to go through those speed bumps all the time.

Stuart Binstock:

Yep. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well again, highly encourage everybody to check out CFMA. That’s Construction Financial Management Association. The annual conference is amazing. They’ve got a lot of online events, monthly webinars. We love being involved. But more importantly for today, as much as we love CFMA, and I’m sure you get to talk about it all the time, we really wanted to shine a brighter light on something that is a little bit more important and a challenge in our society today. And I think my question is, how did Stuart Benstock, this financial guy, get involved in suicide prevention?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, first of all, let me make a minor correction. I think you may have said something about me leading the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. CFMA started CIASP, but we are very pleased that we have joined in with many other organizations to now create an entity that’s separate and apart from CFMA. I’m on the board of trustees of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. So I don’t want to take credit from leading it, nor do I want to get the blame in case we did something wrong. So, I just want to clarify that. But the answer to how a finance guy got involved in suicide prevention, I think it comes with just one simple phrase, and that’s people make a difference. And about five years ago, one of our members, a very beloved and cherished member, a guy named Cal Byer, came forward and penned an article with a doctor who deals with this issue, Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, and they wrote an article about suicide prevention.

Stuart Binstock:

Our publisher of our magazine, Kristy Domboski, came into me. And Kristy said, “Stuart, we just got this article on suicide prevention. What do we do about that?” Kristy and I looked at each other quizzically. We usually talk about tax loss, succession planning. Suicide prevention is not in our wheelhouse. And we both decided, “Well, let’s give it a whirl and see what happens.” And we had no idea what was going to happen from that article. But from that article, there was just an incredible outpouring, particularly on the Connection Cafe, I might add, of members who were impacted by suicide, by a family member, or a friend, or a coworker. And we found out that this issue was very real and resonated with our members in ways we never envisioned.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that is very profound. And I can only imagine. I think in society today, we’re doing a better job of raising awareness. But I think this impacts all industries. But in construction, specifically, it’s really a lot of stress and pressure. And just because me as an individual may not be going through something doesn’t mean that your crew member to the right or to the left of you isn’t.

Stuart Binstock:

Well, that’s true. And I will say, first of all, and I think it’s important to say, this is not just a nationwide problem. This is a worldwide problem. We’ve talked to folks in Australia and the UK who have programs like CIASP in the construction industry. Frankly, they’ve done a better job than we have in focusing on this. And that’s really our mission in CIASP is awareness, is making people aware that this problem exists. And of course, it exists nationwide way beyond the construction industry.

Stuart Binstock:

It is a problem that youth have. I’ve been told… The quote I’ve been given many times as 132 veterans die by suicide every day…

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Stuart Binstock:

… which is a startling and very overwhelming and awful number. But it is a nationwide problem. The problem for us in construction is that… The CDC did a report… Center for Disease Control did a report in 2016, and later in 2018, and found out that construction had the highest suicide rate of any industry in the United States. That was a real punch in the gut for all of us. And I think that it was only a punch in the gut, but it made us realize how important this initial initiative was and how important it was to carry it on.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, I know CFMA is always involved in good causes, charities, other things, but it’s really very… I mean, I just have reverence for the fact that they have put this organization together and taking this initiative, because I do know… I come from the industry. And I do know and understand that this is a real problem. And it makes me wonder, I don’t know if you know the answer, but who seems to be the most at risk of this plague, really, is what it is?

Stuart Binstock:

We look at the workforce, the labor workforce. And that’s really where this lies. By the way, I want to just mention one thing before I forget. I do have a opportunity to go out and speak to an awful lot of groups. And one of the groups I spoke to a year or two ago now… Given COVID, I forget when it was, probably close to a year and a half ago now. And it was the largest construction companies in the United States and all of their safety directors. They have their own kind of particular small group, about 30 to 50 of the largest construction companies in the United States. And I am a lawyer by training. And you’re always taught never to ask a question that you don’t know the answer to. But I went out on that plank and I decided to go ahead and ask the question.

Stuart Binstock:

So, at the beginning of my presentation, I asked them, “How many of you have had a suicide on the job or are aware of an employee who has died by suicide?” Two thirds of those companies raised their hands. Once again, that was also just an incredible punch in the gut to see how prevalent this is. But let me get back to answering your question. So, white men from the ages of 20 to 50 are kind of the group that died by suicide the most. And if you know anything about the workforce, the construction industry, it is largely white men ages 20 to 50. So, male dominated industries tend to have more suicides. And Caucasians die by suicide more than others. And we are unfortunately, primarily, and hopefully this will change, but largely a Caucasian workforce. But there’s also kind of the nature of the work that has impacted this and explains, in part, why suicide is so high in the construction industry.

Stuart Binstock:

First of all, there’s this kind of tough guy mentality, kind of stoic. I’m not going to tell you if anything’s bothering me there. And because of that… There are a fair number of injuries on work sites. This is not sitting at your desk. You all know that. And so, people have pain issues. And unfortunately, sometimes, they use opioids. Sometimes, they get in problems with opioids. And opioids and suicide are very, very much related. There’s also kind of the isolation when… Sometimes, a company has a project and it’s out of town, so people will travel. And they’ll be out of town. And they’ll be alone for months on end. And that’s not good for anybody’s mental health. There’s project layoffs, the end of the season kind of way offs. So, there’s kind of the financial stress that, that causes. There’s sleep deprivation due to shift work.

Stuart Binstock:

Unfortunately, there’s a tolerant culture for alcohol and substance abuse. And then, probably, some people say the biggest impact is access to lethal means. I’m not sure it’s fair to say there’s a gun culture in the construction industry, but it might be an accurate statement to make. And the more access you have to lethal means, the more able people are… What experts tell me is sometimes this is a spur of the moment decision that somebody makes.      And in that spur of the moment, if you have access to lethal means, you’re probably going to be more successful in doing and dying by suicide than others that don’t have access to those lethal means. That’s kind of a weird way to think about it. But if you think about it, it’s true.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It’s very eye opening and difficult to even think about. I mean, even talking about it’s a challenge. It feels heavy. No question about it. How do companies create a culture that helps avoid or improve people that are struggling with these things? Do you have any insights to that?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, we talk about that. And I really encourage people, after listening to this, to go to preventconstructionsuicide.com. That’s the website for the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. And we have a fair number of tools. We have an assessment tool that a company can take. I encourage companies to look at this. And it is called… I want to just make sure I get the name right, so you understand what we’re talking about… a needs analysis and implementation tool. So, it really goes through a company. And it helps you determine if you have addressed some of the issues that might negate this from happening.

Stuart Binstock:

So, you create a healthy and wellbeing kind of culture, a caring culture in your organization. That’s one of the ways in which you can do this. I encourage folks to look at this needs analysis and integration checklist. And I think, if a company goes through that, they’ll probably learn some things along the way that they can do better to support their people. Because at the outset, and let me be very clear about this… The most important asset of construction company has are its people. And if you’re not going to invest in your people, then you’re missing out on the most valuable resource, then you’re missing out on the place where you can probably make the biggest difference.

Mike Merrill:

Hmm, wow. Profound statement. Yeah. Equipment and machines don’t have a heart or a brain.

Stuart Binstock:

Not that I know of. I mean, maybe they will in a few years, as I watch it on different shows might, but not now.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah. So, I know in construction, obviously, we do toolbox talks, or safety trainings, and requirements for OSHA and other things. Are those some areas that you’re seeing companies take advantage of an opportunity to communicate more clearly about these issues?

Stuart Binstock:

Absolutely, Mike. Absolutely. Yes. So, we have some toolbox talks on our website. I think another element that’s important is to have an effective employee assistance program. A lot of companies have EAPs, but they… What I’ve been told is they vary substantially. So, you really might want to look at your EAP and determine whether it will bring value to members, whether employees will really consider using it, and whether it helps them address some of the mental health problems.

Stuart Binstock:

It’s that whole building a caring culture of support. Those two things, building a caring culture and the construction industry, don’t exactly go hand in hand. Those two words don’t usually coincide. But it’s something to consider and think about doing if you want to have everyone come home at the end of the day, safe and sound.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I know. I mean, here in our organization, one thing we do is regularly we’ll have book clubs. And not that I necessarily know that construction companies are going to do something like that, but I can tell you firsthand that, that is a wonderful experience to get to know people personally, and to be more vulnerable in ways where you can communicate about some of these things that are not easy to talk about out on a job site necessarily.

Stuart Binstock:

You’re absolutely right, Mike. I mean, this is not the conversation you have on the work site. You don’t walk up to Joe and go, “You look a little bummed out today. Joe. Are you thinking of dying by suicide?” And by the way, you’ll note, I use the expression “die by suicide”. I don’t say “commit suicide”. And that’s because people who kind of work in this field don’t really believe someone can commit to suicide. It’s… There’s got to be an underlying mental health issue for someone to die by suicide. So, you won’t hear people knowledgeable in this area talk about someone committing suicide. You still heard it on TV. But it’s interesting. Every once in a while, I’ll hear somebody on the news talk about this issue and say they died by suicide. That’s really the proper phrasiology to use.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I heard a statistic. And maybe I’m speaking out of turn here. I don’t have the exact reference. But I did hear and read a story. And they talked about survivors of that attempt. And in a hundred percent of the cases that they interviewed, they all had regretted making that choice.

Stuart Binstock:

And that’s why I mentioned lethal means and spur of the moment, because that’s exactly right. A lot of this does happen kind of in that spur of the moment, and someone has access to lethal means. They can accomplish what they probably would regret afterwards, but it’s too late. So, you’re absolutely right, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I know… So, we’ve talked about… I mean, I brought up the book club idea. You talked about toolbox talks. Are there some other tips, or tricks, or ways that companies can bring this subject up more comfortably?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, we have… Within the website, we do have Living Works training. So, it’s a group called Living Works. And they’ve created some training programs. You could start off and have your supervisors trained through this Living Works program. It’s really a nominal fee through our website. But every once in a while, I’m not sure where we are right now, but sometimes we even offer the training for free. But if it’s not for free, it’s for a nominal fee. And you could get maybe your supervisory staff trained and go through that program. It’s not very long. And that would, I think, help… There’s another expression that people in this area talk about, and Cal Byer used to talk about, and still does, which is remove the stigma, remove the stigma of having this conversation. And I would say that’s probably the most important thing you can do as a company. The single most important thing you can do is remove the stigma, because… I gave a speech on a association that has safety and health conference, and I kind of leveled them a little bit.

Stuart Binstock:

And I said, “I know you’re going to talk about safety. I’m not sure how much you’re going to talk about health during this two day conference, but I can well almost guarantee you will not be talking about mental health.” And that’s because people are afraid to talk about it. It’s not an easy topic to talk about, but you’ve got to start the conversation. And that’s… Part of our message is do something. Start the conversation somehow. Go have some folks in your company go through training. Have an EAP. Do a toolbox talk. There are a myriad of ways. Go through the integration checklist. There are a myriad of things you can do to start in this area.

Mike Merrill:

I know, just statistically speaking, I’m, I’m a hundred percent confident that we have somebody listening to this right now that’s either contemplated this action, or they know somebody who has. What would you tell that person that is dealing with that right now that might be listening?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I mean, one of the dilemmas in this area, particularly for construction companies, is we are not mental health experts. And so, thinking that you are, and you’re going to be able to provide mental health expertise to someone, I think is a mistake. And so, you need to get them in touch with something like the suicide prevention hotline. We have, on the website, the warning signs to look for, for someone who might be thinking… having suicidal thoughts. Either someone in your company, or even if someone’s listening today, who has this, they should contact the suicide prevention line, and immediately.

Stuart Binstock:

And they will get some kind of assistance. If you are talking to someone who has suicidal thoughts, and they admit to those suicidal thoughts to you, it’s probably important to not leave them alone. You probably want to initiate getting them some help. And then, you can leave somebody alone. But you probably should not leave somebody alone who has expressed some of these thoughts. If that’s you, or someone who’s listening, or someone in your company, you want to help let them get some help before you leave them alone. I think that’s just a basic important premise.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think, like you said earlier, these things are often a spur of the moment, or they may come on quickly. And so, it would be urgent that we don’t leave anybody in that moment.

Stuart Binstock:

The other thing I’ll tell you, Mike… This isn’t coming from me, but it comes from mental health experts, and it’s in our Living Works training. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone if they have suicidal thoughts. I know, when I first went through the training, I thought, “Why would I ask somebody that? What if I spurred them to do something that they weren’t already thinking of?” Mental health experts tell us, “If you ask someone that, and they said yes, it’s not like you put it in their head. They were already thinking of it.” So, you shouldn’t be shy about asking that if you see someone that you think has some signs of this. It’s important to actually get that out. And sometimes, just talking to somebody can make somebody feel better. This is kind of a labor intensive kind of issue.

Stuart Binstock:

You can’t have a process in place, and have someone go through four steps, and feel like they’re going to be great at the end of the tunnel. This is one-to-one kind of personal contact that you need to make, and connect with somebody, and take them aside, and ask them how they’re doing. I did a webinar yesterday for a group. And somebody asked the question, “I’m a female supervisor. And I think it would be really hard for me to approach one of my older laborers and ask them. And I don’t think they’d be that receptive.” And I think a good response to that is, “Well, find someone who they value, find someone who they look up to or see as an equal peer, and have that person do the work for you. But don’t not do it because you think you’re the wrong person. Find somebody else to have that conversation.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I love how you said earlier, this is a process, and it’s not just like four quick steps. I mean, it’s not like pulling a sliver out or something. I mean, there’s… This is a deeper seated issue that probably requires some professional help and direction by those that know how to best help that person. But in the absence of that, or before that can happen, talking about it, raising awareness, normalizing it to a degree that you understand that it’s okay.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah. That’s the whole notion of removing the stigma. Yep. That’s exactly right.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So, obviously very heavy subject, and not easy to talk about or even think about, but I think it’s important. And I’m so thankful that you’re able to share this with us today. Is there a website URL? Obviously, we’ll link it in the show notes and elsewhere, but can you tell us where to this information easily?

Stuart Binstock:

Preventconstructionsuicide.com. That’s the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s website. It has a whole host of things. One of the things we would like people to do is stand up to suicide prevention. So, that’s an acronym that stands for five different things. And we want people to kind of take the pledge to stand up for suicide prevention. And we’d love companies to do that. We run this organization on a shoestring budget. If anyone has the wherewithal, and feels compelled to support this, we would love that kind of support. We get it periodically from some big construction companies.

Stuart Binstock:

And we very much appreciate the support that we get. Anything you can do to help support that. Here at CFMA, every year at our conference, we have a run, a fund run. And it’s for charity. And every year, over the last couple of years, we’ve made all of the funds that we’ve been able to accumulate go to CIASP. I think, last year, we were able to give CIASP $17,000. So, anyone who feels compelled to do that, we’d love to hear from you as well.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. And do you have like a donate now button on the website or is there…

Stuart Binstock:

Yep. Yep. There is.

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. And I will certainly raise awareness to this as I am able, and use our platform to do the same. We’re heavily involved in our local AGC chapter also. And so, I will bring this to the attention of local group here as well.

Stuart Binstock:

AGC, and actually ABC, are both very involved in this initiative. The current chair of CIASP is actually a staff member of ABC. But the problem that we find, and this is true of CFMA, is we have this national initiative and we believe in it very much from the headquarters level, but it doesn’t always get filtered down to the chapter level. So, anything somebody can do to help grow this initiative, and grow the interest at a local level, is really important. The grassroots is where it’s really happening.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And that’s… CFMA is definitely a grassroots organization. How many years have CFMA been in existence?

Stuart Binstock:

This is our 40th anniversary. So, you’re… Good question, Mike, the perfect timing for me to plug CFMA’s 40th anniversary.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah, I was going to say, it’s got to be the high thirties, at least. So, 40, that’s that’s a big deal.

Stuart Binstock:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So, before we wrap up.. And again, thank you for having that difficult heavier conversation, because I think it is very important, and I appreciate the opportunity to help you get the word out on that. I do have a few personal questions for you.

Stuart Binstock:

Uh-oh.

Mike Merrill:

Not too personal.

Stuart Binstock:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

I’ve been to a few cocktail mixers with you here and there.

Stuart Binstock:

We’re going down…. We’re going down a rabbit hole here.

Mike Merrill:

Just kidding. CFMA does have a lot of fun. They do find some time to let loose a little bit.

Stuart Binstock:

They do, absolutely do.

Mike Merrill:

So…

Stuart Binstock:

Love that about our members.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great time. So, thanks again for helping us learn more about this important organization. Just to wrap up, what is one thing that you are grateful for in your professional life?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I’m grateful for, I’d certainly say, my family. But my professional life, the last 10 years, CFMA has been the highlight of my career, no question about it. I’ve dealt with an amazing group of volunteers. As I talked about before, we have really passionate leaders as part of our organization. And they are so dedicated to this organization. If I was heading down a wrong path, they would correct me very quickly.

Stuart Binstock:

I try not to go down any wrong paths. But if I was, trust me, I’d get yanked back into reality. We really have some tremendous volunteers. We have folks who volunteer on our committees. We have an executive committee. We have an officer group. They’re all super, super dedicated to this organization.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Well, I love that. And I know it’s clear, you love CFMA and I know that CFMA certainly loves you, Stuart.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you very much.

Mike Merrill:

What about a skill or a superpower, something you’ve kind of developed or learned over the years, and honed, that’s been a blessing to you and in your pursuits?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I guess I’m someone, I believe… I’m not… This is not a superpower. I was going to say two separate things. First of all, I do believe physical health is connected to mental health. And so, I do pretty religiously walk 10,000 steps a day. You can’t see it in my physique because that hasn’t changed all that much, but it does make me feel good. And I think it’s really important to get out there. And so, I do walk 10,000 steps, which is about five miles every day. At the end of the day, if I haven’t walked my five miles, I’ll walk around in my house, walk up the stairs and down the stairs.

Stuart Binstock:

It looks kind of silly, but I’m pretty committed to my 10,000 steps. The other thing I would just say from a business standpoint, I’ve really been a firm believer in, keep your head down, and do your job, and you’ll be recognized. Once again, that’s not a super power, but that is kind of a belief that I have. Too many people, I think, worry about, “Did I get credit for that? Did I get credit for this?” trust me. You get noticed when you do something well in an organization. You don’t have to tell it yourself.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. There is absolutely no substitute for activity, getting things done, right?

Stuart Binstock:

Hard work.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So, what about in your career earlier on, are there some things that you worked through, that you’ve improved upon, and you wish your younger self would have known earlier? Anything you could share with our listeners?

Stuart Binstock:

I would say yeah. I certainly… yes, under that category. And I think one of those is, if you’re going to leave an organization, make sure you better look behind to make sure you got people supporting you, and they’re behind you, instead of knifing you in the back. And that can happen. You get knifed in the back if you’re too far out front. You have to… There’s a delicate balance, in leading an organization, to lead and yet follow the lead of those that you’re trying to lead.

Stuart Binstock:

And sometimes, I would say, in my career, I just forged ahead. And I was going like blockbusters, gangbusters. And I turned around and I went, “Oh. Now, is there that really anybody supporting this?”

Mike Merrill:

Where is everybody?

Stuart Binstock:

“I think I better look backwards before I look forwards, and make sure I have the support of people.” You don’t get the support of people when they think you’re a little too out front, and you’re trying to do things that are not supported by the whole group.

Mike Merrill:

That’s an interesting insight. I think that’s not what I’ve heard before on the podcast. So, thank you for bringing that up. It’s important to make sure your team’s still with you.

Stuart Binstock:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Leadership means you’re still there having an effect on them, not out ahead, too far of the curve… the group. Love that. What about… Is there one challenge, or something really that was difficult, that you overcame? And what did you learn from that experience?

Stuart Binstock:

Well, I think, over the years, I’ve learned that it’s really important to collaborate. When I came on board with the staff, I inherited a staff. And I’m not sure I would have hired every single person that was on the staff. But I think, over the years, we’ve built a team here. And you don’t do this by yourself. And collaborating with my team. And giving them the power to do things on their own, I think. Has been very, very freeing to them, and I think important to our success.

Stuart Binstock:

I think they really appreciate having the freedom, within certain parameters of the organization, to do the right thing for the organization, and then collaborate together. I think no one is an island. No one does it on their own. And I’ve learned… I think I really have learned how important collaboration is. And the thing I’ve learned is I don’t always have the best ideas. There are other people in the room that have better ideas. And so, you really elevate the organization the more you get input from everybody in the company.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I heard a quote the other day. They said, “If you’re the smartest one in the room all the time, you need to find another room.”

Stuart Binstock:

Right. That’s good advice.

Mike Merrill:

So. Thank you. Boy, I can’t add much to what you just said there. I love your advice. You’re clearly a veteran leader, and a great individual, and we really have enjoyed having this discussion. I guess finally, just for the listeners, what’s the one takeaway that you would leave them with here at the end of our discussion?

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks for asking that question, Mike. Do something. I made a comment at the outset, or during the middle of my presentation. Have a conversation. Do a toolbox talk. Have an overall conversation with your folks, maybe the… When a construction company… Maybe you have a… You bring everyone in and you talk about this issue collectively. And you’ll be shocked at some of the comments you’ll get from people. Do something.

Stuart Binstock:

And if you do something, you will lead to removing the stigma. And if you remove the stigma, and you create awareness, we can actually make a difference when it comes to this topic. I think we have made a difference so far, but there is a long way to go. There are still way too many people who die by suicide. Mental health is really not discussed enough in our society. It’s too difficult a conversation, and we need to remove the stigma.

Mike Merrill:

There you have it folks. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Stuart. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation, and always get to know you better when we have these opportunities. I appreciate them.

Stuart Binstock:

Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this important subject. Thanks for your organization and your leadership.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. All right. We’ll look forward to connecting again soon.

Stuart Binstock:

Thanks, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast. If you enjoyed the conversation that Stuart and I had today, and have an opportunity to share that out with your coworkers, or associates, or other contacts that you have in the industry, we feel like this is a very important topic and something that cannot be overstated, or discussed enough.

Mike Merrill:

Again, thank you again for your listenership. We always love those five star ratings and reviews on the podcast. Give us a review. Let us know how we’re doing, what you liked. And make sure to share this episode with others. Again, we appreciate the opportunity to bring these valuable conversations to you. After all, our goal is to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

Compliance with OSHA: How Technology Can Help Get You Ready

Compliance with OSHA: How Technology Can Help Get You Ready

Construction management teams prioritize the safety of their workers, but rules and regulations can be confusing to keep up with. On top of that, visits and surprise inspections from OSHA and its state-level affiliates can cause anxiety among even the most diligent of construction firms. So how can contractors ensure their job sites are safe and issue-free? According to Cotney Attorneys & ConsultantsTrent Cotney, preparedness is key.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Trent shares why an OSHA inspection doesn’t have to spell trouble. He shares advice on employing the right strategies, documentation and training to ensure your business is safe and compliant with current laws.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Most OSHA violations are business failures: Many times when there is a safety issue that OSHA would issue a write-up for, it is tied to a business failure such as not knowing what the process is for an inspection or not knowing your rights during the inspection. Trent says these can be avoided by knowing what OSHA is looking for, being honest, and being cooperative. 
  2. Technology doesn’t replace real-world safety training: The job site is changing rapidly. While toolbox talks are helpful in training workers on processes, procedures and safety regulations, they do not replace the need for real-world training. Make sure that the topics – especially those around safety – that require hands on training are given priority away from the screens. 
  3. Proactively manage your safety program: Don’t wait until an inspection is scheduled to get a clear picture of your safety program. This leaves you little time to make improvements where they’re needed. Keep in mind there are situations in which OSHA shows up to job sites unannounced. In this case, there’s no time to prepare and you risk violations. Make it a priority to know the status of your safety program at all times. By being proactive, you’ll be able to take action in advance and avoid costly violations. 

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Trent Cotney, the CEO of Cotney Attorneys & Consultants, and also the author of a great book on OSHA Defense for the Construction Industry. Today, we’re talking about safety regulations and how to make sure that your job sites are safe and ready for those OSHA inspections. Trent’s a highly regarded expert, and I’m also looking forward to digging into not only his background and experience, but also some of the stories that he has to share from the industry with us. Hello, Trent, and thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Trent Cotney:

Hey, thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to today’s talk.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well before we get into the conversation, if you could just share a little bit of your background with our listeners, that would be awesome.

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So I come from a background where my family did construction. I grew up in that. I’ve been practicing for about 22 years now solely and representing the construction industry. I started down in South Florida and then moved up to the Tampa area in the late 90s. And I started this from my company about 10 years ago where we, focused solely on representing the construction industry, primarily contractors and trades.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So you’ve been around the block a few times and literally written the book on how to pre-prepared for OSHA. 

Trent Cotney:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

So getting into that a little bit what should a company do to be prepared for an OSHA inspection if somebody was aware that that was about to go down?

Trent Cotney:

Yes, that’s a really good question and what I always tell contractors out there and if you’re like me, I’d much rather hang out with contractors and lawyers. So I spend most of my time around them, it’s about having a good game plan in advance of an inspection occurring. So you want to understand what the process is. You want to know what your rights are, you want to make sure that the people out in the field understand that, and that you’re communicating that effectively. Because that’s where I see the majority of the problems happen is just not understanding how an inspection goes, right? 

By the time you actually get a citation, yes, we can work some magic, there’s a lot of different defenses into the things that you’ve got at your fingertips. But the best word that you can do is at the start of the inspection, by making sure that you understand what exactly is that OSHA is looking for, that you’re putting your best foot forward. Obviously you’re always telling the truth and being cooperative, but understanding where those boundaries are, right? Being civil and professional, but knowing your rights and that’s what we preach.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great point. I think, a great advice for the listeners. So obviously your inspiration came from somewhere to write this book. What was it that spurred you to do that?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So we represent a lot of trades, specifically roofing contractors, HPAC, et cetera. And they were getting cited a bunch by OSHA. So on a granular level, we were defending them, on a daily basis and multiple states, fighting OSHA and seeing what their tactics and techniques were. And oftentimes, what we see is, if it’s a failure from a legal standpoint, it’s usually a business failure, it’s a process failure. And that’s what a few years ago, I started thinking about this and I was like, you know what? I need to write a very simple book that you can read in four or five hours that summarizes what your rights are. There’s no case sites, it’s not written for lawyers. It’s a very easy digestible book that anybody can pick up and understand this is what I can do and what I can’t do, because what I’ve seen is unlike a criminal case where the police come on to your home or your office, or it might be, they’ve got to read your rights to you, OSHA doesn’t have to do that.

Okay. Even though you could potentially have some criminal ramifications depending on what’s happening. So, that’s what I want to do is I really wanted to educate, and I wanted to write a down to earth message that resonated with the contractor base so that they understood what that line was.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So it’s making me think back to, For Dummies books that they used to come out. It’s kind of like OSHA regulations for dummies.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. I mean, it’s designed, look, it’s the kind of book I would want to read. You know what I mean? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Trent Cotney:

I want something that’s just going to get to the point. I don’t need a lot of puffery, and case sites and other stuff. Just tell me what I got to do. And if you’re like me, I’m assuming, most of our listeners are the same way. Just get to the point. That’s what this book does. It’s from start to finish. It just tells you, “Hey, this is how to go about doing it. It talks about things like the walk around inspection.” When OSHA comes out, you want to make sure that you are asking them, “Why are you here?” Normally they will show you their credentials. They’ll say, “Hey, I was just driving by I saw four people on a roof without fall protection, or I saw the scaffolding issue.” But that puts that inspection in a box.

And that’s what you want to do is you want to start it off by understanding why they are here, because, if they say, “Hey, look, I want to go inside and inspect your electrical outlets.” That’s not part of their inspection. So it’s very important that you set the tone and you start off with that box so you know where things are going.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I know in researching a little bit about your background on my own, I have noticed that we have a lot of common connections in the industry, a lot of roofing contractors, some of the larger roofers. Obviously, you’re doing something right, because it’s resonating with these folks and they’re very connected to what you’re doing in the industry.

Trent Cotney:

Mike, I’ve been blessed, I have a little bit of a background in roofing. My grandfather was a roofer, but it’s something that has really kind of always, they always say, once it gets in your blood, you can never get rid of it. So I am very fortunate and I work with a lot of great contractors, I serve as general counsel for the national association. So it’s something I take a lot of pride in and obviously advocacy is part of that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. We love the roofing industry and all the trades that we serve as well, so great people and they need some help, there’s no question about it.

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. 

Mike Merrill:

So tell me this. I know obviously with the new White House the Biden administration, we’ve got some different regulations and rules and different changes that typically happen when there’s a change out in The White House. What types of things should people expect to come down the pipe because of that?

Trent Cotney:

Interesting question, Mike. And it’s something that I was just talking to a general contractor last week about the Biden administration, from my perspective, it’s going to bring a lot of change. We, as an industry, benefited a lot from the Trump administration, and the approach that Secretary Scalia took with regard to OSHA, the Biden administration is going to change things up. So what I’ve told contractors and trades, I said, “Look, you need to expect that there’s going to be more rulemaking, there’s going to be more inspections, there’s going to be more citations. It’s absolutely going to happen. The department of labor is going to be very aggressive under the Biden administration. And here are some things that I would watch out for just briefly, if I’m a contractor or trade I can almost guarantee within the next month or so, there’s going to be some emergency temporary standard for COVID 19 and infectious diseases.”

So we have a lot of contractors. We were just talking to a mechanical contractor on California that had a Cal/OSHA violation for COVID-19. A lot of these state plans are already very aggressive. This is going to be the federal standard. So they are going to apply to any state that does not actively have a state plan. There’s a due, it’s going to trickle down to that. Something else to look out for Mike is the heat injury and illness standards I anticipated they’re going to redo those probably towards the end of the summer. I expect that they’re going to see some changes to the silica standard. I would absolutely anticipate there are going to be a lot more inspections once the hierarchy within OSHA becomes solidified, okay? And it tends to take a little bit of time, but by this time, fourth quarter or next year, you’re going to start seeing a big uptick in OSHA inspections and citations.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I, as a former contractor myself, I’m grateful for OSHA and that organization. I’m grateful to make sure that employees are safe, but as a contractor, I definitely don’t want the regulations coming down on my project, right? And I think most people feel the same way they want to operate safely, but they don’t necessarily like the idea of somebody breathing down their neck so to speak. That sounds like there might be a bit more of that coming down the pike.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I firmly believe that every penny you spend on safety is a penny will spend and OSHA does a great job with training, it’s not to say I’m not trying to paint OSHA in a bad light, but my concern is, is that you always have to balance regulation with the reality of doing construction, right? There’s a happy medium. And oftentimes I feel like some of these regulations come out without a lot of thought or foresight into what actual job site hazards there are. They’re written on a desk somewhere without a true understanding of what contractors and trades experience on a daily basis. So I would love OSHA to focus on safety, less on citations. I love to see retraining, I would love to see a lot more invested in that because I do think that it serves a great role. I do think there’s an opportunity for education out there. But it’s just finding that correct balance.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point, I guess, as you’re talking through this, I’m also starting to wonder what role does technology play in this process from your perspective?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. Technology, I mean, look how we’re communicating now, this has become how the world exists now. I was telling somebody the other day I rarely do I have a conference call anymore. It’s Zoom or go to webinar Teams or whatever it might be. There are a lot of technology based apps out there that can assist with safety that can make data collection easier for you, okay? So for example, your safety director, let’s say you’re an electrical contractor and you’ve got a safety director and you send them out to a job site. They can assess the job site, take photos, whatever it might be, get it back to the home office. And that way you’ve done an audit and you can notify all the people that need to be notified and then turn around and make sure that you’re correcting whatever it needs to be corrected.

Along those lines though, you also want to make sure someone’s monitoring stuff because a lot of times what we’ll see is, that safety director, that safety person that’s taking photos via the app may be showing an unsafe condition. And if somebody doesn’t catch that and correct that OSHA can get that, right? And that could potentially be a no-no because you’ve got a supervisory level employee not properly identifying and correcting a safety violation. So you want to balance technology with the potential for liability, but I do think that there is a heightened role for technology. Not just from an app standpoint, but from cameras out in the field, from all the different technologies from drone technology, other things that we’re starting to see pop up with regard to safety and safety planning.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned safety trainings and some areas there that maybe OSHA can focus more on what types of technologies are acceptable for safety training? Are there options to do some of that remotely or digitally?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. There are a variety of ways you can obtain safety training digitally. I have an OSHA 10 and OSHA 30, I’ve taken the OSHA 24. All of that was over a laptop. You can have toolbox talks and engage in weekly or monthly safety trainings on a variety of topics, everything from signs of impairment, to opioid abuse, to heat illness, and injury, to whatever the issues of the day might be, you know COVID-19 training. So there are certain things that can be done that way. There are other things in my opinion, may require some, at least in-person access or the possibility of using VR or augmented reality to maybe supplement that or change to that so that you have the capability of being immersed in a real world situation. There is some necessity for that, but I do see technology playing a bigger and bigger role within safety train, just because of ease of access and just efficiency ability to access it whenever you want.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point. I know you’re mentioning apps quite a bit, obviously the technologies and the cloud systems that are now available, are a far cry better than anything I ever had 15, 20 years ago when I was heavy in the industry, it was a whole different world, everything had to be in person, so.

Trent Cotney:

Oh, yes.

Mike Merrill:

So with the issues that contractors are facing related to COVID and some of these other, just more recent developments, have you witnessed companies, number one, being successful with those and being able to refute challenges that maybe came from OSHA and maybe when did somebody get stuck as well? You have a couple of different examples that you could share?

Trent Cotney:

Sure, absolutely. I mean, this is something that we deal with on a daily basis and the companies that are most successful during informal conferences, which is the conference that you have after the citations issued, it’s an opportunity for you to potentially resolve your case, possibly gain some additional facts before you go on to contesting it, if that’s what you want to do. The companies that come prepared, the companies that show that they have a culture of safety and oftentimes, technology or paper or whatever it might be, that’s going to make the difference. If you show up to a conference and you’ve got a nice binder or an app that’s organized with thousands of audits and pages in there, that’s a big difference than you’ve shown up with a folder with a bunch of random stuff in it.

You got to be able to convey that message properly. So I can give you a couple of examples. We had one where we were representing a contractor that engaged in historical restoration work. In particular, this was some storm damage that they come in to fix, and they were cited for a lift violation. We were able to show that this was unpreventable employee misconduct because of a variety of toolbox talks and training that this person had, the job site plan, there was just three inches worth of documentation that I could present on this job. And the investigating officer had to look at it and be like, “What can we do?” Now on the other hand we had one where a new contractor carpenter just getting started, didn’t have much anything, by the time he got to us, we’re helping them after the fact we’re getting him the safety manual, we’re getting him, all those things that he needs.

But it’s a lot of, well, I said this, I didn’t say this. So you got to go in there with a little bit different game plan. And we were able to help him, but at the end of the day, we could have helped him a lot more had he had better paper to back it up, the party with the best paper always wins the day that’s really. And whether it’s electronic or physical, that tends to be the case in almost every aspect of construction.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We always say, “He who has the most data typically wins.” And that sounds like you’re you’re on the same track there.

Trent Cotney:

Right on. That’s it. 

Mike Merrill:

So how often should contractors expect to see other changes? Is it quarterly? Is it someone annually? Is it a yearly thing? How often do big changes usually come down the pike?

Trent Cotney:

So for our listeners in California, while we were talking, they probably just had another major change. But generally speaking, what I suggest is take a look at your safety manual and your toolbox talks every six months. And the reason I say that is that you may have a local or state legislation that’s come out, has changed things, there may be significant changes that have been caused by the pandemic. So you just want to take it and then at least once a year, you want to do an audit of it and just make sure that everything that you have in there is up to date that you’ve got the current regulations

Every time OSHA comes out with a new regulation, you want to make sure there’s another toolbox talk on it, that you have it in your manual, if it is applicable to the type of work that you do. So obviously if they come out with, something that deals with electrical and you don’t touch electrical, you don’t need to worry about it. But if it’s something that’s right in your wheelhouse that you touch every single day, definitely update your employees, show that training and update your manual.

Mike Merrill:

And I would imagine these manuals, are they most commonly digital or are they printed or are they both? Is there a requirement?

Trent Cotney:

We see both, digital tends to be an easier way to convey it because a lot of times these manuals are thick. There’s a lot of stuff in there. And the key is, is that a couple of things about this mike that I want to hit home to the listeners is you want to get sign-off. You want to make sure your employees have signed off on it, okay? You want to make sure that they’ve got access, have whether it’s digitally or hard, copy one should be in every single work truck. And the reason I say that is a lot of times, OSHA will come up to a job site and the last superintendent say, “Okay, well, what’s the swing radius here.” If you don’t know the answer, it’s very easy to say, “Look, I can’t tell you, I have it in my head, but I keep my manual in my truck. I look at that. And then I call the home office to get whatever the answer is.” Okay?

Another thing that you want to do, Mike, is you want to make sure that if you’ve got a Spanish crew or a crew that doesn’t speak English, you want to have that translator in whatever language that is because OSHA’s, they’re going to look to see that you have provided that message in a way that they can understand it, right? So you might have the most beautiful four-color, spiral-bound safety manual in English, but all of your labor only speaks Spanish and reads in Spanish. You’re not doing them a favor, right? So spend the extra money to get that translation it’ll come in handy and OSHA will definitely ask for it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. And I think that’s not what I’ve heard commonly. So I really like that. What kind of contractor do to expand their current safety program? Obviously there’s a range of people that have little to nothing in place and they really need to get on the stick. And then there’s other companies that probably do a pretty good job of this, but how do they expand it and improve from wherever they’re at best?

Trent Cotney:

So we always like to approach everything in a phase by phase approach. So let’s start from nothing, if you have absolutely nothing. The first thing that you need to do is create the base of your safety program. The base of your safety program is the safety manual. So your safety manual wants to account for certain things that all contractors experience like signs of impairment or heat exhaustion, that kind of stuff, but also wants to really hone in on the type of stuff that you do on a daily basis, okay? From that safety manual, you then branch out and create the system with toolbox talks that really hits that home, right? The key thing is you want to make sure that, well, I always said, you do it when that paycheck is coming, right? So they’re sitting there waiting for that paycheck, you do a toolbox talk, you get the sign off that way you know they’re paying attention.

So that’s a great way to do it. You want to engage in safety audits, okay? You want to do unannounced job site audits where you can go out, you can see where the problems are. A lot of times I get asked Mike, it’s like, “Well, Trent, why would I want to go out to a job site and identify problems in writing? Isn’t that going to be bad for me?” It’s not, if you correct them, right? If you go out and not only punish those that didn’t do what they were supposed to do but retrain, that shows OSHA that you care about those employees, okay? And the last point I really want to make Mike is, is the biggest thing that I see contractors failing to do is they have a great safety manual, great toolbox talks, they do these audits, they engage in outside consultants, all the kind of stuff that we like to see, but they don’t follow their disciplinary program.

So I’ll give you a classic contractor example. You’ve got your number one superintendent or foreman producer. He makes money for you left and right, right? But not a big fan of safety. So are you going to fire that guy? Probably not, right? So you need to make sure that whatever disciplinary program you have in place, you can enforce it because disparate treatment, meaning that you’re treating your number one producer different than the guy you just heard off the street, that is going to eliminate any, a lot of the defenses that you would have to an OSHA citation. So be consistent it doesn’t matter whether it’s your Uncle Larry, your best producer, or the guy you just hired from work release at the end of the day, it’s got to be the same treatment throughout.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great advice as well. I think why there’s been a lot of great nuggets here. You started off the conversation talking about some of the don’ts from a do’s and don’ts perspective. Let’s say, I know that I have an OSHA inspection coming up. What can I do to best prepare my crews or that job site for that inspector to show up?

Trent Cotney:

So the one thing I’ll give you. So this was in 2001 I’m dating myself a little bit. I represented a underground utility contractor on an OSHA violation. And what happened is OSHA came out, they did the inspection, there was a trench box violation, there was sloping violation, standard stuff you see in underground. And as the inspector was giving the closing conference, one of the crew wearing tennis shoes and no hardhat jumped into the ditch to get his lunch pail and then skirt and climb back out, that cost that contractor, another $5,000. So one piece of common sense advice is so do you really want your crew continuing to work while OSHA is on a job site? It’s a lot like inviting a cop out to a meth lab at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good your safety program is, I’ve had inspectors and area directors pull me aside and said, “Trent, you put me on any job site long enough, I’m going to find a violation.” Right?

So the idea behind it is you want to make sure that you are doing what you can to control the situation. If OSHA asked to come out, have them come to your office or better yet go to the area office, don’t invite them back out to the job site, because at the end of the day, you can’t necessarily control a hundred percent of what’s going on all the time. And obviously everyone wants a safe workplace that’s the goal, but you want to be very careful and cautious about how you go about doing that. So I would say that’s something to watch out for. Another nugget that I can throw out there is don’t forget that if you are a supervisor and officer or director, you do not need to talk to OSHA, unless you are welcome to have counsel present and a member of management, okay? You are free to talk to them, but you can also request having counsel present.

And there is a big difference there because it gives you the opportunity to really think about your training. Obviously, always tell the truth, always be cooperative. But at the end of the day, it’s about having that clear mindset and making sure that you are remembering your training, remembering what you did, how you did it and not being scared and anxious about the process.

Mike Merrill:

More great tips. You mentioned some do’s and don’ts, what are some common mistakes you see people make out there in the field?

Trent Cotney:

So one of the biggest things is when OSHA comes out, oftentimes they have the ability to talk to crew without management or council present, okay? And we see this a lot in Florida and Texas and Arizona, Mexico, California, if your crew only speaks Spanish and they only read or write in Spanish, oftentimes the inspector that has come out knows broken Spanish or isn’t fluent, okay? I like to insist on having someone that is capable of translating. And the reason I say that is I witnessed this firsthand, okay? We had an OSHA, OSHA said, “Hey, I want to come out to your job site.” We said, “No, why don’t you come to our office?” So they came to our office, they sat down, I had management present and they were interviewing a superintendent. Superintendent was from Mexico, okay?

The OSHA investigator was Puerto Rico and they were discussing a tile, okay? And I know enough Spanish to get around, and the manager was fluent. So as the superintendent was providing testimony, it became apparent that the inspector was misinterpreting what this individual said, and it would have been catastrophic had I not caught it and the manager caught it. That is a great example, the terms of art change. So you can be in Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Puerto Rico, wherever. And the same term is, there’s 20 different terms for it. So you want to make sure that if they are asking to speak to someone that does not speak English, make sure that they are capable of accurately translating that information to get that statement.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s very interesting as an example, I never would have imagined, but yeah, the Spanish side of this is probably a great takeaway for a lot of the companies that are listening right now.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of the things, we have a lot of situations where there are crew members that are illiterate in Spanish and English, and they’re asked OSHA normally what they do federal OSHA is they write out a written witness statement and they ask you to sign it, okay? And there’s never anything great on there that I’ve seen. It’s never, hey, you got the best safety policies ever. It’s always, all the things that you should have done. And most of the crew, when they get that, they see that and they just sign it without even really looking at it. And obviously you don’t ever want to tell your crew members what to do, what not to do, it’s their choice, okay? Always tell the truth. That’s what you want to tell them. But from a supervisor standpoint, if I’m involved representing a supervisor, a manager, a director, I don’t want them to sign a written witness statement.

I really don’t see a lot of value in that because you can provide your testimony without doing that. And rarely does it tell the whole story. So that’s one of the things, when I say, knowing your rights, if you understand what the context is, you’re going to be in so much better position to be able to put your best foot forward. Again, everybody wants to be safe. You want, I want, we all want our employees to go home safe and sound every single night. That’s not what this is about. What it’s about is understanding what those rules, boundaries, and limitations are when it comes to a government inspection.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great. From a technology perspective, are there things that can help somebody in that situation? Are there technology tools they can rely on when they’re put on the spot like that?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. Having an SOP in place, a standard operating procedure that dictates what you should do and how you should do it. There should absolutely be one for if you have an OSHA inspection. So your a superintendent of OSHA gets to the job, they should know they need to immediately call management, call the safety director, see if the inspector will wait for that in that member of management or safety director to get out there in the field with them. And then go through the process. They need a similar one for if there’s a serious injury, and then they need another one if there’s a fatality, it’s a different set of rules for each one, right? So you want to understand what the rules and the guidelines are for that. There’s a variety of technology management, software tools, that it can be useful to do that.

Here in the office and for a lot of our consulting customers, we utilize Smartsheet, which is a publicly traded company that acts as an operating system and provides I’m not an Excel spreadsheet kind of guy. I’m a show me pretty colors on a graph and I get it. It does that, but it also allows you to go in deeper in, if you are an Excel spreadsheet guy, you can look at, I’m looking if I can count on my finger. It’s a collaborative software tool that acts as an operating system for your business. And it integrates with almost every single app out there.

So it’s been very useful as a management tool to drill down SOP is it’s sort of like a playbook that you would go to. So that’s one that I know that I’m aware of. There’s a variety of other tools out there that people can use, but the key is make sure, you know that gameplay, it’s here’s the SOP, let’s get rid of the anxiety. Let’s go to page five. This is what I have to do, follow the checklist. That’s the key because when people get nervous and they get anxious, that’s when mistakes are made, they’re not understanding what they should be doing.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned some technology options, which sound great. What about even basic email, phone calls, voicemails, what roles do those play in? How to companies make sure they’re using those properly?

Trent Cotney:

So a good rule of thumb is if it’s good for you, put it in writing, if it’s bad for you pick up the phone. And that includes text messages, instant messages, Facebook groups, whatever it might be. So I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had, a social media post of, hey, another great job finished by ABC contractor. And it shows, 10 people on a roof without fall protection. I’m going, “Hopefully these are actors, it’s hard to refute that. So there’s often a disconnect between marketing and safety. That’s one thing, if you recognize that anything that you put down OSHA logs is a great example. So you’ve got to report, as a contractor, you know this you report your safety, injury and illness on a variety of OSHA, 300 logs put just enough detail, I’ve looked at plenty of OSHA logs that go way too much into detail. I fell off scaffolding because I didn’t build it right.

Why would you put that? I mean, I get it, but you don’t need to say that much. Be very careful when you’re communicating with your insurers. All of that is discoverable. If you have a fatality or a serious injury and you talk to the Sheriff’s department, that’s exhibit A, in any OSHA inspection. So make sure that you recognize that you must always tell the truth, I didn’t hit that home. That’s the key thing is, is it’s not worth a investigation because you told one investigating authority one thing, and I know there’s something else. So consistency and just always having that awareness of liability hat on is going to pay dividends, not just in OSHA, but in all aspects of construction.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And it’s, I mean, there’s a lot to keep track of here and obviously companies are standing out, I’m just trying to put this roof on, or I just wanted to frame this wall up, or I’m just trying to pour concrete. Maybe these things aren’t second nature to them, but what I’m hearing is consistent training, regular training, regimented training is the key to help make sure that you’re taking care of these things in the best light so that you don’t get stuck in a mess.

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. Yeah. You’re a hundred percent spot on, that’s exactly what it is. And one of the things I should mention is for the listeners that are doing commercial jobs, if you’re doing a daily report, that’s a great opportunity for you to put your best foot forward safety wise, did job site audit, checked all the equipment, everything looked great, took this harness out because the rope was frayed. All of those self-serving statements, you can use to show that you are actively checking your job site for safety. Why not use it?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that point. So what you’re saying document every correction or improvement or every step taken to be safer so that you’re showing that you’re putting forth that effort?

Trent Cotney:

Absolutely. Yeah. That’s key and party with the best paper once a day. That’s always the truth.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And they say photos don’t lie, and I guess that can go both ways, right?

Trent Cotney:

Oh yeah. You don’t want to be taking a photo of, a guy with a frayed electrical cord, using it as a harness or a tie off that’s not what you want. You want to be smart about what you’re doing, you want to be able to know exactly the stuff that you’re going through and make sure that your safety directors are actively auditing these images. If you are engaging in that it’s great, it’s a great way for you to gain that information, get it, and figure out what’s going on. But at the end of the day, yeah it all depends on that follow-up. It doesn’t matter how good your technology is, if you don’t have that follow-up, if you’re not tracking what’s out there in the field, that’s what’s going to get you.

Mike Merrill:

So from a workflow standpoint, how often are companies required to have toolbox talks or to have safety trainings? Is there a general rule of thumb that people can take away from the conversation?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. So unless it’s a brand new rule or an emergency or a retraining, I like to see at least every month I would prefer probably every other week, if I can do it. And there’s nothing wrong with doing it every week. And at some point you run out of topics, do you have 52 topics you could talk about? I don’t know, okay? But at a minimum you want to make sure that people are taking a knee and you’re talking about potential issues on job sites. If you’ve got a hairy job site that you know that there’s some potential safety issues, you want to talk to the crew about that, identify that in advance, you can have what I call informal toolbox talks. And then it’s as simple as documenting that as a memo to file.

I’ll have phone calls all the time where I just pull up an email said to talk someone so did this and send myself an email, that way it’s a current understanding recollection of what that conversation was. So that’s something that’s potentially useful, anything that you can do to engage your crew and a mentality in that culture of safety is paramount.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So is there a recommended duration of time to hold those trainings for 10 minutes, 15 at a certain point? Is it too long and you’re actually diluting what they need to know?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah. We live in a Twitter world now, so Facebook or Instagram or whatever. So, people’s attention spans are very short lengthy training sessions, unless it’s like an OSHA 10 or something where you’re going to get an actual certification afterwards, it’s hard for your crew to pay attention. You want to keep them short, sweet to the point. I would say most effective is 30 minutes or less. You’ve got to be able if it requires demos where you’ve got to actually physically show things, I can understand a little bit more, but at the end of the day, less tends to be more. You convey your point, you get the point across and you move on.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Lots of great tips and rules of thumb, for sure. Let’s say on a given day there’s an injury or an accident or some type of a problem, is there a hierarchy of how that reporting needs to be documented? I mean what’s the first step somebody should take when something occurs, they have an incident?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So here’s normally what happens. And unfortunately we handle a lot of fatalities and that’s when you have, you got the press involved, you got the Sheriff’s office, there’s all these different things that you have to navigate, not dimension, customer concerns, and family concerns and all this other stuff. So really what you want to do is the people on that job site, ultimately, it needs to get in the hands of the crew leader, the superintendent, the foreman, whoever is manning that job, right? That person needs to understand that they need to call the home office. And there needs to be a go-to person that if you don’t have a safety director, then it’s a member of management. That member manager that needs to understand that if they can’t get up to the job site, they need to provide that superintendent with strict instructions if they haven’t already been trained.

Mike I want to tell you a brief story, because I think this will hit it home to our listeners. My dad was a very patient man. I’ll just put it that way. And I grew up on the Westside of Jacksonville, Florida. For those of you that have been there, you know what I’m talking about. My dad taught me how to drive. Like most fathers have, and he took me out to a lot and he taught me how to three-point turn. And he taught me how to parallel park. And the last thing that he told me, and he always called me their son or boy. And he said, “Son, what I want to do is I want to pretend I’m a police officer and I’m going to pull you over. And when I pull you over what I want to do is see how you’re going to react.”

Okay. And he did this because he knew I was a punk kid and he knew that, at some point I am going to speed and take it or something else. And he didn’t want me to do something stupid, right? So we sat there, we went through the process, I showed him my insurance, my driver’s license, my registration. And sure enough, six months later, I got a speeding ticket and he whooped my, you know what. But the moral of that story is it’s not the listeners that are problematic, okay? It’s those people out there in the field, it’s the superintendent, it’s the crew.

If you train them on the inspection process itself on what to expect, that takes that anxiety away that’s what training does, right? It doesn’t matter what kind of training you get, if you learn how to do something, then you’re not scared to do it, right? So if you understand what the process is, if you train in advance of that process, then just like my dad did with me, you’re not going to do something stupid, right? And that’s the key thing is you want to have that game face on, you want to make sure that you are doing whatever you can to stay active and involved so that you’re focused on the mission at hand.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. What a great story to end the main part of the conversation on, I think that definitely paints a picture and preparation, right? You got to practice ahead of time so that when you’re in the real game, you’re you’re in the real game your ready

Trent Cotney:

Right? Absolutely failure to prepare is preparing to fail, so.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, love it. So just to wrap things up here in the conversation, what’s one business process or a skill that you’ve developed over the years that have really made the most impact on your success?

Trent Cotney:

So I think the key thing is top down organization, right? It’s oftentimes, the business owners that are listening to this, you’ve got the vision, it’s all on your back, I get it. I’m the same way, I’m a business owner. But at the end of the day, you got to be able to drill down your vision, your mission, your process, to the lowest common denominator. So that is done through great technology and through great process and through great people. And it takes a while to accomplish all of that. So as you continue to grow and if you’re scaling your business, you’ll see oftentimes we’ve been blessed with growth and we’ll start off one year with a great game plan. By the end of the year, we’re already trying to up our technology, up our admin, up our everything, because we’ve outgrown the previous system. So that’s part of the process is as a business owner, especially in construction, you always have to be able to improvise, adapt and overcome. It is the key to being able to be successful.

So the other thing that I do is I listen, I remain humble if you remain humble, it was beaten into me to remain humble. If you remain humble, you remain hungry and I don’t ever, rest on any laurels to the extent that I’ve got any, I always say, “Okay, what’s next? What can I do next?” And if you check that ego, that’s always going to keep you razor sharp.

Mike Merrill:

I love that, yeah that’s great. I guess one other question I’ve got, what’s something that you have learned over the years that you wish you would’ve known at the very beginning when you first started practicing law?

Trent Cotney:

So my role has changed a lot over the years. I went from being a typical lawyer, to use contractor terms I was in production, okay? I was in production and that’s what I did. Over the years, I’ve switched operations, and obviously there’s a business development component to that. I have learned more about myself through operating this business than I ever did by not doing it. In the last 10 years your business is a reflection of you, and that is a painful experience, it is a humbling experience. So if there is a failure in your business, it is your failure and you have to own that. So learning those lessons, that any business owners had to learn it makes you tougher, and I know I’m very thankful for all the different, not necessarily legal things I’ve learned, which I’m very appreciative of I consider myself an expert in various things, and I’m proud to do that.

But from a business perspective, learning those lessons and improving upon them, that’s what makes you a better business owner and in construction, that’s the key. Construction is a fabulous industry, I have made lifelong friends through this industry and feel very grateful and give back routinely because of it. But I can tell you that those that continue to thrive are the ones that take those lessons and use them as learning opportunities. Again I’m just very blessed and fortunate that the good Lord has found plenty of things for me to overcome, so.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Absolutely love it. So, very last thing. So what is the key takeaway that you want listeners to have today? Once they get done listening to this they’re to remember one thing, what would that be?

Trent Cotney:

Be proactive and not reactive. Okay. Now’s the time take some of the nuggets that we talked about, look at your safety program, nobody wants to look at their safety program because it’s like a will, right? By the time you look at your will, it’s too late. So, if OSHA shows up to your job site, you’re stuck with what you got. So take the time now to really buttress and fortify your safety program, think about some of the things that we talked about. And hopefully my goal is to never have you call a lawyer, I’d prefer that your success ultimately is as success for the industry. So that’s the goal, but definitely take the time to be proactive, get those SOPs in place. Make sure you’ve got some top-down command that drills all the way down to the crew.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Very insightful Trent, thank you so much for joining us today. I’m sure the listeners gained a whole lot that they can put into practice.

Trent Cotney:

Thank you. It’s my pleasure. 

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thank you to the listeners. And again, if you enjoyed this conversation with Trent Cotney and I, I encourage you strongly to follow Trent or reach out to him on LinkedIn and also check out his book, OSHA Defense for the Construction Industry. Also, if you enjoyed the podcast, please give us a rating and review. We love the five star ones the most. So encourage you to rate us well and continue to listen and share this podcast with your friends and associates in the industry. We want to continue to bring these valuable guests and conversations to you to help you improve your business and your life.

Cloud for ERP: Simplifying Job Site Technology

Cloud for ERP: Simplifying Job Site Technology

The construction world is too competitive and fast-paced to rely on analog systems, especially when it comes to accounting and payroll. This is why the future of construction technology lies in cloud-based software. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, in particular, is on the rise thanks to its ability to connect people from job sites to the main office on any smart device or computer, giving them the opportunity to share information in real-time. This leads to benefits such as expedited labor reporting, connected and reliable information across the entire organization and up-to-date rules and regulations. So how does ERP work? Is it easy to implement? And how quickly can a business see benefits? 

Darcy Boerio, President of DAB Partners, joins Mike Merrill on this week’s episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast to explain what to know about ERP software and how to make the most of it. She breaks down the differences between cloud-based software and cloud-capable software, and shares why cloud-based software will push legacy systems to the side for good.

Key Takeaways:

    1. An ERP is a central hub that connects key areas of a construction business: Contractors work with various systems and run into problems when these systems can’t connect. However, when they implement an ERP, data from job sites, such as labor tracking, can flow seamlessly to departments like finance and accounting. This results in everyone working from a single system of record.
    2. Giving employees cloud-based software increases mobility and productivity: Mobility gives workers and employees the freedom to access and update their systems from any device, no matter where they are, at anytime they choose. This eliminates risks of delays and guesstimates that throw off data. 
    3. Cloud-based software ensures your policies and systems are evergreen: One reason manual and analog tracking is so detrimental is that it slows productivity, increases errors and decreases user confidence. Cloud-based software ensures up-to-date with any changes and updates that the developer makes. Additionally, an evergreen platform ensures that payroll, accounting, and safety policies are in compliance.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Darcy Boerio the president of DAB Partners and the cohost of the Enterprise Software Podcast. Darcy has nearly 25 years of experience in onsite technology and implementations. So we are very excited to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for joining us Darcy.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Mike, I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for asking me to come and it’s great to see you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, we’ve had some of our events that we used to see each other at shutdown this last year.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah. To submit the only time I see you is when you’re out running on Instagram.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, I try and do that as much as I can. So I like some of your running pics too.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I need to do more of that.

 

Mike Merrill:

Sounds like I’ll post more and I’ll watch for you too. So well, before we dig into the conversation today, can you give our listeners just a little bit of your background and experience?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Sure. So I started my software career at Timberline Software about mid ’90s and worked in the Beaverton, Oregon headquarters for the next 10 years or so. I started in support and over the course of the 10 years, I always joked that I worked on every segment of every floor in the building because I went from support. I did consulting. Then I moved upstairs and I was in QA for three years, believe it or not. And then moved to sales and marketing. So worked kind of in all facets of that business before joining Alliance Solutions Group of what as one of the original employees, then Timberline as… well, Sage Construction and Real Estate, or many iterations of that over the years reseller. Around 2012, I decided to exit the construction business because I can name with the economy. So I went and worked for Avalara, a cloud-based sales tax automation software, and then did a couple of years with some different ISVs.

And then 2017, somewhere along the way I started co-hosting a podcast, Enterprise Software Podcast. I’ve been doing that for about six years and really have discovered my passion for all things, ERP software. And then started my own business DAB Partners in 2017 where I consult with software publishers to help them grow their partner channels and referral networks.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s a long and illustrious career, and you’re not done yet, right?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Oh, no.

 

Mike Merrill:

Your husband says no, right?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah. Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

So Darcy’s husband, Tim also works for Alliance Solutions still. So I run into him quite as well. And he’s another good friend of the industry. So you mentioned something there, you used the word ERP. Can you just explain what that stands for those listeners that maybe don’t, or aren’t familiar with that?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Absolutely enterprise resource planning software and it’s not a term that we’ve used in, I would say in the construction industry, when I was around the construction industry, we’d call it construction accounting software, or we called it even maybe construction financial and operations software, but ERP really implies… you’ll get different answers from different people. But to me, it’s not just saying, “Okay, we’re just doing accounting and then we’re going to do something else over here and something else over here and all these disparate solutions.” It’s saying, “We’re going to find a product or products that work together that cover our entire enterprise.” And so we used to leave it to the realm of manufacturers and distribution. We didn’t really talk about it in terms of construction until fairly recent years, but really it’s… For a construction company, we’d want something that’s going to cover obviously their job cost accounting, their estimating, their project management, maybe service management, and have it all be integrated together seamlessly rather than having a bunch of different products for each of those things. So I would say that’s the big difference of what an ERP is today in the construction world.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Versus just an old accounting and payroll system.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah, exactly.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a lot of areas of the business that a system like that touches. So I imagine with mobility being such a big piece of today’s ecosystem, that’s just a whole other dynamic. How have you seen that play into the ERP space at this point?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I mean, it’s huge and it really expands out the ability to have a true ERP environment, because you’re able to put integrated tools in the hands of people that aren’t sitting in the office connected to the server. And so it just makes it that much easier to accomplish that goal of keeping everyone on the same system and all in sync and together in ERP. And mobile it’s such a crucial part of ERP. I mean, you can’t have an ERP or an ERP add on solution without some sort of mobility component, especially today, obviously.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And the mobile, I guess, essentially it would be an app, or some type of collection to feed that ERP. Is that how you’re seeing it utilized?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Typically, yeah. I mean, there’s different variations, but mobile kind of implies also just general mobility. So I mean, it is apps, it is handhelds and tablets and devices like that, but it’s also being able to work from anywhere. Especially obviously today that’s mobility too. So it’s all part of mobility. Back in, oh gosh, it was, I think 2005, I used to sell this product called Field2Base. Have you ever heard of it?

 

Mike Merrill:

I remember Field2Base very well actually.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I don’t know if it’s still around or not, but I would go out to meet with contractors with this big tablet. I mean, they were so heavy and huge, but they were tablet PCs and nobody really knew about tablet PCs back then, but they were in these ruggedized cases and we’d go out and we’d be like, “Look, you can go out on the job site and you can take a picture and write on it and then send it back into the office.” And everyone’s like, “Oh wow.” And these things were… they were $2,000 for the hardware alone and then the monthly after that, we actually just ran across when the other day we were cleaning out some closets and found an older one that we had sitting around the house and we were laughing about it because it’s so long ago, it’s come such a long way.

So I mean, that back then was people had… sometimes they would have a laptop on the job site. Often they would not have internet on the job site. They would maybe have a fax line on the job site. So we’ve just come so far in just maybe 10 years or whatever.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I remember we had the PalmPilots back then to collect and they had these tablets and we remember just thinking, “Wow, that is amazing that they’ve…” We felt like at the time, maybe it was a little bit too far of a… Sorry about that. Oh, jeez. That’s new John. That’s my RingCentral system. We’ll just take a pause for a second, if I can… The funny thing is that their marketing director, she’s probably forgotten I’m on this podcast right now. Exit out of that altogether. Let’s see. Where were we? I said PalmPilots and you’re talking about…

 

Darcy Boerio:

Maybe just start with Field2Base. I remember those back then.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Sounds good. I remember running into Field2Base back then. They were again, kind of ahead of their time for sure. Definitely, they were onto something. I think it was just a little ahead of the curve. We were using the PalmPilots to collect data and we thought, “Wow, how cool that would be to have the whole computer and a tablet and all that in one solution.” But obviously it was probably a little too far of a gap to bridge early in those days.

 

Darcy Boerio:

They think it was. It was interesting because we had a lot of really quick early adopters that were just like, “Yes,” but those were like the bleeding edge people and then it just tapered off and it was really hard to get adoption. I remember the first time I saw your product, I think it was either at Southeast Building Conference or the International Builders’ Show. And I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool.” And I can’t remember what device it was on. Maybe it was a PalmPilot, but it was so cool because it was just… somebody showed it to me. It was a time entry. It was basically clocking in and clocking out, I think, and it was just so simple. It had big buttons and you just go I’m in, I’m out. And it was like, “Wow, that’s so different from having to buy a $2,000 tablet and then have one person holds the tablet and everyone else comes and checks in on it and everything.” So it was a pretty revolutionary what you guys had already back then in the mid 2000s. I think it was or something when I first saw it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That sounds about right. I think it was the International Builders’ Show in Florida if I remember. And I think it was Field2Base South and North Carolina. Is that what I’m remembering?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Seem like that. So again, going back, we’ve come so far in actually a short period of time really, we’re talking like a decade or so, like you were mentioning maybe decade and a half. So I was a general contractor and when I was in my early and mid 20s and growing up in the industry, so to speak, I know accounting was almost a swear word back at that time, it was like a necessary evil, paying your taxes you had to do it, but you didn’t really like it. What’s changed? Is it the same? And why is that perspective out there do you think?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I think for one maybe there’s a perception that you need to understand accounting to use an accounting software. You don’t need to do a T-account or debits and credits or things like that. I mean, that’s all in play, but that’s behind the scenes. Assuming that you get it all set up right, then a modern accounting software, ERP software does it for you. You don’t have to sit there and every time you make a transaction entering what GL account is going to and all that kind of stuff, if you set it up properly based on your rules. So it can be actually very beneficial because it’s not just invoices AP and AR, you’ve got now your job data in there and that’s all incorporated in and you can get important reports out of it. So it’s very valuable. It’s not just this little thing that should be set over on the shelf alone to pay your bills and bill your customers.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I love what you said earlier about the mobility, because that’s something I think is a great reminder for everybody. Mobility doesn’t mean smartphones and tablets and apps, but the ability to work remotely, like you’re saying Darcy, even on the accounting level, have that data out there at your fingertips on the job.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah. I remember when I was selling Timberline and it was an on-premise software. There wasn’t any cloud options for it. And then there’d be these other cloud products out there and they’d go, and this was years ago. So people come to me and go, “Is your software in the cloud?” And I’d say, “Is that important to you?” And they’d go, “Yeah, that’s really important.” And I’d say, “Why?” They didn’t even know what it meant, but they just knew that they were supposed to be in the cloud. But the argument was that, well, I mean, does accounting really need access from the field? I mean, they’re in the office, where are they going? That was the thing back then. Obviously today we know that’s not the case because number one, accounting this past year, hasn’t been in the office, but number two-

 

Mike Merrill:

No, it hasn’t.

 

Darcy Boerio:

But secondarily, I mean, I live in Florida and sometimes we have hurricanes coming and people have to go and if they’ve got their server in their office, they got to go, “Wrap it up and put it on high ground and pray for the best.” If their server’s damaged, then no one can work. If their power’s out of the office then they’re all relying on connecting to that on-premises server, even if they have figured out how to connect it remotely securely. They still may not be able to access it if there’s no power or the server has been damaged. So that’s just one of the reasons why I mean, back then we didn’t think of all those things in cloud wasn’t as accessible as it is now, but today it’s like, “Okay. Yeah, you need to be in the cloud even accounting.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. And then you’re challenging Florida definitely. I mean, I’m in Utah. We don’t have hurricanes here, so that’s not… maybe earthquakes or avalanches, but a different challenge, but it is interesting that a server is so critical for those that have their business hosted on it. I mean, what a risk to have that in one location that maybe isn’t so secure. So tell me with cloud based accounting systems are options now that the job site has visibility into the same data that the office does, what has that done in your perspective for efficiency of just construction or even industries in general that utilize these types of technologies?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I mean, it’s the real time data and it’s the real-time bi-directional data. So when something’s happening on the job, there’s technology, like what you guys do, that it makes it so easy for someone on the job to…. they don’t have to dig into some software and get it on the laptop at the end of the day and go enter a bunch of information and then maybe print a report or whatever. And then someone else back at the office enters it in manually. And so the office gets access to that information much more quickly for whatever they may need it for their accounting purposes. And likewise, possibly more importantly, the field gets access to the data from accounting without having to wait until, oh, that invoice hasn’t been entered yet, or that invoice got entered, but I’m not sending you a report until tomorrow.

And it’s right there immediately in real time. And ideally even with abilities to analyze the data, drill down into the data slice and dice, do what if scenarios with the data right there in the field and to really know about any risks that you have on the job, as far as budget or schedule issues that may be arising. So you just know that much faster and are able to react in time to mitigate the problem.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point too. And I mean, I still hear this commonly, if companies aren’t getting their invoices out quick enough maybe the jobs closed out or maybe now they’re hitting another draw cycle. So not only speed of making decisions, but just getting paid and ensuring that you are getting paid. Sometimes companies don’t get paid. And if the budget runs over and there are challenges with ownership or whoever the bank, whatever, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re last in line to get paid, sometimes if you do get paid, it might be pretty late.

 

Darcy Boerio:

All of these things can make or break a job very easily. So under billing can do that and off schedule can do that. So there’s a really lot of things to keep an eye on. In the past, I mean, I’ve seen people getting faxes with the stack of papers. Aging myself a little bit on that, but I still think there’s some of you guys out there that are doing that, that are maybe not faxing, but there’s still a lot of paper being transmitted around, a recording being transferred around to be able to sift through and everything. And it’s yesterday’s data because somebody ran the reports this morning or whatever. So real time information is so much more accessible and so important.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned cloud-based and that was the buzz word or the question, the check box that somebody should be checking off in order to be innovative, but what’s the difference between cloud-based systems and cloud hosted?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Typically hosted is really just going to be your software only it’s on someone else’s server. well, it’s all on someone else’s server, but someone else has a physical server for you or a virtual server somewhere and they manage it, instead of you managing it. And typically those are data centers where they’ve got the temperature controls and the security and things of that nature. But there’s still anything subject to cyber terrorists and things like that. Ultimately it’s on-premise software. You still have to do your updates. Somebody still has to come in and update the software when there’s a new version and that kind of thing. It really isn’t substantially different from an on-premise server, except that you typically have someone else who’s maintaining this hardware for you and you don’t have to do that yourself versus cloud software where it’s actually out of the office.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I said, so they’re wrapping it in plastic from the hurricane instead of you.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Typically, they hosting centers will pick it and in a location where there’s very low natural disaster, they’re probably a lot in Utah and whatnot, not many in Florida probably. But with a with a cloud-based software that’s typically not the case. Now there are some cloud based softwares that are actually really just hosted on a large instance of AWS and then there’s also just true cloud software. So it’s all varying degrees, but typically with a cloud-based software you’re not responsible for even worrying about that server or even thinking about it, the upgrades can be pushed out automatically to you instead of you having to go say, “Okay, it’s time for an upgrade. Let’s go get all our ducks in a row and upgrade the software.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think in my history, both as a contractor and as an executive here at a software company that sells cloud based systems that used to do on-premise software, I can speak to the great cost savings of going to a cloud based system where you’re not paying for the labor to do those updates and the effort and the lags and the delays, I mean, just that cost alone is very expensive and something that I think contractors have primarily started letting go of that. I don’t think that’s the majority any longer, which is a good thing, but there are still some, like you said, that are still hanging onto their fax machines and still got their paper.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah. The typical contractor does not have the technical expertise on staff to take care of all that. I could go on all day about this with security risks and things like that. It’s just, I would never want to trust it to the guy down the hall who’s real good with computers. So you usually just go ask him when there’s something wrong, you don’t want that person in charge of your sensitive data and your operations being up and running.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yeah. It’s very critical data. And definitely, I think sometimes we forget we get busy and our hair’s on fire and we are just used to doing things the way that we’ve always done them, and in construction we’re problem solvers. We’re good at fixing things and jerry rigging stuff to find a solution quickly, but this is not an area to try and cut those corners on for sure.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Well, you don’t think about it until you’re lying in bed at night thinking, “Oh, do we even have a backup? We might have one, but have we ever tested actually restoring it?” And those things get alleviated.

 

Mike Merrill:

Or does the guy that know even still work here? I mean, I’ve heard that a lot, they lost the guy that knew.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah. Well, and that’s another point that I think we should talk about is losing the guy that knew, because I think whether you’ve been on a software for a long time or you’re new to a company that’s using a software, I think it’s so interesting that so many businesses only use just a fraction of what their ERP software can offer. And the person who set it up, did it for whatever your business conditions were at that time. And maybe haven’t evolved. I mean, maybe you didn’t have a lot of people out in the field running all over the place. And so it wasn’t a big deal at that time, but I think businesses just need to remember that they should be checking and saying, “Where do we have manual processes? Where do we have gaps in communication?” And just saying, “How can we fill these?” Because chances are, there’s a solution. It may even already be in your software. It may be an add on solution, but you always keep evolving with your software because I know that people that make the software are always evolving for you and if you’re not paying attention, and you’re just assuming that you can’t do things, then you’re missing out on a lot of the value you could be getting out of your software.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. Last month it was very enjoyable. We were at a local AGC event. It was the 99th annual Utah Chapter AGC Conference. And they did have an in person. So it was wonderful. And the fact they’ve got another event, a couple of days here, a safety conference that we’re going to so pretty excited about getting out there and seeing people again a little bit. But anyway, I was sitting down at dinner with a group that was telling me they’re still on the same software, but they started doing concrete work. Then they got into general contracting. Then they started doing paving and now they focus on construction for mining. And so they’re like… and oh, by the way, and cell phone towers and maintenance. So it’s like their entire business has shifted multiple times. And now they’re looking for a software that’s more designed for the things that they’re doing. And they’ve tried to just navigate all of that with one ERP solution that probably is under serving them.

So it’s a great point you bring up that our business has changed and we should regularly look at those different tools that we’re using, make sure we keep them sharp. So do you have any scenarios that you’ve heard of companies that maybe for a specific reason they’re not on the cloud or they can’t be for one reason or another? Do you run into those scenarios?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah, it’s usually when people don’t like to be efficient or save money or communicate well, that’s usually the type of person that’s best served steak. No, I always say there are a couple of examples where it’s arguable that maybe it’s not best to move to the cloud, but one being there’s people who just… there are businesses who are located in places where there’s just not good internet. And that’s going to be a challenge no matter what you do. So there’s tools out there that can combat that for the field tools, because a lot of tools, I believe yours will go ahead and work off a wireless connection or we’ll collect the data and then sync back up when you’re in range.

So for that, argument’s even going away a little bit, but if you’ve got a huge manufacturing plant in the middle of nowhere and you just don’t have good internet, then that’s another one I would say is people who have a lot of HIPAA requirements tend to balk against having any kinds of cloud-based solutions because there’s just a lot of the products out there don’t deal with that. I don’t know that a lot of contractors have that problem. So those would really be the only cases where I’ve encountered people having legitimate reasons not to go to the cloud.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. No, that makes sense. Well, that’s good. So that means everybody else has an opportunity, I guess we’ll say to maybe look at it further, if you haven’t made the jump.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I don’t know, have you seen any other legitimate objections? I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard some, but-

 

Mike Merrill:

I hear from companies say they do government work that’s maybe certain reasons or maybe a division or department of their company that, like you said different very site-specific, or again where they physically are located. But I haven’t heard too much that I don’t think we could help solve with a cloud based system, but people still think that on occasion that maybe it’s not best for their business. And maybe it’s worth investigating that a little bit further with today’s technology. So in our pre-call you had mentioned something about cloud based systems being evergreen. What does that term mean for the listeners? And is that something you can shed some light on?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Well, so I don’t know, there’s a lot of moving parts in regulations and forms and things of that nature that change very regularly. I mean, the best example I can give is a great one, which is Avalara, which is a sales tax automation software that’s cloud based, because they have thousands and thousands of rural rate and boundary changes every year. And they just push those out to the cloud. And so when you’re a connected to Avalara, you get the latest and greatest automatically because it’s a cloud-based software. So all those types of things, any kind of compliance it’s much easier to keep on top of if you’re not responsible for manually entering it into your system, because you’re connected to the cloud and it’s going to automatically bring the latest compliance, whatever type of apparatus you’re going to need, whether it’s tax or payroll forms or things of that nature automatically that can save you a ton of time and also keep you out of being in non-compliance.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Right. No, that’s a great point. Actually, the OSHA or different safety regulations, especially with COVID, I mean, how many things are changing almost daily, weekly, monthly? I mean, there’s been so many changes that everybody’s been dealing with and it would be nice to know that some institution or organization is on top of those things and that’s a full-time job, and you can just continue building buildings and doing the things that you’re used to doing and let them focus on keeping those things up to date for you. So with somebody who’s maybe on a legacy system today, a server based client server, and they’re looking to move to the cloud, what does that journey look like? Or what project do you think that they’re in for to make that change?

 

Darcy Boerio:

So there’s a lot to that. I would say it’s scary. We have what we have. We don’t want to lose what we have in our functionality. I mean, my advice would be definitely number one, to talk to… contractors talk to each other. They’re in the AGC, or in the ABC, or in the CFMA talk to your peers and find out what they use, what shortcomings they’ve found and that kind of thing to try to just make sure you’re picking the right choice based on what they tell you, not based on what you read on the Rocher or from a software publisher, but what your peers are really saying. And then find a partner who specializes in construction and a software reseller typically, then you’ll know within a few minutes of talking to them, probably if they really understand construction or not, it’s very imperative that they understand construction.

There’s a lot of companies out there that understand ERP but don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of construction. So finding a partner… but that it doesn’t have to be horribly painful. You are going to probably have to make some decisions about how much data you want to convert. And people get a little scared about losing their historical data, but there are ways to mitigate that. You get choices to make about how much you want to bring over and how much you still need to be able to access. And there’s a lot of technology out there to bring over the important data that you need. So those are the things and just think longterm what you’re seeing with some of the legacy systems in general, in ERP, and I’m not calling out anyone particular, but the non-cloud basis that they’re not investing a lot more in the future of these legacy products.

And so if you want to keep being able to get the latest and greatest and even a product. So if I’m a software publisher who makes an amazing business intelligence tool, and it’s the coolest technology, and it’s really awesome and everybody wants it, but I’m going to look at your old legacy product and I’m going to go, ” I’m not going to write an integration to that because that’s dying off.” And so you’re potentially cheating yourself out of a lot of cool new technology and ahead of the game, because if people just aren’t developing all this great new technology is out there, there’s AI machine learning, all these things, nobody wants to go build that for a product that’s going away. So that’s another consideration. Just start the move. Every journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. So talk to people, hear their stories and get with the 2020s.

 

Mike Merrill:

And I guess obviously you would say because of what you’re sharing that it’s well worth the move as soon as possible, not later, right?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I mean, that’s what I’ve seen with adoption. I mean, honestly, I can’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone say to me, “Oh, I wish we never moved to the cloud.”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We did that here. We moved our accounting and ERP from an on-premise. And I remember having to get backups to the accountants. And yeah, wait, hold on. Don’t do anything in this until we get the backup back from them. And I mean, it was just a mess and you were in a holding pattern and you just can’t do that these days. So we are so thankful that we… I mean, I got to be on my phone a thousand miles away looking at a report or a dashboard in the accounting system.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Out in the woods, running around, what’s my county doing?

 

Mike Merrill:

Fair warning, checking those reports, no questions. So before we wrap up, I always like to ask a few more personal questions, but even before that, I know, I mean, you’re a respected podcast hosts, I’ve enjoyed many of your episodes. You have awesome guests on, and I’ve really enjoyed listening to your Enterprise Software Podcasts. Are there any guests or topics or stories or just something that really stuck out to you that you could share with our listeners that you learned or heard, or you think that they might enjoy hearing?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Oh, thank you for the compliments. That’s very kind of you. That’s really hard because I have so many favorites and one of my favorites is always a guy named Ed Class, he’s with Sage.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I’d be curious to know how applicable his topics are to a construction company, because he is very much against hourly billing. Now, I don’t know that the construction industry could ever really get away from that, but he does it. His whole concept is value based pricing. So you’re basing your pricing on the value of the output, not on the actual cost of the inputs, essentially. So this stuff’s really good. I don’t know how much of it you could adopt as a contractor, but it’s very thought provoking.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, and interesting to you. I mean, the phrase, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak those ideas are always fascinating for me to hear, because again, I am constructions in my bones. I think like a contractor still, sometimes I have to try and put on a technology hat and not look at things the way that I might have in order to be more effective in a technology space. But I think there’s a lot of contractors out there that want to be more innovative. They just don’t quite know how. And so when you’re busy and especially in a market that’s just booming and crazy right now, it’s pretty hard to find extra time and bandwidth to go and try something new.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I agree 100%. Another facet of what he talks about too, is he’s very passionate about subscription pricing for anything. And even just as a human being, as a consumer, you can learn a lot from him about how he’s basically saying everything’s going to be in subscription very soon. Look at how much we’ve switched everything to subscription. So he’s got some really interesting thoughts on that as well. So that helps maybe comfortable people feel more at ease with a subscription model that you typically have with cloud-based solutions is just understanding, look, you’ve subscribed to Netflix, you subscribe to whatever else you have. So you’ve always had certain subscriptions and now it’s more and more, so why not your software, lower your operating expenses, I mean, I’m sorry, your capital expenses and shifts a little bit towards your operating expenses.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Great advice. Well, so now that you’ve been on the podcast a little bit, and we’ve had a little bit of dialogue, I want to ask you a few personal questions, so nothing crazy, but so what’s one skill that you feel like you’ve mastered, or been able to really implement in your business life that you could share with others that maybe they could learn from?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I think one of the most valuable things that I’ve mastered is how-

 

Mike Merrill:

Don’t be bashful Darcy.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Oh, no, actually I would say one of the biggest things that’s had an impact on my business has been podcasting. It has been such a great opportunity for me to meet people that I would probably have otherwise never had access to and learn from them and get their insights. And it’s also really pushed me to keep up with the industry news that’s important to my business, even though sometimes I’m like, “I don’t want to read that article. I don’t have time to keep up with everything.” I’m like, “Oh, I got to do it because you might talk about it on the podcast. I need to talk to my listeners about this.” So that’s been really valuable and I encourage anyone to look into it to, to doing a podcast. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun and can be very rewarding.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. You had that always learning attitude and it shows you’re very well versed on a lot of topics. I’m sure this is a big part of why.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Thank you.

 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So what about your superpowers? There’s something that’s just like when Darcy puts her cap on what is that something you’re excellent at?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Okay. Well, I guess if we put my cap on, it’s when I put a badge on at a conference. My stupid human trick, I prefer to call it than a superpower, because I feel like is networking. I love networking. I love going to conferences and meeting new people and introducing people that can partner together and help each other out. So it’s just something that I really enjoy and I humbly say, I think I’m pretty good at, so that would be my stupid human tricks, super power.

 

Mike Merrill:

I love it. I remember meeting you at a conference over 10 years ago and that wasn’t by accident. So I’m sure that there’s many others that were memorable for it. So I agree. So what’s one mistake that you’ve made in your business career that you wish you would’ve learned earlier? I guess, maybe not a mistake, but something that you feel like you were able to overcome and improve that an impact for you.

 

Darcy Boerio:

I think one thing I learned is to be more willing to say no to things that aren’t in my wheelhouse, which is not to say that you shouldn’t try new things and branch out, but what it tends to do in my experience and from what I’ve seen other people doing it as well is take you on a learning curve that distracts you from your core profitable facets of your business. So that’s a lesson I have to learn to myself. To me is like, “Oh, I could get involved in that. That sounds cool. Oh, but wait, I do have all this other stuff I have to do that I’ve been meaning to do that actually is part of my core business, stay there. It’s okay.” So I mean, it’s not to say don’t try new things, but just be aware. Is it worth going into, is it going to help be healthy for your business in the long run to take something on?

 

Mike Merrill:

No, that’s great. I love that. Super applicable to our audience of course. Do you take that job on that’s totally not what you do just because you can and it’s there, or do you stay in your lane and focus on what you’re already good at?

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. All right. Well, so the last question. So if our listeners were to take away one thing from yours and my conversation today, what would you hope that would be for them?

 

Darcy Boerio:

I would say to just keep in mind that cloud and mobile are not going anywhere, they’re here to stay, so get into it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Buckle up.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

I like that. Well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure Darcy. I’ve very much enjoyed catching up with you a little bit and having this conversation. I think our listeners will really enjoy this one.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Oh, thank you. It’s so good to see you. Thanks for having me.

 

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. We’ll do it again down the road.

 

Darcy Boerio:

Okay.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thanks. And thank you for joining us on the Mobile Workforce Podcast today, to go listeners sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed Darcy and my conversation today, or were able to learn some helpful tips or tricks or insights, please give us a five-star rating and review. And we would love you to also subscribe to the podcast. We appreciate you sharing this with your friends and colleagues. After all our goal is to help you improve not only your business, but your life.

Technology for Construction Advances Careers

Technology for Construction Advances Careers

The way individuals land jobs and move up in construction companies has changed since social media entered the picture. Today, sites like LinkedIn serve as one’s digital brand and resume. And while leveraging technology isn’t formally required to get a job in construction, it is how HR and hiring managers search and vet prospective candidates, giving these job seekers a clear edge over their tech-wary competition. Fortunately, there are simple steps everyone can take to stand out in today’s competitive hiring landscape. 

In this episode, Karla Meador, the Managing Partner at NEAR Search Group, joins host Mike Merrill to discuss how technology has changed the way companies hire, as well as actionable advice for breaking into the construction industry and seasoned professionals looking to make a change. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Build your LinkedIn profile before you start looking. LinkedIn gives individuals an opportunity to demonstrate their skills, strengths and job history. It’s also the go-to social platform for professional networking and recruiting. Avoid building up and being active on LinkedIn only when you’re searching, as you’ll miss out on connecting with others in your industry. It’s also a good idea to add references throughout your career journey, because hiring managers will check your profile to see how others view working with you.
  2. Engage with online recruiting websites. LinkedIn may be the biggest professional platform, but it’s not the only one. There are a number of free websites like indeed.com that will connect a potential candidate with job opportunities. By setting up your digital profile, you’ll allow recruiters to come to you. 
  3. Research the position you want – including important keywords. Studies show that resumes get looked at for under 10 seconds before being decided on. To stand out and earn the attention of hiring managers, do your research online. Understand what is most important for the hiring manager and make sure to use the keywords in your LinkedIn and job site profiles.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Karla Meador. Karla is a managing partner at NEAR Search Group. And her experience working with construction companies hiring needs for over 20 years is going to give us some really awesome insights today in helping employees and individuals improve their opportunities in their career. So thank you, Karla, for joining us today. We’re excited to have you. 

 

Karla Meador:

Thanks, Mike. I appreciate the invite and looking forward to a spirited conversation. 

 

Mike Merrill:

I’m sure it will be. So before we jump into the dialogue too much, can you give our listeners just a little bit of your background and experience? 

 

Karla Meador:

Sure. I came up through the sales side of the house and have sold a variety of things, but often with two construction firms usually tied to IT. I love technology. I’m worked my way into management in a hiring role, and then doing like an executive and as an owner, as you know, my past. And then decided I had the chance to join a partner and create our own search firm. So now we help other owners and individuals looking for better jobs. We help those folks. And we’ve got over, as you said, over 20 years experience and a lot of expertise in IT and construction. 

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Well, I’m looking forward to the conversation today. So I guess to get things started off, the first thing I’m wondering, moving up the corporate ladder, or at least improving someone’s role out a project or a job site or within a construction company is usually everybody’s goal. Everybody wants to move up and improve and grow. It used to be back in the day, you could work hard, bury your head and just do your thing. And eventually your boss would notice and you would get promoted and have new opportunities. That doesn’t seem to be the case today for some reason. Why do you think that is? And maybe what’s changed?

 

Karla Meador:

And that’s a good insight. I do think it has changed. One, we have more turnover, even at a management level or companies buying other companies, used to have a mom and pop forever for 30 years. Then you get bought out and you have different management. So number one, it’s hard to get noticed if your boss is changing every year and/or your company’s getting bought out or moved, etc. And then number two, we just live in a society that’s more showmanship, for maybe lack of better words, where social media things like LinkedIn, Facebook and those things are predominant. And we’re just a society now that catches bits and glimpses. And you want to make sure that you’re part of that new way and that you’re capturing bits and glimpses of your best and able to present that to whoever is your new team lead or owner. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s interesting. So it sounds almost like people need to be more aware of marketing themselves aside from just working hard. Is that what you’re saying? 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. We tell people to market themselves, like for a small business, actually in looking to garner a new client. Put the same amount of emphasis and detail into what you want and how to present yourself. It’s no longer, “Head down, work hard. They’ll see me and they’ll reward me.” It’s almost like the squeaky wheel gets the grease. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Well, that’s a valuable insight and I think you’re really onto something there. So what can an employee do within an organization to align themselves with that success and make themselves more refreshed in that light that you’re talking about? 

 

Karla Meador:

There’s a lot there and I’ll just hit the highlights and certainly dive in anywhere you want. Number one, I always, me personally, find a coach or a mentor in the group. Most folks feel like it’s a compliment or an honor to have somebody come up and say, “Hey, you mind teaching me a few things.” You have to be able to humble yourself to work with somebody and gets some tips from them. And if they’re in your tutelage, if you will, they can often help you get up the ladder. And that’s worked for me as well. I think social media, things like LinkedIn. Pay attention to your background, the picture. Make sure you get a lot of references, long before you’re looking. Get them along the way. As soon as you finish a great project and you have a really happy customer, get that reference then. Don’t ask 10 years later. 

Build your portfolio, if you will, your marketing material. We always caution folks too, to be careful what you put on Facebook, if you’re looking to get new customers, or if you’re looking to get a new job. And also in work, it’s just being a cultural fit and being able to show where you add value. And I really thought about this. There’s several ways, but it can be you can raise revenue. You can have ad-ons and produce more. You can help cost efficiencies and improvement. But you can also just be a great morale person. That time when the power went out and you ran and bought up a bunch of extra battery packs and gave it to the crew. What are you doing? And how do you showcase that? And let people know without looking like you’re always bragging, and there’s a fine line and it takes practice. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Lots of great points in that bit of information you shared there. So as far as really impressing management or doing those little things, are there some little tips or secrets that you think somebody could utilize to do that, if they’re not already actively or proactively doing those things? 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. I think one, mirror your audience. So if you’re in front of a manager who, let’s say, likes to golf, maybe make that a little bit of your interest. You’re going to have to look for something connection. It has been proven people tend to hire people that are like them. Notice, I didn’t say, “They like.” I said, “That are like them.” So if you’re a curmudgeon and a grumpy personality, they tend to hire that. So we always tell people to mirror their environment. If they’re a jokester, you and I are very outgoing and talkative, that’s a plus. Some places, telling jokes isn’t. So I think the biggest thing is that you fit into the culture. 

And then again, to be seen is to make sure that when you’re doing something that you find a way to highlight it. And that can be verbally. Maybe a peer gives you kudos. “This is what happened, and this is how I solved it.” That’s not cocky. “This happened, this broke. I stepped in and this is how I fixed it.” And you can always at the end, “Could I do anything better?” Managers are like, if I get something like that, I’m like, “Wow. This person really takes this company seriously, their job and wants to improve.” 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love… Earlier you mentioned LinkedIn and some of these other tools, and I know on LinkedIn, you can recommend somebody or you can request a recommendation. So that might be a way from what you’re saying. 

 

Karla Meador:

Oh, absolutely. I think it’s an underutilized tool. Understand as companies get bigger, HR departments and a lot of companies now always look at your LinkedIn and always look to see if they can find your Facebook. That’s 80% of the companies now from the data that I read. So make sure you have a great background picture. You have a great picture of yourself, whatever that might mean for whatever job that you have, as well as that you have detail. And to me, other than the relevant pictures would be the references. As you do accomplishments, it can be your resume. “Mike closed this project under budget and early. Mike did this and this,” and you’re showing that trajectory of your career. And it’s extremely valuable. LinkedIn is used by so many people now, and there’s still people that aren’t on it in our industry. And even at the beginning level, the entry-level, I would encourage everyone to get on LinkedIn and really spruce it up.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Lots of great advice there. So what I’m also hearing is you’re saying strike while the iron’s hot. Document. Make sure that there’s a trail of the goodness that you’ve helped provide for your employer. 

 

Karla Meador:

Probably a lot of things I’m going to say are obvious today, but that’s probably the least obvious. And you’re absolutely right, because you will forget. You don’t remember some of the brilliance you did 10 years ago, but it may be applicable to a new job. That again, a lot of the questions they ask are what do you do in a tough circumstance? That’s a great question. I would ask people, what if this happened, what would you do? And what a great example of our systems crash and our buildings fell apart, and this individual stepped in, but you need to capture while they’re there and they’re happy. When you try to go back and collect this information, it’s stale. It’s dated. And often people forget. It’s not until I start interviewing and bringing these pieces out that I’ve see that they’ve done some incredible things. But most of us have never been instructed or taught how to showcase our strengths. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a very underutilized from my view as well. What do you think the role is for maybe employees to, I guess, showcase themselves even to other businesses within their industry? Is that a part of this, where you’re making sure you’re visible to other potential employers? 

 

Mike Merrill:

Of course, we want to be loyal, but that can come into play, right? 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. Well, if things change, you might want to move. You might want a different career and you’ve hit the ceiling. Absolutely, LinkedIn is a great way. A lot of people don’t know there’s a little button that you can click that says, “Seeking employment,” but generally other people don’t see it, but recruiters do. You can give signals that way. I think other things you can do are join user groups. I know on LinkedIn, there’s a lot of great construction groups. Find what is in your niche particularly, and where you want to go. Always remember, it’s not where you’ve been and not necessarily what you’re doing now. 

If you want to grow, it’s what you want to grow into. So if you want to grow into a project manager, I would suggest, obviously, joining that forum and learning about that. I find the user groups, whether they’re in person or virtual, that matters. And again, finding that person that you make a connection with, that’s willing to help. Or you ask a network and I’m finally always networking is the biggest piece. And I’ve even been able to network off LinkedIn. It’s like Facebook, you develop a friendship, if you will. And just say, “Hey. Help me out.” And I help you out.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I think to your same point, if you’re sharing valuable content on LinkedIn that’s additive and inspiring or helpful in some way, that also adds to your resume. Just like a personal social media post, that is something positive and encouraging and something that you’re proud of, and that you’d be okay with your grandmother to see, so to speak. Is that what you’re saying? 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. Again, sometimes what you put can hurt you, so just make sure it is showcasing your professionalism. And I would always say your niche. What I’m seeing in all industries is things are becoming more, you’re less of a generalist. If you’re a bricklayer, you’re a bricklayer. And you want to show that you are the subject matter expert in what you do. And it could be shoveling, doing a ditch, but what is it that you do better than anyone else on your crew? And showcase that and get references for and join a forum.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. So what about somebody who maybe they are laying bricks or digging ditches, but they have an aspiration to move into the office eventually? What can somebody like that do to try and create an opportunity where they can upgrade their position in their view? 

 

Karla Meador:

Okay. Great question. Number one, let your manager know and let HR know if they have an HR department. I can say, as a manager and you might concur, sometimes we just forget. We just think they’re happy laying bricks 10 years down the road, that maybe their back’s starting to hurt and they would like a change. And understanding as well, people are allowed to change. Maybe they were happy three months ago, but now the onus is on that person to say, “Hey, Mike. I’ve been laying bricks for you for 10 years. You’re my manager. I would like to do estimates, take calls and do estimates and go out in the job site. Do estimates, come back and write them up. Can you teach me how? Let me shadow or give me a mentor.” So I think understanding what it is you want to do and being able to articulate that, and then reaching out to your manager and, like I said, HR makes the best sense for the quickest path, if you want to stay in the company that you’re in. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s great. So what about, let’s say somebody moves from the field to the office and maybe they lean technically in one regard or another. They like computers. They like IT. What can they do to stand out in a more technical role? 

 

Karla Meador:

And if they like computers and technology, I always encourage everyone, one, on your own time to show initiative. Learn, maybe it’s AutoCAD. Learn more about the computer, social media. There’s a lot of classes, often free or near free that you can take now. A lot of companies offer that as part of their HR employment package and people don’t even know it. There are free online classes for the betterment of you and your career. So always be learning and be soaking up that knowledge. And technology, it’s doubling itself every six months. So what are you doing to stay relevant and current? Walk in and say, “Hey Mike. Why aren’t we using Zoom meetings more during COVID?” Those types of things, so you’re on the cutting edge of that. 

And you do not have to be with the company long or a technical expert to find a couple of neat little apps or tools that can really make a difference. And people are all the time bringing something to me that I’ve never heard of. And it’s so cool and can help the business. And I think things like that and IT, that don’t take a team. It’s not a huge software conversion of hardware. It’s something simple that can be effective for the company. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you’re very experienced in this field. Obviously, you’ve been a recruiter and helped hire and find talent for decades now, even at the young age of 28, is that right? 

 

Karla Meador:

That’s correct. I’m 29 in July. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Wow.

 

Karla Meador:

Yep.

 

Mike Merrill:

We’ll get your card out for sure. So-

 

Karla Meador:

Awesome.

 

Mike Merrill:

But having said that, I can imagine there are times when you look at a resume or you look at somebody’s portfolio and there are things that really stand out and you think, “Wow. This person is very hireable.” What are some of those things that you look for that really seemed to be a no-brainer for placing?

 

Karla Meador:

Great question. And obviously, it depends on the job. But if it’s at a certain level, a degree. That does still matter when we’re talking more inside the office. A degree in ideally your field of engineering, if you’re an architect, what have you. Tenure, stability, a rule now is about three years or more. It used to be five or 10, but if you stay with a job every three years or so, or more, that shows stability. Then I know another thing that we’re looking for is progression. So if I am at WorkMax, and I’ve been there five years and oftentimes we are doing the same role. But what have I been doing to show progression in that role? An example might be winning a contest, winning an award, added responsibility. It’s not always a promotion or a job, a title change, but people are looking for someone that shows that they’re learning and gaining a new territory, or they learned a new skill. Those things are really important. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And in our current environment, obviously, some industries are really struggling. If you’re in the hospitality or other areas where business is just down, what do people in those positions or situations have to do to remain employed? Are there any tips or tricks or things that you would recommend? 

 

Karla Meador:

Well, in hospitality, you’re right. That is a downmarket, but our group’s part of SRA. And that is one of the top 10 search firms in the country. And hospitality’s killing it. And they’ve found ways to repurpose those folks and put them in different jobs. And again, not an expert in that and what all that they do, but there are companies that doing quite well. So you have to, in times like this, you have to look at what skills that you have and how that can be transferable into a booming business, whether that’s delivering, whether that’s doing banquets, whether just… I don’t know. There’s just all kinds of different things that people are looking for. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So what… So how does that translate to construction or engineering or architecture? What are the differences there? 

 

Karla Meador:

I’m sorry, I missed that. How about to construction? So if it’s down how you want to… If you’re being laid off, et cetera, obviously you’re going to look for the company’s hiring. I would recommend two things immediately. LinkedIn and hooking up with a great recruiter or head hunting firm. The reason LinkedIn, it shows a lot of jobs. It’ll show… And a lot of people don’t know this, but it does show if you can click on jobs, you can search on location and what your field is. And also another good thing, I like Indeed. I’m not sponsored by any of these companies, but indeed.com is free. You can sign up and it will gather all the jobs within the parameters that you set and deliver it to you. So you don’t have to go on every website. 

But obviously, you’re going to look at competitors. Look at your network, but to technology-wise, Indeed and LinkedIn. And then I would hook up with a good recruiter, because as we know, some of the best jobs are never advertised or put on the website. They want it on the down low. Especially, we’ve got a search now where we are probably replacing someone. So even HR doesn’t have that role. So if you do all these things and you have a good resume, there’s still a lot of great jobs out there. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We use Indeed here and it is a great tool. We make sure every position gets posted there. And actually I got feedback. I was doing an interview just the other day for a new position we’re hiring. And this candidate said that they were getting notices from Indeed as if it was us saying, “Hey. We’re potentially interested in you coming in for an interview.” And basically, they took them through… It was a bot basically-

 

Karla Meador:

A pre-interview.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Basically, the system was pre-interviewing them to see if they’re a qualified candidate. And what that did is that encouraged this person to apply. And so even though we didn’t intentionally do that, his skills matched some of the requirements we had. And so Indeed automated that. And actually, I just sent an offer. Letter out this morning. So it worked.

 

Karla Meador:

Well, that’s a great testament to you using that technology as a business owner to increase your hiring pool. And they all are doing which… A lot of these different sites are doing pre-interviews. They’re screening. They’re looking for key words. They’re searching on key words. They’re looking at the salary ranges. If you have a max of say 70K and somebody wants 90, it’s already filtering out things for you and ideally delivering in a tunnel, the cream of the crop that are the best fits for you. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. I think some of the points you’ve nailed down, the three years, that’s an interesting thing. And I would agree with that. It makes sense to me. If they’re eight months or a year, a year and a half at eight different positions, I know we probably got a challenge with this individual knitting and sticking with something. So, and then as far as… So we talked about hospitality, construction also and the up and down market, different challenges that we have, when you’re interviewing or trying to find or fill positions for candidates in construction, can you just step through that process, what you’re looking at, what types of things that you’re doing? So that maybe somebody is looking to apply for a position might how to peek into what a recruiter like yourself might be looking for. 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. So some of it we hit on, but it’s good to reiterate we’re here. One, obviously, a resume that showcases their talent. Shows that progression, that they haven’t job hopped. If they’ve had a couple of reasons that they had to move on, I like a little quick blip in the resume. Because we only get about 10 seconds, if you can believe, that’s the studies. 10 seconds for a hiring manager that’s going to look at your resume. So that summary must sing your praises and succinctly to say what job you’re going for as well as again, that progression and adding value to the current organizations that you’re at. I think that’s huge. Another thing is key words. I oddly, probably one of the most things that I do is tell people, “You do this, but it’s not in your resume throughout.” 

So making sure whatever the key words are, whatever programs you use, whatever equipment, tools, if you’re traveling and locations, put all of those things in, because a lot of us do keyword searches. So make sure those key words are in there. Then when I actually talk to the person, we’re looking for the obvious things, cultural fit, and again, that can be different at different organizations. We like to use tools like Zoom. We listen very closely to our clients and what culture they’re building and need. And some are more particular than others, but we find… We try to get to know them and warm up and get that right cultural fit as well. And obviously, LinkedIn, and any of your extracurricular activities, throw in there somewhere. But I think a LinkedIn presence is important. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Lots of great pointers there. So I hope the listeners are taking notes. If they’re in a position or possibly going to be in a position where they want to change or move to a new organization, I think, like you mentioned, Karla, at least three years at a job shows stability. So I think in this day and age, for sure, people do tend to move around quite a bit more than historically. You don’t hear very many 30, 40 year ways anymore. 

 

Karla Meador:

No. And if they have, the name of the company’s changed three times. 

 

Mike Merrill:

That could be very true. So winding things up a little bit, just like to ask a few questions here at the end of you personally. So what’s the one skill, Karla, that you feel like you’ve mastered in your professional career that served you well?

 

Karla Meador:

I would say in what I do and almost anything, staying in touch with people. I’m a people person. I’ve stayed in touch with you. Stayed in touch with others. You reach out and you genuinely make a connection and you care, so staying in touch. It may be once a year, but I feel like if I was there with you right now, it would be as if no time had changed. Go out to lunch and have a good time. So I think that’s made that connection and staying in touch with people that I resonate with.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Relationships matter, don’t they? 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. 

 

Mike Merrill:

So what about Karla’s superpower? Is there something else besides relationships that you feel like you really have in your wheelhouse and you just lick your chops every time you get an opportunity to do this certain thing?

 

Karla Meador:

I think just on a broader scope, I listen to what other people say, my energy level. And you can probably attest to that. People are like, “Wow. If you’ve met her or been in the room with her, you know it.” There is some cultivating to that. And just like you exercise or meditation, prayer, eating right, being healthy, positive aspects, but I’ve always had a lot of energy. And so when I see something, I get excited because I have energy. Even if something good comes your way, but you don’t have the energy to deal with it, it’s hard. So I think energy I hope.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Yeah. I would completely agree. You are a firecracker. 

 

Karla Meador:

Yeah. It’s hard for me to just sit still in this chair for 30 minutes. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, you’re doing a great job, so thanks for putting your best foot forward on this. So another thing, what is the importance of data in your business? What does it do for you and why is data so important? 

 

Karla Meador:

I think for any business of any size, it is now the business analytics, using data to help make future better decisions. A couple of things I’ve mentioned during this interview, we know that the average hiring manager spends 10 seconds on a resume, decide they’re going on, and they rarely get to page two. We know that job hoppers in anything less than three years. An older person reading it might think it’s five or 10, but it’s three. So we use these things to understand and educate sometimes our customers what’s the market, what’s real and what’s to be expected? So data helps you predict what’s happening and what’s going to happen in the future, what we’re going to see more of. And of course, and all of that allows you to build your business and build your revenue.

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Lots of great stuff here. Great pointers again. I hope everyone’s taking notes. What about… Are there any mistakes you’ve made that you wish you could go back and change in business? Something that you have since learned from and think, “Oh, man. Why did I do that?” Is there anything you want to share with us? 

 

Karla Meador:

Sure. For the most part, like everybody, it happens for a reason and you have to be okay with that. But for me and for others often, I think it’s garnering and getting input from others and accepting that, being open, especially when you’re younger, it’s a little hard to humble yourself and ask, “Hey, Mike. What could I do better?” But it is getting input from the outside. And maybe that’s even outside your organization. If you’re having trouble with somebody in the office, maybe talk to a coach, a life coach, professional level. But it is seeking outside input and not thinking that you have to fix everything on your own. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So I’m hearing being vulnerable is okay. 

 

Karla Meador:

Yes. And that is hard for some of us. And I think that was harder for me when I was younger. And as you get older, not so much. You actually have to be very secure to ask another person for help or how can I be better? What can I do to be better in this role? 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. Love that. So just to wrap up, last question. So if there’s one thing that you want listeners to walk away from this conversation today with, what would that be? 

 

Karla Meador:

It’s going to be motivational. If you want it, it’s there. You can find it. In this market, in any market, that we are always seeing jobs for good people. So if you see that job that you want or that client that you want, you want a huge client, you keep at it and try different things. Use social media. Send them an interesting link. Tout yourself. Tout your company. But you’ve got to be your own small business, if you will, and showcase your talents. And if you do that and do it enough to the right people, it will happen. You’ve just got to continue to, again, market yourself well.

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I’ve heard others say, “We are all CEOs of ourself, the business.” 

 

Karla Meador:

Yep.

 

Mike Merrill:

And so it’s like, what you’re saying. 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, thank you, Karla, for the conversation today. Had so much fun, and hoping to connect again down the road as we continue our long-term friendship. And again, you’ve made an impression on me and our organization, and that’s why even after 10 or 12 years or whatever it’s been, we can pick up a conversation like this, nice and easy. 

 

Karla Meador:

Absolutely. And I do want to add this, that I appreciate it too. Same thing we could get in a room and it would be like time hasn’t stopped, hasn’t moved forward at all. I think that what you have is a great product, knowing IT and construction. I was always impressed with WorkMax and AboutTime and what y’all were doing and what you’re about. And I do think that’s going to be, we all know, technology is key. And I think you heard that a lot for all my points today with LinkedIn and social media, et cetera. It’s going to be technology.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, thank you. That’s fantastic. So thanks, Karla. And thanks again for the listeners for joining us on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Today sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation Karla and I had today, and were able to gain some helpful tips and insights, please give us a rating and a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. Those ratings and reviews help us a great deal to continue to bring these valuable conversations to our listeners, to help you improve your business and your life.

 

Live Field Data Protects Your Budget

Live Field Data Protects Your Budget 

Technology permeates every aspect of the construction job site, giving contractors better control of their projects, workforces, safety and budgets. And while creating financially efficient job sites can be a tall order, live field data is a reliable way to get on track. With so many ways live field data streamlines business and increases profits, we decided to go straight to the experts to break things down.  

Jimmy Gabbard is the IT Manager at Potter Concrete and Austin Chiapuzio is a Systems Engineer at Flair Data Systems. They join the podcast to talk about an exciting data management project they’ve been working on –– collecting live field data from all of Potter Concrete’s job sites. In this episode, they share how construction teams can leverage data, hands-on reporting and how live field data can protect your construction budget.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Review your processes to identify inefficiencies. The first step to ensure a financially efficient job site is to pour over your processes. This begins by analyzing live field data, which gives you the ability to see all of your teams, projects and jobs –– the very things that impact your budget the most.
  2. Get prepared to implement new technology. When construction companies decide to invest in live field data, they can’t assume it’s like an on/off switch. The implementation of any new system or software requires putting a plan in place. This means understanding what information is needed on the job site and how you are going to incorporate your current standard operating procedure.
  3. Stay focused on your budget. Even with the top technology at your fingertips, you can’t make the most of it if you aren’t asking the right questions. What data do you need access to? What are the implications for my budget? Will this data allow me to make better decisions? When you stay focused on your budget, and what impacts it, you’ll better understand how live field data can improve your business.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill, and today we’re sitting down with Jimmy Gabbard, who is the information technology manager at Potter Concrete, and Austin Chiapuzio, a solutions architect at Flair Data Systems. We’re going to discuss how Potter Concrete is enjoying the benefits of live field data and a tracking system that they have developed and customized, leveraging mobile and cloud technology on smart devices.

 

Mike Merrill:

Really looking forward to the conversation today with Jimmy and Austin, and also this fresh approach in content for our episodes. Glad to have you guys with us today.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Thank you.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Thank you, thank you.

 

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. Before we jump into the conversation, can you gentlemen give the listeners a little bit of a quick introduction of yourselves and maybe your experience? Jimmy, if you want to go first, and then Austin, you can go after.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Sure. I was born and raised in Chicago. Moved to Dallas early ’90s, ’94. Got involved in IT mid-’90s. Started out as a PC technician, went to a systems admin, junior admin, worked as an admin and then I’m in the role now here at Potter Concrete as the IT manager.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and seen a lot. I remember the days of server rows being full of modems, so that goes way back. That’s a little bio for me.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. How about you, Austin?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I spent most of my life here in the Dallas, Texas, area. I went to college at UT Austin, hook ’em, horns. I started working at Flair Data Systems as an intern back in high school. My dad actually worked for the same company, so I helped him out during summer breaks, spring breaks, things like that, specifically doing voiceover IP. That’s when I got the glorious opportunity to meet Mr. Gabbard here. I helped install the phone system for him 14 years ago when you guys moved to the new building?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

You were a young pup.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I was. I was 16 years old. Went to college, came back, did Cisco voiceover IP for several years, then Flair Data Systems opened an analytics division. Being the math nerd that I am, I immediately jumped on that opportunity and have been doing analytics ever since.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow, so a very technical background. Good for you. It sounds like Jimmy’s aligned with the right kind of guy to accomplish the work that he’s doing.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, we’ll see.

 

Mike Merrill:

The jury’s still out. Okay, even after 14 years, huh?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, I know, right?

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, one of the most important aspects of construction and the industry today, really, is the technology that companies are leveraging, so can you tell us a little bit about this project that you guys have created and how you are utilizing web solutions and mobile technology to help your construction business?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

A little bit of issue of how it came about, I’ve been working with Flair Data Systems about 15 years. We had a customer appreciation, actually Flair Data had a customer appreciation night and so my wife and I, we went. I seen Austin over there at his little booth, his little Click booth. He walks over.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I hadn’t seen him in a while so I’m like, “Hey, what are you doing?” He was talking about analytics and I’m like, “Okay.” Well, my wife does analytics for DHS. She does Power BI, so of course, they started talking nerd. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.”

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Then they started getting detailed as far as the data they’re pulling and what they’re able to see and how their users are utilizing it and making business decisions. I’m like, “Hmm. That’s interesting. I wonder if it can help us with our saving money and can it see this and can it see that.”

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I started asking a few questions and I think at the end of the night, I’m like, “Hey, you need to come out, talk to my manager, which is the CEO, and let’s just see what it can and can’t do.” Here we are a year later and it’s worked out very well so far.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow, so you’re about a year into this project or since you got this thing going?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yes.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Austin, tell us a little bit about Click. What is that exactly and how does that relate to what Jimmy’s trying to do at Potter?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Click is a business analyst tool. It takes a bunch of different data from a bunch of different data sources, marries it together and then provides front end visualizations on that said data. As he mentioned, Power BI is another competitor to Click. They both do similar things, Power BI, Tableau, Click. All three of them are data analytics tools.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

As far as what it does for Jimmy, he has multiple data sources for the time being. He uses About Time and Timberline, so it connects to the backend database of both About Time and Timberline, pulls the data in. Then I’m able to take these two different data sources, marry them together and use data from both these different data sources to provide insights and things like that into what they’re doing on a daily basis.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow, so you’re essentially aggregating data from multiple systems and presenting it in a more meaningful way.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Correct. There’s a lot simpler way of saying it.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, there is.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, so if we’re being honest, Jimmy, isn’t that normally a little bit outside of the scope of what most subcontractors are doing today?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Absolutely. Most subcontractors, you hear the word analytics, data analytics. My first thought was that’s a number. That’s going to cost some money, but at the same time, you’ve got to think about, “Okay, what can it do for you, as a subcontractor?” Some contractors, a lot of them are small. There’s some decent size ones, but any area that you can cut cost and know where you’re, if you will, winning, areas you’re losing, it’s a great insight, on a daily basis, to know how your business is doing.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Subcontractors, man, I can’t say it enough. You need a tool that you can dive deep into to see all of your numbers because if you don’t know, you don’t know whether you’re winning or losing on a daily basis. On a daily basis, you can make just better business decisions and you see the train before it falls off the track.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s powerful, very well stated. I don’t know if you put a calculator on those numbers of if you even know what kind of money you’re talking. Even in general terms, how much money do you think you’ve saved from implementing a system like this?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

We’ve talked about that, my manager and I. It’s hard to put numbers on that right now, but I will tell you, being able to look at the Click dashboard and what Austin has done for us, it’s going to be difficult unless something catastrophic happens on a job site, to lose money.

 

Mike Merrill:

I like that. I think any business should like to be able to make a statement like that, especially if they mean it and it’s true.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Something I heard Noel say, I’m pretty sure it was last week, a lot of the data we’re showing on this visualization is something they used to get, but it was something that would take anywhere between six to a dozen accountants digging through their data to be able to provide the same type of information. Even then, it was just in Excel format. It was just numbers, which is meaningful to someone who understands those numbers, but it’s also hard to look at it and know right off the bat what’s going on, or as Jimmy always says, am I winning or losing? As far as the numbers savings, I guess you could say it’s however much those accountant salaries are.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Those number change daily, so they might work on those numbers for a week. Well, by then, you’ve already spent $10,000 in labor, so those numbers that you are supplying to those guys, it doesn’t matter.

 

Mike Merrill:

Old news.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, old news.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Yeah, that’s a common thing that we hear in construction and, I think, just generally. People, they’re resistant to change and you hear if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or we’ve always done it this way; that’s why we’re still doing it this way, we’re a business, we’re still making money. What would you say to people that are making claims like that but don’t understand what you’ve been able to figure out here?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

How do you know you’re making money? Can you make more money? How can you make more money? By something like Click being used with About Time, all of our numbers go through About Time. About Time is so vital in this process and to be able to see all of our units and panels and slabs and soon to be rebar, you get a deep down dirty view of everything that you’re making money on and everything that you’re losing money on.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

We have a crew that works on a Saturday. That’s a $6,000 day. Did you really have to work Saturday overtime? What did that do for us? Was that a game changer, working an extra day for $7,000, $6,000? It’s stuff like that. That’s great data to have and I can tell you what the guy did yesterday, how much you spent yesterday, who I spent it on. People don’t have that information now unless you go to accounting and you get it a week later.

 

Mike Merrill:

Essentially, for those that don’t know, About Time is a mobile technology. It works offline. It collects the time and the labor and the production. Why would you say that is becoming such a valuable tool, and not just the software itself, but the process? What makes it so different than what you were doing before?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

We were doing time cards before. Time cards is labor intense. You might have a few extra employees that you really didn’t have. Anybody can manipulate the time, an extra two or three hours here, my cousin needs five hours here this week, and this and that, ghost employees. Those things happen. It is what it is.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

When we implemented About Time, we took away the ability for superintendents to be able to change time. We have one person that does that. That one person gets an approval from the COO or VP to change that time and so pretty much, whatever they worked, they get paid for.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

You clock in at 9:37, it’s not 9:45 or 9:39:15. There’s not 15-minute grace period. You get paid to the minute and that’s a big number when you have a company of 1,000 employees. It’s a big number of savings. We saved over a million dollars the first year with About Time in just payroll.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

That’s incredible and even About Time will say this. In looking at About Time, our first thought was, “Wow, that’s a number. That’s a big number,” like with Click. Click’s not as big as About Time’s, but we couldn’t afford not to have About Time. Just the amount of money that we would save. If we’re going to pay a guy to work 40 hours, he worked 40 hours, not 42 hours, not 41 hours. About Time has brought that to the table and it’s just been a game changer, a game changer.

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that you addressed the issue up front that really at the source where the data is being collected, by who and holding them accountable. Then when it comes to great work on the back end, he’s taking that manual calculation, tabulation, spreadsheet entry out of the mix and giving it back to you in a way you want to see it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Austin, on your end of things, how have you felt the implementation of this new process that you guys have developed is going and what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in helping field adoption and the company enjoy the benefits of the work you’ve put in?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

The implementation has been super smooth. One of the problems I commonly run into is companies just want to go, go, go, go, go. They want everything yesterday. One of the things that I’ve just praised Potter and Jimmy and Noel for is validation. We’ve gone in there, we connected the database, brought all the data in, did the math on it, made sure that everything lined up, all the numbers looked right, made sure that everything was perfect from a data standpoint, and in that process, found some process flaws in how they were doing their time entry, how they were doing payroll, things like that.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Fixed those processes and then slowly moved forward. It has been invaluable, being able to take it step by step, being able to validate things at every step of the way. It’s going to make going forward that much simpler.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Getting the initial setup was super important and then now whenever we go add phase codes, when we add other data sources, we don’t have to worry about is this data right. We know this data is right. When I look at this number, I don’t have to say, “Why is that number wrong?” It’s not. That number’s right.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, we’ve done a lot of validation, a ton of validation to make sure everything is correct because when I rolled out About Time, it was a big roll out to a lot of people and what I didn’t want to have happen, a lot of times when companies roll out an application, they roll it out, get it all out there and it’s not fully complete, if you will, because a lot of times IT departments get a thumb on them and we need to get it out as fast as possible.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

The problem with that if things don’t work correctly, you get a bunch of people shooting holes in it. Then you get a bunch of people saying, “Oh, that’s junk software. It’s not going to work.” With About Time, we rolled About Time out to just a few superintendents. They tested it for a few months. Then we got more superintendents involved. That’s what we did with Click.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

We validated, validated, validated to make sure everything was correct. Now going forward, when we start adding equipment in through About Time, add in more data sources through About Time and whatnot, it’s going to make things go that much more cleaner, smoother. I’m so sorry for Austin because I beat that kid up with, “Are you sure” and “This isn’t right.” He’s like, “Well, you’re doing this wrong.” I’m like, “No, I’m not. Oh, wait. Yeah, I am.” There’s a lot of that, which is great that we have that relationship that we can badger back and forth, but the validation has been priceless, just priceless.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

He also built an app. I think it’s in Click, where it validates weekly time, hours and dollar amount with Timberline and About Time. We can see if somebody added time into Timberline and not into About Time. Those numbers will be off, so that’s a great validation for our owner, for VPs and CEO, right? Pretty much it goes back to, “Okay, if you’re going to pay for 40, I want to make sure you can pay for 40.” All the time goes through About Time and through Timberline, so when that validation is off, we know right away. You can’t get away with anything.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I can see if people put time into the wrong phase code, so if a superintendent clicks the wrong button and now they’re putting their time into panels instead of the superintendent phase code, I can immediately say, “Hey, that time is not supposed to be there. Go back, fix it,” and everything is married up. As far as from a backend data perspective, it’s all clean and accurate.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s fantastic. That is powerful. Of course, as Jimmy’s field guys are collecting the data out the source, Sage 300 RE or the Timberline product is the Bible, if you will, the master database and because your About Time database and your Timberline are Sage database are integrated, you’ve got them sharing the same dataset. I love that middle piece that you’ve got other validation going on, making sure visually that people can keep things balanced out. You’ve found a lot of holes, it sounds like, and plugged them.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Trying to. He’s done a great job.

 

Mike Merrill:

With that, going back a little bit, Jimmy, are there any things on the roll out or implementation of this you wish you would have done a little differently and maybe also, what did you do that worked really, really well that others might be able to learn from?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Austin and I talk about this all the time, what we wish we would have done better is knowing what question to ask. That’s big, why this and why that, so that’s a big one. What was the other question? I’m sorry?

 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s okay, and then what did you think went really well or exceeded your expectations, was awesome, was a good approach?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Exceeded my expectations? We have a magnifying glass into every part of our data. I’m blown away at what Click can do for us. I’m still just amazed every time he says, “Oh, it can do this; it can do that.” I look at him like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s amazing in itself right there. Hopefully, I answered your question.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. Between the two of you, it sounds like you’ve both been through similar projects with other systems. Jimmy, obviously, you learned how not to roll it out before you even started this, right? That probably helped. Would you say that’s accurate?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

That’s highly accurate. At other companies, we’ve rolled things out and you’re having to just chase your tail trying to fix things, and you knew what was going to happen when you rolled it out so fast.

 

Mike Merrill:

Speaking of that type of a rollout, if you look back and think of where this decision came from, who made it? Did you make it? Was it your executives? Did they put you on a mission to go find something? How did the idea even come about to look for a solution like this?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

There was no mission. Nobody sent me on a task to go find it. I have a money-saving mindset. It’s just what it is. I try and find ways to save money, and it just happened. I happened to be at the right event and he’s in the right kind of software and my mind started going. He knows how my mind is. My manager knows how my mind is, and I’m like, “Wow, this has got to be able to help us.” It just happened.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Click does a really good job. I wanted to bring a point back on what Jimmy was mentioning on knowing what question to ask. Click, and data analytics in general, does a great job at answering questions and giving you more precise questions to ask. When we first started this, if I could go back and change anything, the one thing I’d go back and change is finding out specifically what question they wanted answered.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

When we first started it, we got in there. We looked at the data, found what data they had access to, gave some stuff on what I could show, but didn’t really have any guidance on what I was showing. I would show them this and they would say, “Oh, that’s cool, but can it do this?” Then we’d show them this and it was, “Oh, that’s cool, but I really want to see it this way.” Once they asked the question, “Am I winning or losing,” and that was the big question they asked, once they asked that, it was off to the races.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

That made it super easy to be able to see. When you first look at this dashboard, you can see a speedometer that has green, yellow, red. If your speedometer’s in the green, you’re doing good. If it’s in the yellow, you might want to look into stuff and if it’s in the red, as Jimmy says, “Some tang wrong.”

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

It does a really good job at answering questions and once you ask that question, am I winning or losing, if you’re losing, it does an even better job at giving you reasons why. The next thing that we would do it try to answer the questions, why am I losing, where am I losing, things like that. Then you can drill down and look and be able to see, like Jimmy was saying, “Did I spend $7,000 in overtime that I didn’t need to spend? Did someone put their time in the wrong phase code? Are they moving money around? Was there eight people on a job site and you only finished two panels? Why did you only finish two panels when you had this many people?”

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

It gives you more direct and specific questions to ask. It just does a really good job of doing that. As my VP says, analytics is a feedback loop. We just analytics to find opportunities for process changes to boost performance. Then you use the analytics to see those performance boosts and then find other areas where you can become more efficient. It’s just a good way of giving an overview or insight into that information.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

That’s a good point, to be more efficient. Last week we had a meeting with five field superintendents and we were showing them Click and what it’s doing for us and why it’s so important to enter the units in through About Time. We created a form in About Time to be able to enter units and we sync it daily and it populates Click.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Towards the end of the meeting, I’m like, “Look, this is a fabulous tool. It’s going to make you a better superintendent. You’re going to get up in the morning and you’re going to look at your dashboard because we’re going to present it to them on their iPads, wherever they’re at, and they’ll be able to see their speedometer. Are they red, yellow, green?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

The red areas, they’re calling somebody. Our project managers, same thing. Why is this red? Pick your phone up, you’re calling the superintendent, “Hey, we’re red on panels. Why is that?” If we keep going this way, we’re going to lose $75,000, so what a great tool to know whether you’re going to lose money and you’re a week into the job, starting the job, and it’s already trending for you. It doesn’t get any better than that, so the About Time and the Click, the way they flow together and work, they were meant for each other.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow, a match made in heaven, huh?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

A match made in heaven.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Something cool, also, that has come out of this is, like Jimmy said, we’re moving into equipment next. There’s a ton that can be done in About Time. Jimmy’s forgotten more about About Time than I know, but just in looking in the backend database, I can see all these tables and I can see all these different fields that they’re currently not taking advantage of.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

It’s other things that they can use, things like the form. We built that form and that was something that existed that Jimmy was unaware of from the beginning. In doing this, he’s also doing more in About Time and utilizing their existing software more to give more data to get more insights. That’s, again, where that feedback loop is. It’s what can I do to get better visibility into my day to day business without actually having to go out to the job site and physically look at what’s going on.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Austin, talk about the geofencing that I tasked you to do. We have a girl that does face confirmation and geofencing. It tracks guys if they’re clocking outside the geofence of inside or whatever. There’s some great reports in About Time that she’s been utilizing for, I’d say, six or eight months. I’m like, “Hey, can you pull that data from About Time?” Of course, he goes through his big long deal of, “I can do this. Let me pull this.” I’m like, “Just do it.” He’s working on a dashboard for her that’s going to pull all that information.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Right now, back to the validation app that Jimmy was talking about, right now all it does is it looks at Timberline and About Time and says whether or not the hours match, which is huge, as Jimmy says, but along with that, everything needs checks and balances, so things like that geofencing. About Time does a great job at being able to see that information. It’s super valuable information, but it takes a second to go through all those different entries, being able to find which ones are within a certain range, which ones are outside a certain range.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I have the ability to see their home address as well as the address of the job site. Then I can take the address that they clocked in at or the coordinates. Then I can say, “Okay, I have this coordinate that they clocked in at. I have the coordinate of the job site and I have the coordinate of their home address. Now give me the difference between all of this.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I can tell you, okay, they clocked in five miles away from the job site, but they clocked in half a mile from their house, so just right off the bat, I can tell you who’s not clocking in from their job site and if they aren’t, how close are the clocking in to their home address that they have in Timberline. Again, that address is not in About Time. It’s data that’s in Timberline and utilize that with what About Time is doing to be able to give more insight into that data and make it quicker to see.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

All of the people are at the top so instead of having to go through everybody, she just clicks, “Okay, I want to see people that are clocking in greater than X distance away, greater than five miles away.” Now she has a condensed list of people she can look at. It’s a better use of her time.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

A result of that is, “Okay, why are you doing that? I don’t want to pay you an extra 30 minutes there” and oh, by the way, when they get home, then they clock out. We’re able to see that data through About Time. That’s an hour a day for one employee. How many people are doing that? That’s a big number at the end of the year. That’s information that About Time gives us and Click just compiles it and gives us what we need to see.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Yeah, About Time is super awesome and a lot of the stuff that I’ve seen from About Time, it collects great data. You can never have enough data but the problem with having as much data as we’re given is we don’t necessarily have a tool to see it easily. That’s where Click comes in.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

A lot of people will see this use case and they’ll say, “Okay, well I don’t necessarily have the same type of situation that Potter or Jimmy has. It’s not going to be useful for me.” That’s not the case. I use Click at home to do my own budget. This is a specific use case, but anywhere there’s data, something like Click is really good at showing that data in a different, more efficient way and making it interactive.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

You’ve got to have somebody like Austin to know how to present it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, will, that’s great. We both know, Jimmy, in construction and obviously, Austin, through your affiliations, information is king on everything. That’s what really matters in construction, is managing data results.

 

Mike Merrill:

One of the things, going back a little bit, Jimmy, that you said that I thought was really powerful and impactful, was how you empowered a superintendent to utilize the mobile app by, “This is going to make you a better super.” That’s what a lot of companies seem to be missing out on. They are focusing so much on their money savings or budget savings or profitability for the business and not necessarily highlighting how it can really make the individual employee’s life easier by leveraging those tools. Do you agree?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, I agree on that and to give an example, at that same meeting last week, one of our better superintendents, at the end of the meeting, said, “I’ve been waiting for something like this for so long.” It’s going to make him a better superintendent, more efficient, help him manage his job a lot easier, and at the end of the day, everybody is going to make more money. That’s great for the company, great for the superintendent, great for me, great for Austin, great for About Time, everybody. It’s a good deal, man. It’s a great tool.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s powerful. One other last thing I wanted to ask: How important do you think was buy-in from the top down, Jimmy, in your company’s case?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

The importance of the buy-in? We’re subcontractors, just a bunch of good ol’ boys that have done things a certain way for a long time, but I will tell you the men that I work with, they’re very open as far as… Like my manager, Noel Nalls, he’s like, “If the numbers make sense, we’ve got to do it.” That’s a great mindset.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

A lot of people are just like, “I’m out” at a certain price, 100 K, $1,000. “We can’t do that.” If you just break even, that’s a no-brainer, right? If the numbers make sense, let’s do it. That’s what we did in the beginning. That’s why Austin came out and presented, “Here’s what it can do; here’s what it can potentially do for us in the future.” Once that happened, “Wheels up; let’s get it going.” The buy-in was… Austin, would you agree, from the beginning, it was pretty well 100%?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Oh, yeah. The buy-in was 100%. The way we always say it is we have to have a champion. In any project, especially something like this, you’ve got to have a champion. You’ve got to have someone that’s invested. You’ve got to have somebody that understands the data and understands the benefits of seeing the data a certain way. Noel, Jimmy, everybody has been just super invested from the get-go and I could easily say they’re both huge champions for it. Yeah, it’s super important to have somebody there that’s willing and wants to see that data and wants to see it succeed.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, and you’ve got to know what technology can do for you. A lot of people are just against technology, especially in the construction industry, but you know as well as I do, in any job site nowadays, a job site is full of technology, wireless, mobile. We have big jobs where we have job trailers. We have wireless. We have servers out there. It’s just incredible.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

It’s a remote office. Guys are on the 13th floor and they have their iPads looking at plans. Changes happen and they get it like that. You have to. You have to have technology to be able to grow with the big boys.

 

Mike Merrill:

Um-hmm (affirmative.) It’s a better way to build better buildings, for sure.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I like that.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

I like that. I’ve never heard that before.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I like that.

 

Mike Merrill:

I just made it up.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Wow. You should go into advertising.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s it. Lots of great information and insights on this discussion, no question. Austin, if there’s a listener out there that’s in the construction business and they’re looking to get access to aggregated data like you’re providing for Jimmy, how’s the best way to get them in touch with you and see if you can help them as well?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

They can either reach out to me via email. It’s going to be A Chiapuzio, A-C-H-I-A-P-U-Z-I-O @flairdata.com or you can just go to flairdata.com/analytics and I believe they have a contact us somewhere there. Those are probably the two best ways.

 

Mike Merrill:

Perfect. That’s awesome. Well, just in wrapping up this awesome conversation, Jimmy, if you could look back, is there one thing in your career that, really, you felt is a strength of yours that served you well, a hack or a superpower of whatever you want to call it?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

You’ve got to be open-minded to everything, to all technologies. If you’re just straitlaced and you’ve got tunnel vision, you’re not going to be successful. That’s all there is to it. You’ve got to be open-minded to every piece of software, every idea that people bring to you and just see what it can do.

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that and in listening to you describe how your business and your company and your coworkers seem to approach things, it sounds like you’re a learning organization at Potter Concrete, which those words don’t usually go together when you’re talking about a construction company.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Oh, our guys, they embrace it. It’s like, “Um, let’s just see what happens,” but once you’ve proved the concept, they’re onboard, man. Everybody’s ready to go, man. We have to tap the brakes a little bit because they want it so fast, right?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

There’s been several times they sit there and start talking and get off and get excited. I love those conversations and then Noel’s like, “All right but wait. Wait, wait wait. Not yet, not yet, not yet.”

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

He’s great.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

People see the benefit of it and they just want it now because they know what it’s going to do, not just for them, for the company, to manage their people. We have superintendents that have a very large group on a job and it makes their job easier, it’s going to. We’re just scratching the surface of what we want to do with it. It’s exciting.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, if you’re saving over a million dollars in payroll in the first year and that’s just the surface, boy, you’re in a good place.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

What about you, Austin? What’s your hack or your superpower, if there is one?

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Numbers, I guess, would be mine. In college, I took math classes for fun. I like numbers. I like logic. That would be probably my biggest superpower and my biggest downfall.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Let me throw this out there, Mike. Here’s one thing. A few weeks ago, my manager, Noel, after a meeting with Austin, we were looking at, “Okay, we need to add burden into the numbers and that way we have a true number and this and that.” Austin was talking about burden in some accounting lingo. Well, I know the numbskull, so I know what he talks about and this and that.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Noel calls me afterwards, on the way home. He was like, “I’ve got a question for you.” I go, “Yeah?” He goes, “Austin’s a great guy, but how does he know all that accounting lingo?” I said, “Oh, we went to UT Austin. He’s a CPA.” He was like, “Ah. That makes sense.”

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Not only does he have the analytics, but he has the accounting side, which you’re talking about is so valuable. Oh, my gosh. He can get in Timberline and do what he needs to do. It’s phenomenal. You kill two birds with one stone, but I wish he’d trim that beard a little bit, though.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Yeah, my wife says the same thing.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I’m kidding.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, what I’m hearing, Jimmy, is you’re saying it’s not just the what, but the why and how that Austin really brings to the table, which is what a winning one-two combination.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yeah, he’s done a great job for us and is a good kid. I love him.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Well, again, that’s important, the personal relationship side of your vendors, having that relationship. I know, Jimmy, you and I don’t know each other real well, but we hit it off real well and I knew immediately, man, we’ve got to have you on the podcast. This has been a fun conversation.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

It has been good. It has been good and the product has been fabulous.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, we appreciate that and I guess just to wrap up, Jimmy, if you made a mistake in business or just in your career, what’s one thing you wish you could go back now and redo? Is there anything that stands out in mind to help others avoid that pitfall?

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

I’m real big on doing my due diligence as far as research. Sometimes there are times when you get rushed and sometimes you miss a few things here and there. Like we’ve done with this project, tap the brakes, slow down, do due diligence and research, validate stuff.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Validation has been huge to me, just a validation mindset, not just in Click but everything in general. That’s been key to me. The validation through Click has helped out with payroll in About Time and a few other areas in the IT department, so I’ve taken validation pretty seriously over the past year, if that makes sense.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Yeah, it does. I’ve very much enjoyed this conversation with both of you, Jimmy and Austin. I appreciate you joining us today.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Thank you.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Thank you very much.

 

Mike Merrill:

I look forward to many years of working together in the future.

 

Jimmy Gabbard:

Yes.

 

Austin Chiapuzio:

Absolutely.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right, well, thank you for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you liked the conversation that Jimmy and Austin and I had today or learned anything new or helpful in your business, please give us a follow at Instagram, at WorkMax Underscore and subscribe to the show on iTunes or your preferred podcast platform so you don’t miss another insightful episode.

 

Mike Merrill:

Also, if you enjoyed the episode, please leave us a five star rating and review. That helps us bring these valuable conversations with other folks to you and your organizations to help you improve in business and in life.

Top Construction Accounting Mistakes to Avoid

Top Construction Accounting Mistakes to Avoid

Accounting is not one-size-fits-all. And construction accounting is especially unique in everything from the way time is collected and allocated to the way job costing and work in progress gets tracked. Because of this, John Meibers, VP of Deltek + ComputerEase, is passionate about educating contractors on what they need to know in order to keep their books accurate, up-to-date and meeting industry standards. 

This week, John joins the Mobile Workforce Podcast to share why it is important to work with a CPA that knows the challenges contractors face. John shares the top accounting mistakes inside the Deltek Ultimate Construction Accounting Guide to uncover common and costly pitfalls made by contractors and their CPAs – and how to avoid them. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Contractors need to review daily reports from their accounting team. To be in the construction business means having to manage tight margins. That’s why it’s imperative for contractors to work closely with their accounting department beyond bi-monthly payroll updates. Work in progress (WIP) reporting and good job cost reports on a regular basis – even daily – ensures contractors are always working within the lines of their budgets. 
  2. Margin and markup are NOT the same thing. Contractors tend to use margin and markup interchangeably, but this is incorrect. Markups refer to the budget created for a project to allocate for profit while margins refer to the profits that are left after a project is completed. Therefore, a 20 percent margin on the job does not mean to markup an estimate by 20 percent. Instead, to get a 20 percent margin on the job, the markup would need to be at least 25 percent. 
  3. Treat the equipment you own like the equipment you rent.  A big problem that accountants see in the construction industry is not accurately allocating for the use of equipment. Tracking usage helps accountants evaluate the value of the equipment owned. This allows contractors to make educated decisions managing their equipment. They can easily see what to keep, what to retire, and what would be better to sell and rent when needed, in addition to getting an accurate job cost report on their projects.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill, and today we are sitting down with John Meibers, the Vice President at Deltek + ComputerEase. Thank you for joining us today, John. We’re excited to have you in on the podcast.

 

John Meibers:

Thanks, Mike. Happy to be here.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So before we get too far into the conversation, love to hear a little bit about your background and maybe an overview of your history for the listeners.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, sure, no problem. I’ve been working in the construction industry for a little over 32 years now. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

 

Mike Merrill:

So been a minute, right? Been a minute.

 

John Meibers:

It’s been a long time. So I started my career in construction, I worked for a large mechanical contractor for about 10 years, helped to run that business, got associated with ComputerEase initially as a customer there, went out and purchased a ComputerEase solution to run our business, our ERP system. Of course, back then, we had a lot of manual systems in addition to that, paper time sheets. We’re going to talk a little bit about time in a little bit. I know it’s certainly a subject that you’re familiar with, Mike.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yep.

 

John Meibers:

But, back in the day, paper time sheets. We though it was really cool when we could have time sheets faxed in from the field. We had landlines out in the trailers, installed in the trailers, and fax machines in the job site trailers, and they would fax the time in or call the time in where we didn’t have fax machines. You tell stories to people today like that, and they kind of look at you like you’re crazy, “Well, what do you mean, fax machine? What is that?” But those were the days.

 

John Meibers:

So I did that for about 10 years, developed a good relationship with ComputerEase. An opportunity came to go and run the ComputerEase business for the ownership at that time, the ownership group, and took that opportunity and then did that for a little over 20 years, so helping contractors implement the ComputerEase solution. I had used it for 10 years. Now, I’m helping others implement it and running the business selling and implementing our solutions. Then, about a year and a half ago, we became part of Deltek. We were acquired by Deltek, so I came over and brought most of the team with me. It’s been a great experience, and I know, I think, Mike, we go back probably … We first met, I don’t know, a number of years ago, to say the least, so we’ve been certainly working together off and on for a good number of years now.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and you’ve had quite a whirlwind story, all the way from the field to actually the accounting company and now getting acquired. So I’m sure your journey’s been long and interesting.

 

John Meibers:

Yes, seen a lot of things over those years and see a lot of things change as far as how contractors do business. I know that’s a lot of what we’re going to talk about today. That’s why I’m real excited to participate in today’s conversation.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, I noticed Deltek just recently released the Ultimate Construction Accounting Guide, and there’s a lot of great information in there, a lot of points and tips, and, again, there’s about, I think, nine items that it brings out and discusses in depth. We’ll talk about some of those today, but, overall, with that guide, if there was one takeaway, what would that be, and what would you home someone would gain from that after going through it?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, so I think the one key takeaway for me, and I make this point when I’m addressing contractors all the time, is you have to work with people and products that understand your industry. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I always loved the statistical side of things or graphs or charts or numbers, and I know, like I mentioned before, there’s a top nine items that you guys talk about the breakdown of accounting mistakes in construction companies. Would you mind if we go through and talk about some of those real quick?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, no, that’d be great, Mike.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. So one of the first ones is talking about not tracking committed costs on a daily basis. What can you tell us about that?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, so committed cost, I see this problem with contractors a lot of times. We’re writing purchase orders, subcontract agreements. They may be formal or informal. It could be a verbal agreement but nonetheless an agreement. But we’re not tracking that anywhere. So when I go out and I have a job and I have a budget, and I go out and commit to spend a percentage of my budget, I need to have that noted somewhere. I need to have that tracked. Otherwise, as the actual cost comes in, I think, “Okay, if I got a $100,000 budget, let’s say, as an example, and I’ve already committed to spend $80,000 of that, I need to know that.” I only have $20,000 left to spend. I haven’t been billed yet for the $80,000, but I may have a $50,000 subcontract agreement and $30,000 worth of purchase orders. I need to know that $80,000 is already spent and I only have $20,000 left.

 

John Meibers:

There’s nothing worse than either thinking you have more left to spend than you do, spending it only to find out that you didn’t have it, and here comes that bill for something you already committed and now you’re over budget, or getting to the end of the job and thinking, “Hey, I only spent 90 of the $100,000. Hey, we did really well in this job,” only to find out here comes that last invoice that you already committed to in the form of a purchase order or subcontract agreement, but you didn’t have it tracked anywhere. I think that’s a big mistake, and I see that all the time with contractors, typically because they don’t have the right tool to do it. I tell people, even if it’s just manually, have it tracked on a spreadsheet at a minimum, but know that you’ve committed to spend that.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That real-time feedback loop is critical in keeping up with those costs.

 

John Meibers:

And, really, kind of on that committed line, I know we’ll talk about it in one of the other points as well, but it used to be committed cost, people thought of only as material and subcontract costs. But now, really, committed cost is pending payroll or committed payroll. Time that was worked today that won’t be paid until next week, that comes in under that committed cost umbrella as well.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, agree. That’s a great point, and, again, that’s the largest variable expense in any construction company, is the labor, so that would be-

 

John Meibers:

Absolutely.

 

Mike Merrill:

… the first one to rein in, it sounds like. Great. What about one of the other points, confusing margin with markup?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, that’s probably one … Because a lot of times, contractors use that interchangeably, and it’s not the … They’ll talk about, “Well, I want a 20% margin on the job.” Great. Somebody thinks, “Okay, then I need to markup my estimate 20%.” No, to get a 20% margin on the job, you need to mark up your estimate 25% to get a 20% margin. Too many times, people hear that 20%, and I go in as an estimator maybe, and I think, “Oh, I need to mark this up 20%.” Well, not if our goal is to have a 20% margin on the job. I need to markup that estimate 25% to get the right contract amount to yield a 20% margin. I’ve had contractors, sat down with one not too long ago, and I was working with their CPA, and I was working with them, and we sat down and we looked and they couldn’t understand why their margin was wrong, only to find out, well, your margin was wrong because you were using the wrong markup. You had set a goal to have a margin of X, but you weren’t marking it up appropriately.

 

John Meibers:

It’s an easy mistake to make. You throw them around, and people throw around markup and margin, and somebody hears one and thinks of the other. But you really need to take time to make sure that everybody’s clear on the difference between those two and make sure you get everybody on the team on the same page. The estimator’s thinking of markup, “I got to markup my costs to get to a certain number.” The owner’s thinking, “I have to have a certain margin on the job to be profitable.” So you really need to make sure everybody understands and is on the same page when it comes to that.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you got to cover that overhead that it’s going to take to administer that markup.

 

John Meibers:

Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

Right. Great. Yeah, that’s a good point, and I think that one’s often overlooked. What about when companies confuse percent spent versus percent complete? What can you tell us about that?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, this is one of my favorite topics and certainly a big part of the WIP topic as well. I do a lot of webinars and certainly seminars, back when we were able to go out in public and do things and get in front of people. But I’d always ask people, “Let me see a showing of hands of how many people have ever done a job for exactly what you estimated it was going to cost,” and very rarely if ever does anybody raise their hand. It’s not the way it works in construction. Well, then, if you’ve spent 50% of your budget, why would you ever assume you’re 50%? The fact that you’ve spent 50% of the budget has little or no bearing on the amount of actual work that’s done.

 

John Meibers:

I try to teach people that when you’re asking that question, and sometimes it’s easy for me to … Maybe you’re asking me as a project manager, “Well, how far along are we on the job?” It’s easy for me to say, “Well, I’ve spent 50% of the budget.” That’s not really what I want to know. I want to know you’ve spent 50% and you’ve done 40% of the work or 60% of the work. That’s the key. You really need to know both to be able to accurately run your construction business and manage it properly.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. Again, like you’re saying, if you’re short materials, obviously, you’re going to have use some of that labor money. If you’re locked in and don’t have the ability to issue a change order or if it was a hard cost estimate, then, obviously, depending on your agreement, you got to watch those things.

 

John Meibers:

I mean, it’s great to know what you’ve spent, but that’s only one piece of the equation. You really have to know how much work did I do for that amount that I spend, and it’s very rarely the same number.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Love it. What about when companies do not … You were talking about WIP reports. What about when they’re not doing those frequently enough?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. I always tell people there’s … I’ll ask you, “How often do you do your WIP reporting?” I have a couple answers that I just really don’t like. “Not at all,” I hate that answer, and almost a close second is, “Only when somebody asks me to do it. My CPA came in, they’re doing an audit at year-end, or I’m going to the bank to get an increase in my line of credit and they’re asking me for a WIP report.” I always try to teach people you need to do it to properly run your construction business. You’re doing it for yourself to run your business. Then when people on the outside ask for it, the auditors, the CPA, the banker who’s trying to work with you on your line of credit, you’ll have that information.

 

John Meibers:

But it’s really a tool to run your business and to manage your jobs and manage the company as a whole. So I think best practice is at least monthly. I’ve got contractors that will do it biweekly or weekly, and that’s even better. But I think, at a minimum, it should be monthly. I really hate when I hear people say, “Only when I’m asked to do it,” or, “Not at all,” because I think even if nobody on the outside is asking for it, it’s a great tool to be able to manage your business and see where you’re at.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you should already have it on hand at your fingertips because that’s a part of your workflow that you regularly do, right?

 

John Meibers:

Right.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. That’s a great one. With those WIP reports, what about making adjustments to the P&L statement when there are changes?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, and that’s one thing, they go really hand-in-hand. I always tell contractors, without a WIP report, it’s not possible to have an accurate financial statement. Without making the appropriate entries on the P&L and the balance sheet to move the over/under billing from the P&L up to the balance sheet, you can’t have an accurate financial, which is why if you go to the bank or you go to the bonding agent, you have to get bonded on a job, then you go to the surety underwriter and you give them a financial report without a corresponding work in progress report, they’re going to say, “Well, this is useless because I need to support the revenue that you’re claiming on the financial statements.” So they really go hand-in-hand.

 

John Meibers:

Sometimes, I’ll see people do the WIP report, but then they won’t carry it through and they won’t make the appropriate financial adjustments. It’s real simple. If you’re doing WIP on a monthly basis, you’re making a monthly reversing entry in the P&L and the balance sheet to move that cost, the over/under billings from the P&L up to the balance sheet. They really go hand-in-hand. You can’t really do one without the other, and the P&L is pretty much useless without the corresponding WIP report and WIP adjustments.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, regardless of what data you’re collecting, obviously, the more frequently you’re collecting it, hopefully it would be more accurate, and so you’d have that accurate data to keep those WIP reports up-to-date and run those accurate and enjoy the benefit.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. Very true, Mike. The more frequently you do it, the more accurate it’s going to be. I don’t want to ask the PM to go back and tell me where we were on the job three weeks ago. I want to sit down and say, “As of today, where are we at?” We have a whole process where you go in and you do your field estimates. You revise your percent complete or you do your dollars to complete or units. It can be unit-based as well. There’s various methods to how we calculate the estimated cost remaining. But the timeliness of it is very important.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, love it. There’s certainly certain parts of the project are always going to take longer, even if maybe the materials are 60% consumed, but you may still have 50 or 60% of the labor left to do, right? If you’re a framer and you frame the exterior walls, you’re ready to spin trusses, well, before you put those trusses up, even though you feel like you’re well on your way, you’re probably not even halfway done with the project.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, you could’ve spent 100% of the material but only done 20% of the labor. So it’s really important that you look at that at that level and be able to report at that level. It goes to not just labor and material within a particular task but how many tasks. People ask me that all the time, Mike, and I’m sure you get the same thing, “Well, how many different cost codes, tasks,” depending on the terminology they’re using. I always turn it around and say, “Well, how many activities can you reasonably expect the people in the field to report their time to,” because that’s really where it all starts.

 

John Meibers:

A little bit easier, I could take a purchase order and fairly easily divide it between multiple tasks, but the real art is, okay, I’m going to get labor reported from the field, and how many different buckets can I expect them to accurately report that time in? That’s how many activities I should have. If I’ve got 20 activities and they’re only going to put all the time into two activities, now I don’t have good job cost reporting. I got the budget spread across 20 activities, and I got all the actual time coming into two or three of those 20.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think they call that pencil whipping, don’t they?

 

John Meibers:

Yes.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, I got some more budget here. We’ll just dump it over there.

 

John Meibers:

We’ll just dump it over there, and we’ll move it around. That’s not a good way to do it. I know, from an estimator’s point of view, yes, it may be more detail. But just because it’s detailed out to that level doesn’t mean we can’t consolidate that per job cost. Because if we can’t reasonably distinguish between an hour of labor here versus there, I need to have one category that covers both of those hours.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, and once you’ve collected that data, now you need to actually take action based on that feedback and make changes, right, and improvements, hopefully.

 

John Meibers:

Right. It’s all about being able to use that data and have productivity rates, and all that goes into real-time job cost reporting and accurate reporting from the field. The reports that come back out are only as good as the data that went in. If it’s not accurate going in, we’re going to have bad information coming back out.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I had a guest on the podcast recently, and they talked about reporting every half-day, so it was more than daily. That was interesting. I’d never heard that before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I want to know what happened this morning sometime by early afternoon.

 

John Meibers:

I mean, at the lunch break, you’re more likely to remember what you did in the morning than you are at the end of the day, so, no, I think that’s a real good point.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Great. So we’ve talked quite a bit about labor, WIP. What about equipment and tools, things like that, assets? What about not tracking what those costs are more accurately?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. That’s once again a big problem that we see in the construction industry, is I’m not accurately allocating for the use, number one, of our own equipment. You’re probably pretty good at charging … If you have to go out and rent a piece of equipment, you’re probably going to allocate that to the job you rented it for. But if you own equipment, either I’ve talked to people and they just think, “Well, I own it, so there’s no cost associated with it.” I’m like, “Well, that’s certainly wrong.” But, more importantly, if I want to get an accurate job cost report, if I’m an estimator taking off a job, I just know we got to use a backhoe on this job for X number of days. I don’t know if we’re going to rent it or if we’re going to use one that we own.

 

John Meibers:

But I need to be able to then report cost against that, so if I have two jobs going on and I have one backhoe and they both need a backhoe, is it fair that the one job that we rented one before gets hit with the cost and the one that we used our own gets no cost because we don’t allocate for the use of our own equipment? So I think we really need to treat that equipment as a cost, whether we own it or we’re renting it. It also then helps us evaluate the value of the equipment we own.

 

John Meibers:

If we’re charging that equipment out, basically treating it as an internal rental center where we’re renting our own equipment to ourself to use on this job, now I not only have accurate job cost information, but I’ve got information that says, “Is it worth owning this piece of equipment based on how many hours we used it or days we used it throughout the year?” It may be better off that we’re going to go ahead and retire that or sell that and only rent it for the few number of times we use it. So it allows people to get a good handle on managing the equipment they own and when it’s time to retire it, when it’s time to sell it off, or whatever the case may be, in addition to getting an accurate job cost report.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When equipment’s unutilized, you got an opportunity for profit sitting there earning you nothing while it’s depreciating. When I was a general contractor, I remember many times someone would say, “Well, can’t you just move that pile of dirt real quick and spread that around a little bit,” or, “Hey, can you just dig this quick trench for my cable line. It doesn’t need to be that deep.” But I’m consuming fuel, I’ve got somebody operating it, and now I’m liable if I hit a gas line or something else. I just have all kinds of risks and costs, and it’s important that, even if we do own that equipment, like you say, we need to attribute those costs appropriately in order to really know where we’re coming in.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, because a lot of times, you see a contractor and maybe the type of work they do changes over time. At the time, maybe they were using this more frequently than they are today, and they just assume, “Well, it’s sitting here. It’s in the yard. We have it in case we need it.” But, come to find out, we very rarely use it. Aren’t we better off then selling that? Because it does cost you money for it to sit there in the yard, and it’s not always the best decision. I think we want to try to encourage our contractors to make intelligent decisions on the equipment. Then the job cost side of it, certainly, I want to be able to look at a job and it … It’s really irrelevant whether I used a piece of equipment we own or we rent it. That job should have the appropriate equipment cost allocated to it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, and often, when you’ve got extra in one place, you’re short somewhere else, so sell that equipment or rent it out and invest in something else that you’re short on or another employee. There’s ways to utilize those resources more effectively than letting anything sit.

 

John Meibers:

Absolutely.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. So one of the other points in this great report, it asks or talks about not tracking unposted payroll, and I absolutely love that thought. What can you tell us about what that means?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. A lot of times, people talk about real-time job cost report but not really knowing what that means. Well, if you really want real-time job cost report, I want to look at the job report at the end of today and I want to know where I stand on the labor because that labor today may not be paid for seven, eight, nine, 10 days. If we start on a Monday and our pay week runs through Sunday and then we’re going to maybe pay on the following Wednesday, well, you’re 10 days behind getting that job cost report to reflect today’s labor. If you’re tracking units, unit productivity, once again, I don’t want to be 10 days behind and know that, for the last 10 days, we’ve been underproducing based on our budget. So the unposted time needs to come in from the field on a daily basis so that I can track that. That’s a committed cost. Unposted labor is no different than the committed cost we were talking about earlier for POs and subcontracts.

 

John Meibers:

The other thing, if you put time in daily, it’s going to be … We talked about half-days just a few minutes ago. But even if it’s only daily, it’s much more accurate if we do it daily than if we wait until the first of next week to report the time for this week. I go back to my history at the top of the show here and go back to my early days in construction, it was on Monday. Monday, everybody was faxing or calling their time for the week before. I’m looking, I’m like, “Well, you’re just making this up as you go. You don’t really know what your crew did a week ago.” We’d have a running bet going on that on the week of a holiday, they’re now reporting a week later, how many people would actually put that they worked on a holiday because they’re going through the motions. They were saying, “Oh, last Monday, I did this.” No, you didn’t. You didn’t even work last Monday.

 

John Meibers:

So the accuracy, number one, and then, I think, certainly, getting that real-time, on-the-job cost report. Because if you’re a labor-intensive contractor, if I’ve got a crew of … I don’t care if it’s a crew of two or five or 10 or 20, and, certainly, the bigger the crew, the more labor dollars. But if I’ve got a crew of 20 people out on the job site today, I don’t want to wait 10 days to know how we’re doing as far as my cost goes. I want to see those numbers today.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you’re talking about shortening up that delay of reporting those hours and planning on that expense ahead of time instead of just in 10 days when I have payroll due.

 

John Meibers:

It wasn’t practical years ago. It wasn’t practical when we had to call it in or fax it in or physically bring the time sheet into the office. But with the tools out there today like WorkMax, it’s very easy to report time on a daily basis. So I think that’s one of the great things with technology. It has really made that easy to report that time real-time.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you can actually enjoy live field data live as it happens, which is a far cry from weekly or monthly reporting, of course. We talked about hours, but there’s also burden, there’s insurance, there’s work comp, liability, other costs. So we not only need to worry about those hours spent but the burden rate for all of those hours, even if they’re not posted yet. There are some gotchas in there if you’re not really watching all of the numbers closely when you’re trying to estimate and know really where you’re at on your WIP.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, because you really need to see that fully-burdened cost. Certainly, actual once it’s posted, but even when it’s pending, I need to know. I always recommend you put an estimated burden rate on it that covers both the burden and the fringes, the total, your fully-burdened rate once … And ComputerEase, once we post it, then it’s going to show labor, burden, fringes, and give you a fully-burdened rate, which is the combination of those three, and it’ll certainly give you the breakdown because, certainly, a $20 an hour pay rate costs a heck of a lot more than $20 an hour.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. One other point to bring up is maybe overtime or premium pay, double time, right? That could grow exponentially if you’re not keeping a finger on that through the week.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. I mean, you think of some of the cost of … Once again, you talked about the uniqueness of construction. Everybody has worker’s comp rates, but nobody has worker’s comp rates sometimes that are as high in the construction industry, so that’s a big piece of the … The worker’s comp for you or me sitting in an office, Mike, is nothing, is really immaterial compared to the worker’s comp rate for somebody that’s out in a ditch or up about 30 stories high on a building. So that’s a big part of that labor cost, is the burden. The fringe benefits, whether you’re a union contractor and the fringes you’re providing, whether you’re a non-union contractor doing prevailing wage work where you’ve got a substantial amount of fringe benefits that you’re required to provide, those things all add up in a hurry. So that $20 quickly becomes significantly more than $20, sometimes double, two and a half, three times the $20, in some cases, you could be spending an hour.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah, agreed completely. You talked a lot about the WIP report stuff. It sounds like that’s definitely one of the areas you really like to preach and harp on a little bit because it’s probably a gap for a lot of contractors. What are some things that companies can do to maintain a more proper WIP report?

 

John Meibers:

I always tell people you want to start … If you’re one of those that is doing it not at all or only doing it when asked, think about starting small. You don’t necessarily have to, day one, “Okay, we’re going to change from that. We’re going to start doing it weekly.” That’s probably a recipe for disaster. Maybe you’re not going to do it on every job to start. Maybe find the key stakeholders within the organization and get the buy-in from the project manager, who’s probably going to be the one sitting down with the finance team to report the information. Start and put a plan in place. Typically, you’re going to get to where you’re going to have … Most companies have weekly production meetings and reviewing the status of all the jobs. You incorporate this into that. You’re going to review the WIP. You’re going to review where we’re at. You’re going to review the projected cost remaining. Quickly, you start to build that into your process, but it is really a culture change. You really got to change the whole organization and the way they think about all these things.

 

John Meibers:

We’re all working together. I’d go back to my early days in construction. It was like, okay, accounting didn’t understand why the project management team didn’t want to work with them to give them this information, and the project management team thought, “Well, you’re just bugging me for this information.” But, no, really, we’re on the same team here, and we’re working to the same common goal, which is we need this information to effectively run our business and make sure we’re as profitable as we can be, and it’s the best opportunity we have to see something that’s going to happen before it happens. In there, if we’re doing it right, we’re able to spot things that are trending the wrong direction in time to fix it. We can always look after the job’s over and look back and say, “Well, we should’ve done this differently,” or, “Maybe we could’ve done this differently.” But wouldn’t you like to have the opportunity to say, “Well, hey, if we make a change now, we can still impact the final outcome on this job?”

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, if you wait, it’s too late, right?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. The information after the fact is good. It’s good information, and maybe we’ll use it on the next job to better our process. To me, job costing, the whole WIP process, to me, it’s like not doing it would be like going to a sporting event and not knowing the score, not knowing what to do if I’m managing the game. Am I ahead? Am I behind? Do I need to make end game decisions to help affect the outcome? To me, if you’re doing the WIP reporting and have good job cost reports, you can make those real-time, in-game decisions to ensure a profitable outcome.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. I like that analogy. So you kind of touched on something there that I wanted to ask you a little bit more about. You talked about the cultural change and maybe some approaches you can take. Do you have any other tips or ideas on helping invoke change within an organization from a-

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. I think the big thing to me, Mike, is I want to make sure that everybody understands we’re on the same team. I’ve seen it too many times where it’s … I guess I mentioned, accounting and project management, it seems like they’re in two different organizations and they think it’s one against the other. I always want to bring everybody to the table. I want the accounting team sitting in on those production meetings because they’ve got a big say in the numbers. They’re the ones that are responsible for making sure we have accurate numbers that we can look at. I want them to be a part of that and not, “Okay, get off my back and let me go do my thing.” Too many times, you see that, and I think you got to start with the top-down approach and change the culture of the company and make sure, from the ownership on down, that we’re all on the same page. It’s not an us versus them mentality.

 

John Meibers:

You still see it today a lot of times. I’ll go in, and it’s like, “Oh, those accounting people,” or, “Oh, those project management people.” It’s like, “No, no, no, wait a minute. We’re all on the same team here. We’re all after the same common goal.” I think you really got to push that down from the top and make sure everybody understands that we all have a different role in the organization, but we all have an important role. One doesn’t work without the other, and it’s not that one is more important than the other, that we all have to work together.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I think it is important, from the office perspective, too, to remind them, obviously, the field, they’re out there in the elements, the weather, and doing things that are difficult in a different way. Most office people wouldn’t necessarily prefer to be out in that trench.

 

John Meibers:

No.

 

Mike Merrill:

Maybe some of the trench guys wish they could be in the office. I don’t know. But understanding and having empathy for your coworkers is-

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, I think understanding that they’re very good at what they do in the field and the office is very good at what they do with the numbers and putting everything together. Get everybody on the same team. I think that’s really important. I see more of that today than maybe in the past. Maybe it was a little old-school mentality years ago, where it was, “We’re the most important part of it, and you’re just insignificant.” Now, I think it’s not quite the same today. I’m encouraged to see that we got more people working on the same team and towards that common goal.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I would agree. I think technology has helped advance that cause, too, and connect the field and the office in a more meaningful way. So what one does directly impacts the other, and they both got visibility as those things happen then.

 

John Meibers:

I would agree. I think that technology’s a really good point, Mike, because you think about back … I go back to my early days in construction. It was like, “Oh, man, you’re not calling your time in on time, and you’re really making my life difficult because I got to get payroll out the door by tomorrow, and you are making my life difficult because you’re not calling the time and you’re not faxing it in. I got to chase you down.” Well, now, with technology today, as a site superintendent, I’m sending time in every day, so it’s no longer a problem. I don’t have to rekey it. I just have to prove it when it comes into the system. So I do agree, especially when it comes to time-keeping, technology is really taking down some of the walls between the two because you’re no longer a pain to me because you’re not getting the time in and not giving me time to rekey it because I no longer have to rekey it. It’s coming in from the field, and it’s coming in real time.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, yeah, and in the field, it used to be, “Hey, I’m finishing concrete in the dark here. You think I’ve got time for stupid paperwork?” Now, if they can hit a pin number and clock out on a mobile device and be done in five seconds, then there’s really no burden.

 

John Meibers:

No. It’s really completely changed the amount of burden we’re putting on the field staff to turn their time in when it’s a simple click of a button, like you said, type of pin-in or clock-out. Or even if you’re not using the clock-in, clock-out, even if you’re just hitting and putting in eight hours, but the list of the jobs and the activity codes are all there and you’re punching in the hours and hitting submit and you’re done, that’s far less burdensome than what it used to be in the past when you had to figure out a way to get the paper time sheets filled out and faxed in or called in and I’m chasing you down from the accounting office to, “Hey, I don’t have the time,” and you’re thinking, “Man, I’m out here busting my butt and you’re bugging me about time.” Well, now we’re able to streamline that process significantly.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that you went down that path a little bit. Speaking with the labor costs, we’re talking a lot about payroll and getting payroll in, but what about the effect on more timely billing?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. Not only the payroll comes in, if I’m doing time and material billing, that’s going to be more timely. If I’m doing service work, most contractors have service departments, I can turn the bills around the same day. I got the service bills going back out the day that the work is done, and I still talk to people that don’t have a good system and they’re, “Well, we’re 25, 30 days behind in getting our service bills out.” I’m like, “Wow, that’s horrible for cashflow, number one, but just the experience for the customer, that you came out and did service work and I don’t even see a bill for 30 days, is just not something we want to have today.” So, yeah, really allows you to get real-time billing out the door, and, once again, because you have real-time information to work with.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. The other thing is it’s a great visibility tool and a reminder on a lot of companies in the past that didn’t have these tools, they would forget to bill something, and now it’s been months, and when it gets brought to their attention and they submit a bill, they say, “Hey, that job’s closed out. I’m sorry.” Now, you’ve got an argument, a conflict and a dispute.

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, it’s really hard to go back after that job’s over, Mike, you’re right, really hard to go back two months after it’s over and say, “I forgot to bill you.” That’s a bad experience. Even if you manage to get paid, you’ve now created a bad experience for your customer and maybe lessened the chance of them being a customer in the future.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We hear that not only with the labor side but equipment and materials, other things, too, that a lot of things end up going unbilled because the documentation process has lagged or delayed or depends too much on a human doing something after the fact that they just never quite get back around until it’s too late. I guess, just to kind of wrap up this part of it, overall, what would you say are maybe some best practices for implementing an in-depth job cost accounting system like ComputerEase?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, so I think you want to first evaluate the processes you have in place today. How many things are we doing outside of our current job cost accounting system? A lot of times, typically, you may have disconnected systems. You got Excel spreadsheets tracking certain things. You got a system maybe you’re paying your bills with. Taking inventory of those systems and processes, and work with a technology provider that’s willing to go through that and understand your process. That’s the most important thing to me, is I want to understand what you do today if you’re a contractor. Only then can I determine whether we might have a solution for you. But I really need to start with understanding what you do today and then making sure I understand your needs and then explain to you what’s available.

 

John Meibers:

You really need to work with somebody that’s willing to take that time to go through that with you and understand where you’re at, what your pains are, and where you need to be, and then help you come up with a process to do that. Then understand that it’s not an overnight solution. You’re not going to magically wake up tomorrow and you’ve implemented all these things you’ve never done before. I always tell people that the first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to get you out of what you’re doing today and we’re going to move that over to our solution. Then we’re going to start to layer in all the other things that you weren’t doing before because to try to do it all at once sometimes can be disastrous. So first replace what you’re doing in a system that has more power and more flexibility and then start to layer in the other things that you’re missing today.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I’m picturing a doctor’s visit or something and a diagnosis, really, before you can prescribe what’s required to fix those ailments in their business.

 

John Meibers:

Yep. And if there’s more than one thing wrong, they’re not going to fix them all at once. They’re going to say, “Well, we’re going to do this first. Then we’re going to do this, and then we’re going to do this.” It’s the same way here. We’re going to evaluate where you’re at, and then we’re going to put together a game plan that ultimately will get to the ultimate goal, which is implementing all the new things.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. If there’s something really unique or specialized, then, yeah, you may have to go to a specialist for a certain thing. But baby steps first and build on that foundation, and you can bring up the health of the business, just like you could somebody who’s having personal ailments.

 

John Meibers:

Absolutely.

 

Mike Merrill:

So just have a few more questions here at the end more on a personal level. What are some skills or what’s a skill that you feel like you’ve mastered in your business life that you could share with us?

 

John Meibers:

I think, for me, it’s the ability to listen to the customer or potential customer. I’m not here to tell you what we can do. I try to train my team this way. We’re here to listen to what their needs are and be able to understand that. You listen a lot. You ask questions. Because, a lot of times, somebody will ask me a question, well, I don’t have a canned response. I’m listening to the question. A lot of times, I have to answer the question with a question because I really need to understand what it is you’re trying to do and not just take it at face value based on what you said.

 

John Meibers:

I got to dig a little bit deeper, and you dig deeper by listening to the contractor tell their story, how they got to where they are, what they’re doing, where they want to go, what type of work they do, what their current processes are. I think that’s one of the things that I always take great pride in, is I think I listen to that and am able to piece that all together then and come back with a proposed plan that makes a lot of sense.

 

Mike Merrill:

So you try and listen to understand and not to respond, is that what I’m hearing?

 

John Meibers:

Correct, yes. It’s important to understand, and you can’t just listen, “Oh, here’s a response.” No, I really want to understand what you’re saying. I want to understand your business so that I can help you effectively.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So if you could go back, rewind the clock of time and go back to a day and time where maybe you made a mistake earlier in your career, is there something that you learned and would do differently today that maybe the listeners could take some advice from and maybe avoid a pothole or two?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah. I think probably the first one is early on I learned that I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen. I was responding, and I wasn’t listening. Maybe early on in my career, I don’t know that I fully understood the value of getting everybody’s buy-in and getting everybody on the same team. I talked about how important that is, but I can remember early on it was like I could’ve been on either side of that. I could’ve been on the project management side that was those accounting people were a pain, or I could’ve been on the accounting side and those project management people were a pain. I wish I would’ve understood a little bit earlier on the value of these things. But it’s never too late. You learn as you go. I learn something every day. I think the day I think I know it all will be the day it’s time to stop then because I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.

 

John Meibers:

But I think it’s important that you realize the value of teamwork, and it really is. To get to the common goal, we all have to be working on the same team. Even here at Deltek + ComputerEase, whether you’re in sales, you’re in implementation, you’re in customer care, you’re in admin, we’re all working towards the same common goal, which is to make sure all of our clients are taken care of. I stress that to the team all the time, is the importance of teamwork and understanding and respecting what everybody does.

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That’s great. Good for you. Last question, last thought. What would you prefer that the listeners walk away with after hearing our conversation today? If there’s one main point you want to echo again, what would that be?

 

John Meibers:

Yeah, so I think I’ll go back to probably what I said at the top of the show, is make sure you’re working with people that understand your business and are willing to listen to you, and that’s from your technology providers to your CPAs to your insurance agents to your bankers. If you’re the only contractor that they’re working with, that’s probably not a good idea, or whatever business. It doesn’t even have to be construction. I use construction because that’s the business that I service. But work with people on the outside, trusted advisors that understand your business, because everybody’s business is unique.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. That’s great. Well, I very much enjoyed the conversation today. Appreciate you joining us today, John, and look forward to continuing our longstanding relationship into the future.

 

John Meibers:

Absolutely, Mike. I appreciate you having me. Yeah, always great, and love working with you and your entire team, so look forward to doing that well into the future.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, and thank you to listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that John and I had today, please give us a follow on Instagram, @workmax_, or on LinkedIn, @workmax. Also, give us a rating and a review on your favorite podcast platform. Those five-star reviews and ratings help us to bring these valuable conversations to other teams like yours in hopes to help them improve not only their business but their life.

Construction Succession Planning and Business Exits

Construction Succession Planning and Business Exits

Being prepared for the unexpected is part of success on the job site. And yet most business owners haven’t thought about what it takes to eventually sell or pass down their own business. According to Dan Murray, the Coach at Your Restoration Coach, that’s a big mistake.

In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Dan shares the serious repercussions that stem from not planning a business exit in advance. He dives into the financial implications, including how most construction business owners have a big portion of their retirement savings locked into their business. He also discusses timing and explains why planning should begin years in advance. Finally, Dan breaks down action listeners can take now, including actionable steps that make a business valuable to potential purchasers.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Take time to determine a business’s worth. A common saying is sellers should get five times EBITDA, which gives a baseline of predictable future profits. But what a business is worth is based on its consistency with the price decreasing if it has a lot of variances from one year to the next or big swings back and forth. The more predictable and solid a business’ financial performance is; the more confident a buyer will be – and more willing to pay more.
  2. A sale doesn’t have to interfere with daily business. An owner’s goal should be to work themself out of a job. That’s because prospective buyers are wary of taking on companies that depend on one person to run everything – or risk things falling apart. The most successful businesses are the ones that run fairly autonomously from the owner in day-to-day business matters, which increases the likelihood of a smooth transition when a sale is made.  
  3. Selling a business comes at a cost. When business owners focus on the final dollar amount of the sale, they’re not seeing the full picture. There are a number of costs involved, including fees to brokers, lawyers, and accountants. On top of that, it’s important to consider how much will be taxed on their earnings. As a general rule, a third of what the business sells for is what the owner keeps in their pocket. 

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill and we are sitting down today with Dan Murray. He’s a coach and a consultant with Your Restoration Coach. Dan has worked in the disaster and restoration sector for about 25 years and spent the last 12 years as a consultant serving contractors across Canada and the United States. So, today he’s going to share a little bit about the process of transitioning your business and eventually setting it to sell maybe to the next generation or to move on to retirement. So, hello, Dan and thank you so much for joining us today.

Dan Murray:

Hi Mike, is awesome to be invited in to participate in this podcast and it’s great to reconnect again. We haven’t seen each other in quite a few years and it’s great to see what you’ve been doing to help different contractors and other service providers. And kind of I’ve been watching your progress as you have been moving along and what you’ve developed and offered and it’s just great to connect again.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Well, I’m looking forward to this too. So, thank you again, Dan. So, before we kind of get going into the conversation, can you kind of share with our audience a bit about how you got into consulting from the restoration industry?

Dan Murray:

Well, that could be a long story so I’ll try to keep it as brief as possible. But I did get into the service business and doing first in the early 1980s when the earth was young and dinosaurs roamed the earth kind of thing. And I first got into it as a carpet cleaner and a water damage contractor. And we did quite well, we operated that way for a couple of years. And then I had the grandiose vision of thinking that well why don’t we start off with janitorial services? 

So, we started the janitorial company and thinking that quite often doing water damages and starting to do a little bit of firework back in those days, we would have lots of peaks and valleys in workload so we did is that I thought that we could have our janitorial staff do fire work in the daytime and we help each other that way but it just didn’t work. I had two really good days in the janitorial business. You probably can guess what those two days are Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, the day started and the day you hung it up?

Dan Murray:

There you go, absolutely. What we found was that the definition of clean is completely different when you’re doing a fire damage job versus doing a janitorial job. In the old janitorial expression used to be ash trash and dash, you just give the top of the desk a quick clean or give the traffic lane of a carpet a quick clean and it’s clean. Well, you have a smoke damage, it’s far from that you have to do deep cleaning and clean every surface, clean furniture up and down and everywhere else.

Anyway, three years later, we sold the janitorial, we start really focusing on doing full service restoration. And from there, our business just took off and we did build it from basically scratch, from nothing to a multimillion-dollar business. Then in the ’90s I started doing catastrophe losses. I was involved with a franchise network and I was on their task force to develop a large loss division which I headed up in Canada for several years. And I also traveled to the US doing large losses. And a large loss in those days was considered anything over $250,000 single sight loss and the largest loss I was on we did $2.3 million in three weeks. The largest single loss that I did on my own was a little over a million dollars, cleaning and painting and we had a 45-day timeframe to do it and we finished it in 43 days. 

So, then I had some good successes there for a few years and then the franchisor that I was with asked me to come on board corporately and I ran the Canadian division for them for four years. Had about 70 franchises across Canada and that’s where my passion for training and coaching and advising business owners really started to take foot and then I switched over to buying into a company in my area. And I did that for six years as a franchisor and operated a couple of the franchises and we build it up to 15 offices and then had a really, really bad parting of ways with our business partner and I took a few months off. And then in 2009, we started full-time consulting and incorporated a company to do this in 2010 and we haven’t looked back.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, good for you. A lot of history and bumps and bruises I’m sure also.

Dan Murray:

Yeah, that’s what I always tell my clients is that I do have structure, of course. I have programs that I’d like to take people through but a lot of what I do is just helping people through the life lessons that I’ve learned. I’ve made every mistake you can make, I think. I don’t know, I still make the odd one. But my goal is to be that little on someone’s shoulder say, “No, well, you could do it that way but you may want to think of this and this and this.” Part of being a coach is that you help people make the decisions whereas as a consultant you do things for people. And lots of times I’m doing more advising than coaching and so it’s really pretty awesome to get paid to do something that you love for an industry that you really have spent your whole career in.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, good for you. And I know you’re very respected and revered within the industry and the space. So, it’s been harder, of course.

Dan Murray:

Yeah. Well, it’s a great industry. What’s been interesting is when we started in the early ’80s, it was just basically just a baby. We used to go to the local hardware store and buy the little dehumidifiers and buy those axial fans and the square fans. There’s no equipment manufacturers out there today, there was no testing procedures. And it’s just really been a fun ride to see it from where it is now to see where it came from. And it’s really almost a commodity business now in that there are so many disaster restoration firms. 

We’re all doing things based on the same training to the IICRC organization. There’s only maybe half a dozen equipment manufacturers, there’s only one remote timekeeping system we should be using but we all know who it is. And there’s one main software, there’s a couple other ones on the side but for doing estimates and everything on, so estimating. But it certainly has its challenges now from what it used to be and it’s a much larger business than we ever thought it could be.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think to your point, it’s interesting because kind of like the topic that we’re talking about today, lots of companies have to look into the future and kind of decide what that transition might look like when they either retire or sell a business. What do you think in either of those situations that companies can do today to prepare themselves for that eventual outcome that they have as a goal?

Dan Murray:

Well, you said a key thing, Mike, is that they need to prepare because I’ve seen some really sad situations where a business owner hasn’t. And it is not nice to get a phone call from the widow saying that had a heart attack or to get a call from the owner and I just had a meeting with my doctor and you can fill in the blanks. Those are not nice calls to get and at that point is too late to maximize the value for the business. It’s just basically how do I get out of it? It’s a fire sale type of deal, right? And it’s sad, it really is sad because most… 

And I think I could say this, okay, most business owners have the biggest chunk of their retirement in their business. Real estate certainly is partly a big point, especially if you own your own building that you’re operating out of. But as far as your net worth, what you have for savings to retire, it is what you’re thinking you’re going to get out of your business when you sell. And if you start thinking about that three months before you want to sell or have to sell, is too late. So, you have to prepare financially and get your business ready. I say a minimum of two years but three to five years is the best. 

And so this is where I transition my business in the services that I do in consulting and advising and coaching is to help people get ready for this transition. This has been the last six years, it’s been my main focus in business. I’m not a business broker, I don’t do business brokerage services, I have worked with other business brokers or with business brokers, I don’t do it. But what I do is I help with the getting ready to get it ready for sale. 

But quite often, the sale never happens. And the reason is that the same principles that make a business valuable to a potential purchaser, are the same standards in a business that make it easier to run more profitable, less stressful for the owner and help building a team. So, several my clients say, “Well, why would I sell when it’s starting to make this kind of money and it’s running so smoothly? And now I can enjoy and have a regular work schedule and enjoy the benefits and let it accrue.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s the double-edged sword. I think of… I’m in business and have been for most of my adult life as a contractor originally and then helped start this business back in 2003. And so 95% of my life has been full throttle, pedal to the metal, I’m not thinking about, oh, eventually, I’ve got to use some brakes or maybe the engine brake, if nothing else and figure out how to… 

I guess if an analogy might be, get off the freeway to an off-ramp because at some point as much as I love this and being a business is fun, it’s also scary and difficult and challenging. And like you said, the last thing you want is to leave your wife with a mass because your health fails or you get too stressed. And so those things are real challenges. And that’s great that there’s individuals like you and companies out there that are helping educate and coach.

Dan Murray:

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And you made a good point there, Mike, is that you’re doing something that you love. And most entrepreneurs I would hope, are doing what they love. But what happens and I’m guilty it happened to me, is that you get so enthralled with your business and it’s all encompassing that you forget about your personal life, you forget about developing hobbies. And one of the things that is really come about to me in the last five or six years of working with so many entrepreneurs and contractors mainly, is that they have to prepare themselves personally for the exit.

And I know what happened to me when I sold my a couple of my businesses back and then in the ’90s, is that you need to have a vision for what you want to do personally after the sale, right? So, we have an exercise that we go through with clients or potential clients. What do you want to do? What do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to do when you get free from this business? Why do you want to exit? Those are questions and I don’t always need to know the answers that they come up with but I’ll ask them the question is and go ask them to talk it with their spouse or with themselves, talk them with their family. Because I know what happened to me when especially the first business I sold because I work night and day in it for five years. And I sold it at that time, it seemed like more money than I would ever had in my life. But nowadays it’s a pretty small sale.

One day I was walking down Main Street and hey there’s Dan who owns this business and oh Dan, I’m getting calls to come to this luncheon, the Chamber of Commerce and this and that and people networking, dropping by my office. Next thing you know, I’m just setting home, I took three months off when I was in my ’30s and kind of revamped where I was going before I started my next business. And for those three months, I started realizing, I’m not getting the calls, I’m not getting the invites, I don’t have an office to go to. My self worth was tied up in my business. So, I’m always cautioning entrepreneurs to be careful because you have to really work at developing and keeping a life outside that is tied into your family. And so yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So, it sounds like if I were to kind of list off some checkboxes or have a list of items that somebody should be aware of or be looking at to prepare, sounds like having some personal goals and kind of a transition plans to next steps established before you sell your business. Are there some other things that would make that checklist that a company should be thinking about?

Dan Murray:

For the company or for personal, Mike? I can go either way here.

Mike Merrill:

I mean, maybe a little bit of both. I mean, what are some of the more important things in both of those areas? You identified maybe having some personal goals but what else would be on that list?

Dan Murray:

Well, one that kind of crosses both, personal and business is what’s the value? What do you need after the business to retire? What is the business worth? Most people don’t realize the terms make a big deal on a transaction, right? People say, “Well, let’s just use a simple number, that’s it.” Or, “Well, my business is worth a million dollars.” Well, how is that paid? If the purchasers aren’t going to pay you 50% on upfront and you got to do an earn out over, say, five years, if you hit all these benchmarks, you may or may not get the other or want to get a portion of it.

So, I say in those deals, you got to be happy with the initial amount. If you can live off that, then the rest is a bonus. That’s where you… So, the terms is a big thing and sometimes the more aggressive you are with the terms, the shorter the… How much you paid up front and in the shorter any term is usually it means that your amount of money that you’re going to get shrinks a little bit, right? So, but really what is your bottom line is what you got to be wearing because…

And when you put your hat on from being the purchaser which and I’ve helped a couple of companies do acquisitions, tuck-in type acquisitions to expand in their local areas, what’s a financial buyer buying? You got to put your hat on and just think what the other guys how they’re thinking, right? And really what they’re buying is your future profits but even more important of that, how reliable those future profit estimates are. That’s really what you’re buying. And that’s why when you see people say, “Well, get five times EBITDA, I get six times or eight times.” Every industry is different. But really what you’re doing is that you’re buying predictable future profits and is discounted if it has a lot of variances up and big swings back and forth. It’s got to be fairly predictable.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. Also, I know, we’ve worked with consultants too in our business and one phrase that has stuck in my mind is, one consultant told us good companies sell, great companies get bought. And so making yourself attractive where people are pursuing you because of predictable profits, branding, market recognition, future potential, all those things, is an important factor aside from just the EBITDA and other things that are maybe mathematical equations. There are other factors that can lead to that value.

Dan Murray:

Absolutely. I’m going to steal that phrase. I like that one, Mike. What I have used in the past is you’re either going to get pushed out of the business or pulled out of the business. Decide which way you want to go. Because being pushed out of the business isn’t fun and not very profitable for the most part, right? But you said it much more eloquently than I did. So, I’m going to steal that line and we’re going to-

Mike Merrill:

I had to steal it from someone else to give it to you, so no problem. 

Dan Murray:

Fair enough. So, but another point you said is you have to think about… I think most of the audience listening to this are probably in the service-based business, right? Whether it could be-

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, the trade so to speak, yeah.

Dan Murray:

Yeah. So, what business are we really in? And you’ll hear people say, “Well, you’re in the business of creating and keeping customers?” Well, I always like to say, we’re in the people business. So, when it comes time to start thinking about selling, you have to think about your team. And in all my correspondence and all my stuff that I’ve written over the years, whenever I mentioned team in a business, I always use a capital T because I think they’re so important that your team members need to be recognized. And so how will they be treated in a transition meant a lot to me when I did some of my deals in the past.

I’ve talked to other business owners where they weren’t all that concerned. They were looking after themselves which is fine. I can’t judge there’s no right or wrong, there’s no absolute decisions, it’s whatever is right for you and your personality but I do think that your people need to be treated right, you need to… And there’s different ways that other people involve or not involve their team members in a potential discussions on a sale. Some people will make it very transparent, others will keep it very close to the chest. 

When I sold my first business, I don’t think anyone knew until the day I announced it. But since then, I’ve different vibe is that sometimes being transparent is good. Whether you transition your business to an employee team who’s going to buy you out that’s an option that can work really well or have them minority partner so that you can have the freedom to do what you want because they have a vested interest is another option. So, again, there’s so many ways you can go and there’s so many different paths. Is according to your team that you have, how skilled they are, how passionate they are about the business and where you are in your life and in your needs.

Mike Merrill:

I’ve heard said many times by other guests on the podcast, one of the important things in making sure that your business is scalable is making sure you have layers so that when you do exit the business, the business can still function for the most part without you And I think there’s more value to a potential purchaser if that can happen. 

Dan Murray:

Yeah, absolutely. The more… Sorry. The better a business can run without the owner, the more profitable it will be to the owner on a sale, you’re absolutely right. If the listeners take anything from this podcast today it should be that, if they can reach a point where they work themselves out of a job in their own business, they’re doing a good job. And from a personal perspective, there is nothing more satisfying, it was at least to me in my career, was in seeing people grow and develop as leaders and managers in my company and see them come to a point where they could take over responsibilities and do things that they never thought they could. That is very self-rewarding as a manager as you help other people develop.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I think for many of us that are entrepreneurs, that’s one of the most challenging things is handing those reins over. I mean, this is your baby and so to leave your baby in somebody else’s arms for any amount of time is a bit of a hurdle and you have to figure out how to get over that really. Otherwise, you’re going to be too connected and it won’t end well, probably.

Dan Murray:

Yeah, one of the eight drivers that we always work on with our clients and I told you we have a bit of a structure that we work on is what we call the hub-and-spoke model and I think I’ve heard it on your podcast before listening to other guests. And really, the more the owner is totally in control and that all the major customer decision sales and market decisions, supplier decisions, sub-trade decisions, all those are made by the owner, he or she is the hub and it’s a very stressful and tough position to be in. 

And when I started many years ago, when I had a bit of hair, working my way out of that position, one of the things… I may be getting ahead of myself a little bit on what we want to talk about towards the end but one of the tips that I have for the listeners is, when someone comes to you with a problem and you know the answer and a lot of times your team members, your employees will come to you simply for the fact that they’ve never been given the liberty to make a decision where they’ve worked before. They’ve never been counseled that way or given… When I go to work, I do what I’m told, right? I don’t do what is right, the company culture is developed by somebody if it has not developed by you, it’ll be developed by some other part of your team, it may not be the culture that you want. 

But what happens is that when someone comes to you and says, “Hey, Mike, should I go to Mrs. Smith’s job and start that today? Or should I go clean up the shop?” I’m just using a silly example. But when someone comes to you with a question like that, you can start coaching and developing them to make decisions on their own by saying or instead of just barking out the order which most of us do, you can say, “Well, what do you think we should do, Joe?” Or “Mrs. Smith, what’s the conditioner? What was it her expectations, yo?” And then when they give you the answer that you like, you say, “Yeah, I agree, that’s a good decision. Go ahead and do that.” And you do that enough times or if they give you a silly answer, “I think I should go wash the truck, instead of going to serve a customer.” You can say, well, “Let’s stop and think about that for a minute. And here’s the three reasons why you may want to reconsider.” But have them involved and after a while, they’ll start making decisions on their own.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think that’s great. One analogy that popped into my mind, I’ve used this in a sales environment before but we’ve all used a navigation system, GPS. And when I’ve traveled a lot like you do and I’m in an unfamiliar city, I lean heavily on that GPS and I’m waiting to be told where to go and what to do and it’s difficult to navigate until you hear that voice tell you where to go. But if you don’t have a GPS and you’ve got to pay more attention then you can usually get along just fine. Also, it’s more just knowing that you can depend on your own ability instead of waiting for somebody else to tell you what to-

Dan Murray:

That’s right. And there’s one benefit, I guess. When we are recording this, we’re in the middle of the COVID, the pandemic and travel is really come to almost a screeching halt and I was doing 35 weeks a year on the road for the last 10 years visiting clients and a few months ago, I came to a screeching halt. And I do everything on Zoom now and Loom. I use another service called Loom but Zoom is my main one for two-way videos. And I don’t know whether I’m going to go back to travel, this is working extremely well. I wouldn’t want to be in the air carrier business or hotel business right now. I don’t think.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it is amazing what we can do when you hear the phrase where there’s a will there’s a way and when your options are limited and you’ve got to figure it out. There’s a lot of different approaches that you can take that might be equally or even to your point more effective.

Dan Murray:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So, with this topic of discussion, what are some things that business owners can do to sell their business or hand it on to a future generation, a son or a nephew or somebody else that you’re mentoring with no regrets? Because I think that would be one of the bigger challenges and it’s one that I hear about quite a bit once companies do sell or do pass things along, there’s all the reasons that they wish they wouldn’t have or that they wish something would have been different?

Dan Murray:

Well, really the old adage is really depends, it depends on the owner what they’re doing. But there’s a personal attachment to businesses for the most of us, right? So, when you detach from the business, what are you going to do with your life? I guess a short and simple answer to that question I tell people is that, a happy accident is meaning that you have a happy life. In other things beside business, whether it be coaching your kids at sports or traveling or doing whatever. And the other thing is, the big thing of course, really why are we in a business it’s really to have financial resources to be able to live the life that we want. 

So, again, the first driver of the eight company drivers that we work on with people that number one is the financial performance or your business. Your financial performance has to be good and it has to be improving all the time. And while you own the business, it allows you to be remunerated properly and when you go to sell, it’ll also do that as well. Because you got to remember, when you say five times whatever or four times, whatever the multiple is, you’re getting paid on your EBITDA is basically if you can make an extra $100,000 a year by running a good business and keeping things tight. If you get five times that multiple, when you sell, that’s half a million dollars and I don’t care who you are, half a million dollars is probably going to make a little bit of a difference on your enjoyment.

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

Dan Murray:

Can I make another point on this, Mike while we’re-

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, absolutely.

Dan Murray:

One of the big things I see people not considering when they sell, they always think about the big dollar amount they can get, they don’t stop and consider all the costs that are involved. Lots of times especially if you go to brokers and other professionals, you’re going to have lawyers and accountants and you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers and accountants really quick just getting your business ready to deal with the due diligence and all this sort of thing. Then if you get brokerage fees, so you can have eight to 10%, easily in fees on what you’re going to pay for a transaction.

And then you can have some personal fees if you guys have holding companies or family trusts or whatever, you can have other fees involved with setting up all that and to save taxes. And then the big thing that where most people don’t stop and think about is how they’re going to be taxed on their earnings. So, I always say just hold your thumb up in the air and pick a number but basically a third roughly of what you get out of your business, you’ll end up keeping in your pocket. And most people don’t take that into consideration. They think of if I sell $4 million, I get a million dollars. I wish I could say it was so but it isn’t.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great point and I think even within that framework, there are different tax approaches that can be taken too so depending on the turnout or other factor, at the end of the day, what’s really going to net you the most revenue? And I think that’s a great thing to consider.

Dan Murray:

Yeah, so there’s at least a dozen ways I can think of off the top of my head I you can structure a deal and there’s so many in zeros but I’m a big believer in that. We’ve all heard the expression win-win but I think it needs to be win-win-win, and it’s a triple win, right? We need to win, whoever is acquiring our business needs to be a winning deal and our existing team members and customers need to win. Like if everyone wins, there can’t be a win-lose scenario or someone’s going to not be happy.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I really like that. I think in a lot, a lot of cases, a lot of company owners, they are concerned about the long-term viability of the business, how it affects those employees and team members like you’re saying and along those lines, I’ve heard you say before, it’s important to have more than one exit strategy also. So, maybe if you’ve got a few horses in the race, whether it be different suitors or maybe some different options on how this transaction could take place and what it looks like, what wold your advice be?

Dan Murray:

Well, I always like people I’m working with to actually sit down and there’s an exercise that we go through and write down who would be potential. Could be a big multinational, it could be who just wants to do what they usually call them tuck-in acquisitions, where they want to expand or they want another dot on the map or your pain in the butt they just want to buy you out so that their local branch can grow, that can happen. You can have… 

Family members is what most people think of but that can be really good or really bad. And are the kids ready and able to run the business? Have they paid the dues? The other thing is you may want to stay on as a lower percentage owner and give some shares to two or three key members of your team and just let them run it or hire a CEO or general manager and forfeit a little bit of the annual profits and just so you can enjoy life. Go get your 43-foot diesel pusher and go have a time as your general manager is running the business. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that you’ve got potential liability exposure that maybe you wouldn’t if you had the money in a bank.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, yeah, that’s a great point. And I know you as a coach and a consultant, helping companies understand the health of their business and what’s in their best interest of growing profitably, I know that you’ve mentioned in the past how important data is being forward-thinking and then planning, what role does data play in all this that companies need to consider that maybe important?

Dan Murray:

Well, it’s huge, especially when you get to the transition stage, most companies want to do due diligence and you need to know your numbers before you start putting a price on it. We’ve all watched Shark Tank and shows like that and people get just nailed for having crazy valuations on their business and we’ve all seen it in dealing with contractors. But the thing with data is that, well, in the insurance industry as a vendor for contracting, we have what’s called KPIs;key performance indicators. And what these is, when they started pushing these down on us, they really made us better business operators. Because before a lot of us weren’t looking at things, we weren’t looking at the average response time, we weren’t looking at the average time a file was open, how quick we could dry a job or how quickly we could rebuild it. 

And so I always say we need to have our own KPIs not just our customers and we need to look at them on a dashboard-type basis, one page report because most entrepreneurs will glaze over if you give them a 10-page text-only document, they’re not going to read it. Most of us What do we do when we get our financial reports for crying out loud? We look at two places;top number for revenue, go to the bottom right-hand number for the profit. And goodness gracious, we would never want look at the balance sheet and figure out some things like day sales outstanding or days payable outstanding. Oh, my goodness, that would just be too hard to do. But it’s vital to the business to know some of those numbers. And it’s easy to do with different types of software today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so really what you’re talking about then is live field data, live visibility, daily updates on dashboard. So, really, you’ve got a finger on the pulse of the business?

Dan Murray:

Yeah, and as far as for the contractor running in their field management, that’s becoming more live data all the time too from your employee timekeeping and job costing. Our biggest cost on a job usually is our personnel so we don’t have that number down, but we’re in trouble right out of the gate. The other thing that’s coming on, for example, nowadays is that there’s newer technology, AI type of technology where you take a piece of equipment out of your shop, put it in your truck, take it to a job site and leave it. 

A lot of our things we can charge for or at least we know it’s there nowadays, we don’t have to barcode swipe, we don’t have to write it down, it’s automatically done because there’s a little RFID or whatever transponders in each location. And you can use a GPS as well. A manager consents and say, “Okay, I’ve got 77 air movers out in the field today and 27 humidifiers, they’re all billable by the day and I’ve got it all right there live, I can see where it is. I’m not going to lose it, I am going to capture every hour I should be billed for it.” So, having live data in the field as well is extremely important.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I would imagine for potential purchaser of a business too if they know you’re using those types of systems, they’re going to have a lot more trust in the data that you’re presenting.

Dan Murray:

Absolutely, that is 100% right. I’ve seen that happen several times over the years.

Mike Merrill:

So, this has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I guess just kind of wrapping up, one of the things that I like to ask a lot of the guests is, what’s one key practice or best practice or something that’s been impactful in your entrepreneurial career that you could point to for the success you’ve had.

Dan Murray:

Always be learning. Always be learning. And it takes some time but it’s a very inexpensive way to do it. Be a reader, you want to be a leader, be a reader. You want to be an expert at something, you have an expertise you want to learn, whether it be writing code or how to do a water damage. If you read a book a month on a particular topic you want to be good at, in a year’s time, you’re going to be surprised at how much better you are at understanding whatever it is you want to get better at.

Mike Merrill:

Great advice. Yeah, that’s very wise, I would say. If you could kind of relive or do something different or change a decision you made at one point, is there anything real specific that pops out in your mind that maybe someone else can learn from?

Dan Murray:

Well, now that’s an interesting question. Is this where we get real honest or we just going to get fluffy?

Mike Merrill:

I mean, something that’s applicable to others too probably, professionally speaking.

Dan Murray:

Listen more and talk less. Really listen. And by listening not only verbally but listen to the body language of your team members, of your customers, show some empathy instead of always… No matter what kind of type of contractor is listening to this podcast, when we go into someone’s house or business to work, we’ve probably done that job function a thousand times. To our customer, it could be the first time they’ve ever had this type of job done. And to them, they’re kind of overwhelmed and they don’t understand the processes. And so we got to show some empathy and patience, listen, read their situation, understand what they’re going through so that we can serve them better.

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s a great note to end it on. And I so much appreciate the conversation today. It’s been a pleasure to have you on, Dan and I look forward to continuing to keep in touch in the future and following your success.

Dan Murray:

Thanks, Mike. And I look forward to many years of this great podcast series that you started in the future.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, I appreciate it. And thank you to the guests for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you like the conversation that Dan and I had today or were able to learn anything new and interesting, please subscribe to our podcast and give us a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. 

You can also follow us on Instagram at WorkMax underscore or on LinkedIn at WorkMax. And again, please leave us a five-star rating and review if you enjoyed the show. We appreciate your support and if you can subscribe and download those episodes that really helps us out to continue to bring these types of discussions to you to help you improve your business and your life.

Construction Analytics: Balancing Long-Term Portfolio Risk

Construction Analytics: Balancing Long-Term Portfolio Risk

Construction can be risky business. Fortunately, with the right information, contractors have the ability to understand their overall exposure to risk. Increasingly, contractors are turning to technology to speed up the process. Typically, people assume this process works much like understanding a stock portfolio. Contractors need insights into their projects across their portfolio to see which are profitable, which are breaking even and which are in the red. But technology today goes beyond data collection and delivers predictive insights that rely on trends to show risk ahead of time, so contractors can make adjustments as needed.

According to Viewpoint’s Matt Harris, mobile applications and live field data can be compared against aggregate data from the industry at large. This provides accurate and predictable insights into any bid or job a contractor is looking at. Thanks to this technology, contractors can gain confidence in their assessments of risk like never before.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Daily data collection is no longer enough. Automatic data collection allows for very refined control over how resources like labor, equipment and materials are being consumed and deployed on projects – all of which are critical to risk management. And while many companies have morning win-loss reports that show how a project did the day prior, it’s not longer enough. With margins so tight, contractors need to drill down even further. That’s why more and more contractors are segmenting their data by shifts, so they can better understand how projects are progressing morning, afternoon and night. 
  2. Passive data collection is on the rise. Data collected by employees shines light on areas like job progress, labor usage and safety. But there’s so much more data that can be collected through the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is technology that uses sensors like GPS and motion detectors on equipment to allow data to be shared without anyone having to collect or report it. As more contractors leverage data collected directly (from human input) and passively (through IoT sources), the better they can assess their risk in the future. To take advantage of passive data collection, look for IoT options on construction equipment, and then ensure the data is included in your risk management strategy.
  3. Data aggregation and predictive modeling software is changing the bidding process. More and more data is collected and analyzed from across the industry through data aggregators. This improves predictive models that can help contractors understand their risk for future projects.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, I am your host, Mike Merrill. Today we are sitting down with Matt Harris, the Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Viewpoint. We’re going to discuss your business portfolio and projects and how you can use data to balance your risk and insure that you are taking the right projects to accomplish your overall business goals. Hello Matt, I’m glad you’re here joining us.

 

Matt Harris:

Hey Mike. Yeah, hey great to see you and thanks for inviting me here. You and I have known each other for many years now. I’m excited about your podcast frontier here and thanks for having me on.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome, yeah it’s great. And you’re hailing from sunny Portland, is that right?

 

Matt Harris:

I’m hailing from sunny Portland, yeah. One of these days we might see the sun. This time of year we don’t see it very often but yeah, here in Portland, Oregon.

 

Mike Merrill:

And I’m from sunny Salt Lake. Or snowy Salt Lake, I should say.

 

Matt Harris:

Snow Salt Lake for sure. Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right well before we jump into the conversation today, can you give our listeners just a quick introduction about your background and your experience?

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah, for sure. As you mentioned I’m the head of product and strategy and business development here at Viewpoint, and am responsible in general for the businesses of our products, our growth, our investments and insuring that we’re having expansion, not just financial expansion of the business, but making sure we have usage and adoption of our products to the fullest extent possible as well. And a lot of this includes the innovation, what are we doing next and what are we trying to improve upon. I’ve been at Viewpoint coming into my 10th year so it’s been a long and very interesting and really compelling journey for me, and has been extraordinarily fun as we’ve evolved as a business. About two years ago we’re now part of the Trimble portfolio of businesses and that’s been a very interesting evolution of our business as well. We’re doing a lot within the Trimble ecosystem of products and businesses and it’s been very exciting. We are coming through a major impact to the economy in our industry and COVID and I’m happy to say many of our customers and their employees and their businesses have been doing well and we’ve been focused on making sure we’re helping them to whatever extent we can.

Our business is doing well as well and we’re looking forward to getting out of this as quickly as possible here and continuing on the journey we’re all on.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great background and as you mentioned business really does seem to be booming in most places. Construction’s doing very well generally, despite the challenges of our time. With that thought in mind it’s almost an interesting challenge to have. It’s a good problem to have, but I think a lot of businesses are having a challenge deciding which projects to actually take on because they’ve got so much backlog they’re actually being able to be a lot more picky. So what would you advise companies to be looking at when they’re deciding which particular projects to pursue in this economy?

 

Matt Harris:

I think the first step and even before you can get to that question is businesses should be finding ways to really collect a lot of information. As much information as they accurately can about their projects and about the work that they’re doing. Clearly businesses are always, contractors are always looking at, they estimate jobs, they bid jobs, and they obviously make progress on jobs. The ability though, to accurately aggregate and pull in information about jobs on a regular basis, on a daily basis, on a four hour basis around how much labor is being consumed on a job. How productive the equipment is for those projects, how the material is being consumed. The ability to do that and collect that information in real time and near real time and compare that to your original bids to your budgets, to your forecasts is really the step one in being able to predict the future and use data to your advantage to understand the risk in your overall project portfolio.

This is where, and things that you know very well and things that we know very well, very straightforward mobile applications that the fore-people are using on the job site, that the superintendents and project managers are doing on the job site that are looking at how much time crews are spending on various aspects of the job, how productive the equipment is, how much material is being delivered to the job site and is being used in the project that day, comparing that back to your budget and really having a good understanding of how your actual costs are changing relative to your budgeted plans. That is extraordinarily powerful information. Not only to tell people, are you ahead of plan, are you at plan, are you behind plan today, but it turns out you can use a lot of that information to start to predict the future as well, and I’ll get into a little bit more of that prediction a little bit later on. But I think really step one is use some of the mobile applications that are available in the market today and make sure that not one your people are using them to collect the information but then you’re connecting that information back to your bids, back to your estimates and budgets. So you can really compare what you’re actually doing compared to what you thought you would be doing.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, very sound advice. There’s a lot there to unpack, which is great. That’s what we want to talk about today. Something you mentioned caught my ear, so to speak. You mentioned the four hour mark or half day. Where did that come from and is that something new? Are companies aware of that? What are your thoughts on tracking by the half day at least, it sounds like?

 

Matt Harris:

Nowadays because the data collection can really be very automated, you can really get very refined inputs on how resources are being consumed and deployed on projects. Resources meaning labor, equipment, materials. Many companies we speak with, they have morning win-loss reports, for example. They want to see how the project did yesterday and so where they have to catch up, where they’re ahead. Some companies call these scorecards, and how they did in the week to date and yesterday’s progress or the overall project to date. Now that data can start to be aggregated really regularly you can start to really partition that into day parts. Into the morning day part or the afternoon day part or overtime and evening as well. You can really literally see how different crews or different components on the job are progressing more regularly. So it’s mobile applications tied into your cost model, you can really get more refined reporting on what’s happening. Is the morning more productive than the afternoon, than the evenings, you can start to see that information. That’s the information that’s available to us today.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think your points are well understood by me. I guess from a statistical perspective, just grabbing a number in your mind, what percentage of your customers would you say are actively leveraging these types of tools and what percentage are still a little bit behind or way behind?

 

Matt Harris:

I would say that within our customer base right now it’s about 50% of our overall customer base have some form of mobile application on the job site where they’re aggregating data in real time. We do have a lot of great usage data on this. We know we had 75000 active users in our field productivity tools every month. That’s been really taking off in the past year, year and half or so. In fact, the fastest growing component of our portfolio right now is in mobile field productivity. It’s in strong demand and the ability to really capture data in near real time and then compare it back to the cost model and do this all paper free and automatically is a very appealing need or very strong need from our customer base right now. We, and I know you guys do have some really compelling products to help make that happen. As you know mobility right now and field data capture is on the minds of everybody in the industry and it’s a really strong growth platform.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that, and for those that aren’t yet there, it should be. Your competitors and the rest of the industry is utilizing those things currently.

 

Matt Harris:

Oh for sure. I mean right now the applications are so good and reasonably inexpensive that the productivity gain far outweighs the costs of manual data collection that is otherwise being done through clipboards or sometimes writing on 2X4s or whatever. To collect information and have to manually enter that in and that being once a week and inaccuracies. If you’re able to collect this in a real time basis and not only inform executives about how they’re doing against their project objectives but also you can feed the information back to the superintendents, right? So some of the things that we do is as soon as a superintendent collects crew time, for example, we tell them right away are they ahead of plan overall in the project budget or are they behind plan in the project budget. They can say to themselves, “Tomorrow I better be careful around how much overtime I use or I better have a plan to get this phase finished out.” So we can actually inform the people who are really making decisions on how to use crews and people to make better decisions and make decisions that’ll help them hit their budget targets.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love the idea of that feedback loop that it sounds like you’re talking about.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah, it’s really very powerful.

 

Mike Merrill:

So obviously paper and spreadsheets are out, if this is the kind of data you want to have in the timely manner that we’re talking about.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah, paper or spreadsheets are definitely out. Paper in particular. What we saw last year and I would assume many people saw, yourselves included is that paper as a communication means is really going away and there’s more and more demand that we’re seeing in our customer base in the industry to fully digitize. Get out of paper means and really stop paper hand offs and really start and enable the digital hand off. That’s not only at productivity at the job site, that’s in employee communications, that is in a subcontractor communications, vendor and supplier coordination, everything is really moving towards a digital framework and digital communications and one of the things obviously with more and more people working remotely the ability to hand off paper and do that is harder, but also there’s just the common sense of let’s get out of paper and start to use digital means. It just makes it easier and safer for everybody too.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. Migrating off of those more rudimentary or basic tools of the past allows us to collect more what I would call passive data. There’s active data, passive data, what are the differences between those two and how do they come into play together?

 

Matt Harris:

That’s really interesting and then we can start to think about how we collect data and what we do with it. Right now as a superintendent is using our products, a mobile application to collect crew time or equipment time or material deliveries, there’s actually a person who’s doing something there and they’re using a mobile app for example and they’re providing information to that mobile app, which is way better than doing it through paper or other means. That is more of an active process. Somebody is actually entering data into that application which is then feeding the model. When you think about it we can start to do things in a job site that will instrument the job site and that will actually passively collect information on the job site without anybody having to do anything.

For example, we can capture using IOT, internet of things. We can capture information on equipment that tells us where the equipment is and if it’s in the job site we know that it’s being consumed by that job without anybody having to do anything and we can also capture information to see if the equipment is running or not, if it’s being operated or not. From that information we aggregate that and create and get an understanding of the equipment, it’s use on the job and how productive it’s being on that job. And in this case, an equipment manager or superintendent didn’t do anything. It’s just automatically happening throughout the job.

There are other things that we can do just to see in terms of people and labor, when they’re on the job site through automatic clock in and clock out methods and where they’re working on a job site. We can start to look at things like that. We can understand through imaging or through other job site cameras or even drones, we can start to see where the material is on the job sites, is the material stockpiles growing or shrinking and all that data is captured automatically and then fed into the model without anybody having to do interfaces on a mobile application at all. That is, in it’s very beginnings right now, certainly equipment is further along than some of the other things and we’re doing it in some ways with material as well. Particularly with civil materials like aggregates and other types of things where we’re using drones and imagery to look at the stock piles and the inventory levels on sites for some of the more civil materials. But that’s very early on but it’s a very interesting opportunity for us all.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you mentioned the term “aggregators”, for the listeners what does that mean and also what value does that provide to have an aggregator?

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah. The aggregation of the data, what you can start to do and what we’re working on now is as more and more of this data becomes available and we look at how jobs are performing and their costs relative to original bids and their budgets, then we can start to really understand how a contractor is performing historically against all of their jobs, and actually not just the contractor but the industry at large, and we can now build some models that tell us how we think the contractor will do when they bid future jobs. This is where things get really interesting. So as we understand across thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions of projects how much was spent on labor, how much was spent on materials, on equipment. We compare that with the original bids on the jobs and the estimates. We compare that with the type of job, when it was done, where it was done. We actually build models then that can predict, that look at the overall industry and how does the industry perform? We build models that look at how does this one particular contractor perform relative to the industry.

And we can also build models that tell a contractor if you bid a job and it has the following elements to it, you intend to spend so much in labor, so much in equipment charges, so much in material, your original contract value is this. We can tell that contractor with an 80% probability of likelihood we can tell that contractor how likely it will be to achieve their targeted profit outcome. So this is where we get into some of the things you started with, Mike, around how can we help contractors better manage their portfolio and backlog? So we can inform them of bidding on this job under these circumstances will either result in a high margin likelihood of probability or a low margin of probability. Probably no surprise to us all, the endstage profit margins on a project are very, very different from the original bid. So we’re able to actually predict that difference.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, 80% that’s a big number. I wouldn’t challenge that. I would imagine that’s probably the case? One question that comes up in my mind is how is one contractor able to leverage data from the industry or from others of their peers?

 

Matt Harris:

So in two ways. First in the model I described and what we’re doing is we’re working on this with a select group of our customers now. With this model that we’ve created, it compares a single company’s performance on project profit margins to the industry at large, so they as a company can see in general how did they do. Are they better than the industry are they worse than the industry. Then we also can use that data to help inform them on a project that they might be bidding on, how they’ll perform against that project and how that project is likely to perform. So that is an example, and our customers now are using this. Estimators are using it to really get kind of a help quantitatively validate some of their bids. Help them get more than a gut feel around the project. Owners are using it to start to look at is this a job, how likely could I be to lose money on this job? Should I take it on right now? If you have a backlog or the opportunities for bids are pretty substantial, let’s choose the right bids and marry some low risk jobs with some high risk jobs. So that’s happening right now. That’s an example of the things that we’re doing.

The other example of things that we’re doing is that we’re providing information back to our customers in just an overall industry benchmarking. We can look at what’s the average profitability of jobs like that for the industry at large and as I mentioned, how does that compare to a single firm? We are actually providing information on just hiring trends in the industry, is the industry and in regions and states, are they hiring more people than they’re letting go? Or are they letting go of more people than they’re hiring and get an index of labor trends and that certainly affects how quickly it would be to bring new people on board, what labor rates might be doing. We’re providing indices on just overall backlog trends. So are backlogs increasing are they decreasing, by type of project, we’re providing some indications there. So we’re really providing some now macroeconomic indices that our customers are using to help inform them around what’s directionally happening in the industry right now.

In the era that we’re in, there’s a lot of volatility right now, the pandemic, things shut down then they came back and you’re like what’s next? Having these indices is what we’re hearing from our customers is the indices are really super helpful.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’m envisioning as you’re talking a lot of great information there and it’s actually astonishing to me, I mean I come from the industry and spent a decade or more in general construction before we started our mobile data collection company 17 years ago. It’s amazing to see the transition of the industry and that we could even be having conversations like this. I’m picturing a stock portfolio or dashboards with ticker symbol and seeing the ups and down trends. Is that a realistic comparison that companies could enjoy today with the technologies available?

 

Matt Harris:

It’s a very realistic comparison. That ultimately what we’d like to be able to do is provide an owner or a C-suite a risk profile on their projects. Just like an investor would have, at least a good investor, would have a good understanding of a risk profile of their investments and marry some high risk investments with some low risk investments so you have a balanced portfolio. What we’re able to do, and we’re in the very early phases of this now, is really provide risk profiles of a project portfolio. High risk jobs versus low risk jobs and ideally a good contractor would want to have a balanced approach of that. Obviously not have an entirely high risk portfolio, because then maybe putting more of the company at risk, but you also don’t want too of a low risk portfolio in possibilities of growth. So and that also is dependent on the phase of the company and things like that. So we’re enabling with some of this data which is very easy to get and we built the models, we’ve done the data science ourselves with a very clever group of data scientists that we have both at Viewpoint and at Trimble. We’re providing some very simple tools for our customer base to use.

 

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Truly incredible and you mentioned this is a newer evolution of where things are at. So it sounds like moving forward into the next three, five, 10 years, decade plus, companies are going to be able to compare this historical data in trending and really make more predictive long term decisions, not just which job do I take next but where do we point the direction of the company as we continue to grow.

 

Matt Harris:

Oh yeah. The application of data science in our industry right now is only just beginning. I mentioned being able to predict profit margins for future jobs, looking at the industry overall and macro industry trends, we’re also looking at individual projects the change in costs on those projects, the change in costs in last month and the month before really tell us how costs are going to change next month. So we’re building models that really help project managers look at based upon how much I spent this month and the month before, how’s that going to influence what I can expect to spend next month. So they give them warnings of a profit fade event before it happens. There’s other really simple applications as well. We can use artificial intelligence now to just automatically scan invoices, pick up all the relevant information in those invoices and then populate invoice records inside of our software for payment and approval processes. Now a lot of that is done manually through keying and so we can not only provide systems that are much more accurate than keyed entry but also three, four, five times faster as well, just through the application of some of the new AI techniques and methodologies.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I often site the statistic that 7% of everything typed is a typo of one sort or another and there’s no spell check on calculators, so when somebody fat finger’s a number or adds an extra zero there’s a lot larger consequences than just a small typo.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah, it turns out you’re exactly right. It’s actually more than that. What we see is about 1/3 of manually entered data is inaccurate, so we’re measuring it and some of the machine AI techniques that we are using now has 93% accuracy. That’s getting better. Now 93%, some people will say that doesn’t sound that awesome, but when you compare it to people or manual entry right now is only accurate 2/3 of the time, 63% of the time. That’s a big jump. That’s kind of what we’re trying to enable.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah and that’s probably if someone’s having a good day. If they’re having a bad day it might be 1/3 as accurate, right?

 

Matt Harris:

Right. Yeah. I’d imagine it mixes out.

 

Mike Merrill:

Data doesn’t have any emotion.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah. Yeah. And doing things like this not only makes it more productive that we can now enable our customers to instead of entering data, look at it. Understand it. Do things with it. We’re trying to really help them get better use out of the data. Acquiring the data should be very straightforward and that’s what we’re trying to do and enable tools like that. Then helping them use and consume the data is kind of the next wave.

 

Mike Merrill:

I always say with proper mobile tools in place you can now manage data, not drama. So to speak.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah, well said.

 

Mike Merrill:

I mean I can tell, obviously, that mobility is probably the newest key innovation in this whole recipe. How critical is having a solid sound mobile strategy for constructions businesses today?

 

Matt Harris:

I think mobility is a foundational step in just getting job site understanding of what’s happening. In otherwise said, I don’t see how you do this without a strong mobility platform and environment. In enabling your field leadership, superintendents, fore-people, project managers, whomever, equipment managers, operators, even field service technicians as well, with a platform that’s not only going to inform them what needs to be done today, but also help them collect information on what’s happened and relay back to them how they preformed that day or that half day, relative to the budget model or relative to the forecast is absolutely critical. The difference makers are the companies who are doing that and giving their people on the ground making it happen the ability to be informed, no only acquire the data but be informed about how they’re doing on a regular basis is instrumental.

It’s almost like if you’re not doing that you’re almost doing the project with a blindfold on. Then we’ve seen it, they get the monthly reports, and it’s like, “Who, whoa, whoa, what happened? We’re way off! What went wrong?” Then they scramble and try to get into the reports and see what happened, but they’re already a month behind and on a 10 month job it’s hard to catch up. The difference between getting information with the right people at the right time for the right decisions and not doing that is really… I can’t imagine how to run a project if you’re not doing it that way.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah and I know you mentioned earlier it sounds like you’ve been at Viewpoint, now Trimble, for about 10 years now? Is that right, a decade?

 

Matt Harris:

Coming into my decade, yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well congratulations for that, that’s awesome. What I recall from your background, this industry was new to you at that time, is that right?

 

Matt Harris:

It definitely is right. I came out of another world whereas with the technology company I’ve been in software for a good part of my career, but I came out of the world doing something very, very different in the life scientific industry, but working in construction and construction technology has just been awesome. Making an impact has really been fun.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I can imagine. I think the industry has moved more your direction from where you came from or met you in the middle at least as you’ve embarked on this journey, from the sounds of it.

 

Matt Harris:

Oh yeah. You know it’s just fun. I think we’re in a unique role, you and I, I think we have a unique opportunity to really make an impact. What we do matters and when we do it well we hear it, we understand it, when we don’t do it well we also hear it and understand it. That’s the nature of our industry. I’m very proud to be part of such an industry and we’re earnest in our wanting to make an impact. Not obviously help our business but more importantly do things important for an industry that we think could use our help and we pay a lot of attention to making a difference. When we do our job well hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people get paid and put food on the table for their families. We take that responsibility extremely seriously. The role that we play, just foundationally, is very, very important to us and I think we’re lucky to have that responsibility and we know we have to earn it every day.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, we feel very much the same way here. It’s very impactful and blesses lives when we do a good job. That’s neat to be part of something that changes peoples lives for the better.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

So in that tenure for nearly a decade, what has been the most surprising thing to you and maybe what’s the thing you’ve enjoyed most about this journey so far?

 

Matt Harris:

I think that there’s a lot of talk in the ecosystem at large that, I’m going to say this the right way, that construction’s behind, they don’t really get technology and it’s backwards from a technical adoption perspective. What’s been surprising and interesting to me is it’s not behind, per se, it’s an industry that’s really based upon very tangible needs. To the extent that we as technology providers or anybody can solve real problems for our industry, for our customers today. There’s a demand, there’s a need for that. People just don’t want to be working in a blue sky environment so much and making bets on stuff that may or may not happen. I like the practicality of the industry and just the need to solve real problems. If we solve real problems people will use our products and our software.

So that’s been one really interesting component of it all. I think this whole, what is perhaps an overused term around digital transformation, that’s live. That’s happening, we’ve been talking about it to some extent. The adoption of cloud browser and mobile technology is to connect job sites in the field with back office and costs and the overall project environment, that’s really happening in a big wave right now. It’s exciting to see that. We call this next wave of the data transformation, it’s kind of the next thing that’s happening. So I appreciate working within the industry and really getting very clear on the value we can create, solving real problems with our products now and then the potential to solve a whole new set of real problems with our products with data in the future. And I think it’s just been a fun industry to work with.

 

Mike Merrill:

Very exciting. So in this journey is there one business process you feel like you’ve really worked on or focused on to master that’s had a larger impact than other things?

 

Matt Harris:

There’s been a variety I’d say. One of the things that we’re very, very focused on now is a new sense of… it’s kind of coming up in the software industry, it’s called product lead growth and it’s really making it very easy not only for customers or buyers to acquire the software, which we try to do in some techniques that we have here at viewpoint. But now we’re looking at it more so with the individual user mode. How can we make users come into our software as simple as possible, so that customers are getting value out of our software with their users right away. How can we make sure that not only is the software easy to use but training is very easy and simple to follow from within the software itself that the software becomes almost self implementing, if you will, and that we can point people, if they’re trying to solve problems, we can point people to different parts of our software that will help them solve that problem and it would actually give them a roadmap of different parts of our software to use.

What we’re trying to do here is create a simple user experience. So think of it more than just a customer, Joe’s Civil Contracting. Now think about it as the project managers at Joe’s Civil Contracting, the superintendent, the HR director, the payroll clerks. How do we make it very simple and easy for them to adopt more of our software? What we see is that the more people, and the way our software is used for the most part, as people adopt it, it doesn’t cost our customers more, but we just want our customers to get full value out of all the things that they could be using within our suite, and that’s a big part of what we focused on.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it sounds like individual ownership by role, regardless of what position they’re in.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah. Making sure that individual users needs are being met and really understanding if we’re doing that or not. Some of the things that we’re doing in our products right now, tell us where are things being adopted very quickly, where are they not, how can we make it better for users.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So what is Matt Harris’s super power, if you have one? What are you really good at personally?

 

Matt Harris:

I’m just… I’m a super curious person. I call myself a knowledge junky. The reason why I think I’ve been at Viewpoint for 10 years is that I think there’s always new frontiers to learn and I’m really interested in learning new things. The construction industry, how we can digitize the industry, how the data applications in the industry, how we can really be lead in a product lead growth framework where users are adopting our software as much as possible. There’s so many opportunities to learn, the evolution of the industry overall, I think that is my strength. I get super excited when I’m learning and our industry has lots of learning opportunity for me. To be honest I think that’s one of my greatest strengths.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. So is there one thing you wish you would have known when you started at Viewpoint that you now know very well and what has served you? Maybe someone else can learn from your experience.

 

Matt Harris:

That’s a great question. I would say now when people come into our business and we bring people in from the software industry at large, obviously a lot of people with domain expertise in construction and other people who are just great software experience in general and great business experience. One of the things that I’ve learned over time is, and I referred to this previously, is that in our industry for contractors, what we do we have to make it immediately relevant for what a contractor needs today. We need to define things in a highly literal way, make it clear. If you use this your invoices will be entered into your system five times faster with far fewer errors. This is a problem because you’re spending so much on doing it today. If you use this your superintendents will know if they’re ahead of plan or behind plan at 4 o’clock every day. So we need to be very literal in defining and showing and proving that we can solve real problems that our customers and our users are having today and that’s what I tell our team. It needs to really have clarity on the problems that we’re solving. Literal problems that we’re solving.

When we do that well, we can see. Our products, not only our sales but our usage of the products goes through the roof. When we miss the mark on that people kind of scratch their head and go, “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with this.”

 

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I think it’s applicable even for our contractor companies that are listening to learn from that same advice with their field personnel, their office personnel, that clarity and simplicity of the messaging regardless of the task is critical for clear communication and execution.

 

Matt Harris:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Just one last thing, if there is one takeaway from today’s discussion for the listeners, what would you say to them?

 

Matt Harris:

If you’re not using mobile applications for your projects right now I would absolutely, positively, take advantage of them. There are great like your company’s making, great products like our company’s making, other products. They are cost effective right now and easy to use. In most cases they are also connected to the back office. Not only can your job site people, your superintendents and fore-people be capturing information really easily but it can be connected into the back office as well. That will just absolutely, positively save time and also enable a company to begin and start to collect information as they think about the next step, which would be the data journey. How do you use that information to help you make better decisions in the future.

 

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. Great takeaway. Well, thank you Matt. I’ve very much enjoyed our conversation today. It’s fun to catch up and see you again even if virtually, for now. I appreciate you joining us.

 

Matt Harris:

Likewise, Mike. Great to see you again, thank you so much for inviting me to this and yeah, best of luck to you, the business and the family and I hope to see you again soon.

 

Mike Merrill:

Thanks. Take care.

 

Matt Harris:

Bye.

 

Mike Merrill:

And thank you to listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation Matt and I had today or learned anything new and helpful please give us a follow on Instagram at WorkMax_ or on liked in at WorkMax and please also subscribe to the podcast. We love our five star ratings and reviews, when you are able to chime in and give your feedback there it helps us to bring this valuable information and insights to other businesses like yourself. Our goal is to help you improve your life and your business.

 

Analytics in Construction: Beginner’s Guide to Data Visualization and BI 

Analytics in Construction: Beginner’s Guide to Data Visualization and BI 

Every industry has trends that come and go, so it’s understandable leaders get wary of the latest buzzwords. The true test of what’s a shiny toy object versus what has longevity is the value it provides. Take Business Intelligence, or BI for short. BI gives contractors the ability to visualize data and quickly decipher it so they can recognize trends on the job site and take action. The buzz around the power of analytics is for good reason. BI and data visualization signify a huge step forward in construction technology and productivity. 

In this episode, Frank Di Lorenzo Jr. and Ben Harrison from Preferred Strategies share how to take the data you have and leverage it with the help of BI. They also share how BI can be used with other key technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to put powerful reporting in the hands of everyone on the job site. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Data visualization makes KPI tracking actionable and timely. According to Frank, visualized KPIs give a contractor the same power that the dials and instruments in an airplane cockpit give a pilot. When everything is going right, it’s hard to say if altitude is more important than how much fuel is left in the tank. But when the fuel is getting closer to the red line, the pilot is immediately alerted where to focus. Frank says data visualization is much the same. It gives insight into the analytics of a project to reveal how it is doing and offers alerts on KPIs contractors should focus on.
  2. Contractors need a data feedback loop. Labor used to be tracked by filling out time cards, only for them to be put in a filing cabinet never to be seen again. Now everyone on the job site has a phone or a mobile tablet that’s always connected and providing real-time data, like safety forms and task progress, back to the main office. This connection creates a feedback loop where the information flows from the job site to the office and back again on a continual basis. This is important because it is this feedback loop that gives BI and visualizations their power. Giving users the ability to see the data analytics from others on the same job site ensures that everyone makes the best decisions with all of the information available. 
  3. Business Intelligence far surpasses spreadsheets. In its day, Excel was a useful tool for basic tracking and reporting on a job site or business –– that has all changed with BI. BI consists of dynamic data coming from different parts of the business and provides historical, current, and predictive views of business operations on the fly. Unlike Excel, this means data only needs to be entered into the system. From there, BI will process the data instantly to deliver insight into your KPIs. 

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Frank Di Lorenzo Jr, the client relationship director and Ben Harrison, the product director at Preferred Strategies. Today, we’re going to discuss the predictive data and data visualization. I’m looking forward to this unique conversation with these gentlemen today and looking forward to getting a fresh perspective about project information. So hello, Frank and Ben. Welcome on the podcast today.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Hey Mike, thanks for having us. I know Ben and I are both really excited to be here. 

 

Ben Harrison:

It’s great to be here. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, thanks again. So before we jump into the conversation too far, can you gentlemen give the listeners just a quick introduction on your background, maybe your experience in the industry, and if we can start with Frank, that’d be great. And then Ben, you can follow.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Sure. Happy to. So Frank Di Lorenzo Jr. Thank you Mike. As he mentioned, I’m the client relationship director of Preferred Strategies but Reader’s Digest version of my background, I’ve been in the industry construction ERP-wise for 36 years. I’ve implemented just over 700 construction accounting systems, grew up with a solution a lot of folks know out there known as Timberline. That’s where I got my start. And what’s interesting is I’ve seen solutions evolve. Back then, we started early on, it was getting computers to process financial data. And then we grew from there and we started putting systems into other departments, project management, estimating, CRM and then we matured further to excellent field mobile applications to collect data in the field. Very important. 

So now just for one year, I’ve switched my career to where I think the industry’s evolving to now, which is we’ve got these systems in place. We’re collecting mountains and reams of data. How do we make it actionable information? So I’m having a lot of fun now for one year working on the data side of things, Mike. So that’s my background.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Ben, how about you? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. Again, Ben Harrison. I spent about 18 years as a business analyst and then a business manager for a construction company, Heavy Highway Construction but did a lot of analysis, a lot of reports. We’ve watched the technology merge over time. But really the idea of how do you take that information and turn it into actionable data drove me in my path now to where I’m at a company that that’s all we do is business analytics. And it’s honestly an exciting job. It’s fun. We get to have fun every day.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s awesome. We are certainly in a period or an age I would say of information overload at times. So lots of data to look at and lots of things to analyze. So appreciate all that you gentlemen do for the industry. So a couple things I wanted to just ask about. So what’s the difference between front end and back end data? Those are terms that we hear. What are your thoughts?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well, I’m going to take a first stab and then Ben I’m going to ask him to take it a little bit deeper, but from a business application standpoint, we have our data sitting wherever it may be hosted. And I hope I’m answering your question, Mike, but I’ll go ahead this way, our data viewpoint or your ERP may be hosted in the cloud, private cloud, Azure, on-prem. How do we get to our data in a meaningful way to report on it? And what if I have data that is living in multiple places, some on-prem. So I’m in One Cloud, some in Azure. So how do I take all of that information, transform it into, I’ll call it a front end data cube that I could report on. 

So I think the difference is transactional data for processing, which is what all the ERPs are optimized to do and taking that data and transforming it into something that’s report friendly. So in a nutshell, that would be my first pass at that. And Ben, why don’t you add a little more color to it if you will. 

 

Ben Harrison:

That’s exactly would be my take that transformation of data from transactional to be aggregated suitable for analysis. There is a metadata layering that happens there that makes it more useful. But again, you think about data and information. I like to think of the front end data as information and the back end as all the detailed transactions. And so that’d be how I would define it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Great. So that’s a great foundation to start from. Now talking about that data, when you heard the term predictive data, how does that differ from flat data and maybe what are those differences once you have that data in store?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I have my thoughts on that, Ben, but I think you would have a deeper insight. So if you wouldn’t mind. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. So often I think about what you hear these days in the articles I read about predictive analytics, right? Taking that data and understand how to predict it. And I think that has to be context, right? Context driven. When you think about what you want to analyze, you want to analyze backlog and everyone knows what backlog is. It’s your contract amount minus your earned revenue so far. But you can’t hope that the data model will discover the relationship between those. And so the predictive data is arranged in a way to where that backlog can be analyzed. The end result is that you get insights you might not have had before with predictive data. 

I know that at the company I worked for, we struggled for a long time at understanding housing stats, right? Housing was a big part of our construction business. And what you wanted to do is find what’s the smoking gun that indicates housing stats down the road. Is it on permitted land? Is it county permits? What drives that? But again, the predictive data is going to allow you to take something and use it to understand what’s going to happen. And there’s lots of ways that could be structured.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So I’m thinking of the term maybe triggers, is that what you mean? Data triggers that would make you look at a certain thing?

 

Ben Harrison:

That would be it. Yeah. So predictive analytics is… So here’s another example. The company I used to work for used lots of diesel fuel, lots of it, or heavy highway, heavy iron usage heavy iron. Changes in fuel prices is a big deal, right? So the predictive data would say, “If fuel goes up so much, what’s that going to do to my cost of sales, right?” Because I know the type of work I do, the type of equipment I do, but that lets you prepare and plan for… The trigger would be the fuel price change, but the action is, should I buy futures? Does that make sense? So triggers is a good way to put it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. Well, all right, so we’ve got the data types, we’ve got triggers and things that are indicators. There’s another term out there, Frank, maybe you can answer this the term BI, what does that mean to a contractor for those that may not be familiar?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

We have our buzzwords that come and go in our industry. We’ve all lived that. It could be cloud it could be mobility. Now BI is a big buzz word, stands for business intelligence. And to me what that means and what I think it means to a contractor is being able to decipher my information and see the trends so I can act on them before it’s too late. So in other words, in construction, most of our teams still look at data in a very text printed 2D format. There’s a great book I’m reading. It’s what I could recommend. It’s called Data Strategy by Bernard Marr. And one quote in there is when you visualize data, you’ll see things that you never knew were they are right in front of you. 

So part of business intelligence I think is being able to see the data in a more meaningful, impactful way so you can act upon it. Now you take that and you’ve coupled that with some of the machine learning capabilities that AI, artificial intelligence that Microsoft provides, and there’s a lot of power that you can put in the hands of reporting. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. Great answer. So really in my mind, I’m visualizing maybe the difference between a paper report that’s just printed out and I’ve got to pick through the data to find out the details or dashboards and graphs and things that are more visually appealing and at a moment’s notice green or red or yellow means something to me that I can then act on is that visual.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And that’s part of it and even more. I mean, now that we’ve become truly a mobile world, just imagine having the power of all that data on your mobile device coupled with your location. Maybe whenever I’m near a certain client and they owe us more than X, I want that report to pop up on my phone and maybe I’ll go visit them. But it’s that actionable activities we can now put into play. 

 

Ben Harrison:

And I’d like to just add to that. BI is a term and it’s a ubiquitous term. But to contractors today, historically people thought about ERP systems and Frank mentioned to begin with were the financial business side of things, right? Just AR, AP, GL. But business intelligence, more and more includes operational intelligence, which is productivity rates over, under production. Right? So there’s a lot more to business intelligence. It’s a much broader thing now than it’s ever been in the past.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great insight. I think another buzz word that comes to mind is KPI or key performance indicators that you then have with that type of data. What types of KPIs or key performance indicators should contractors focus on specifically?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, I’m going to answer from what I see from gaps currently clients are experiencing in their reporting and then I’ll ask Ben to take it with his actual experience a little bit further. So key performance indicators, another buzz word as you said, Mike. And it’s really a wide open loaded statement because it could be financial KPIs on our cash performance, could be operational KPIs on a project specifically. It could be productivity KPIs on how our labor is performing, how equipment is doing in the field. So there’s a number of KPIs but as an executive, maybe I want to be able to visualize a dashboard where I have several KPIs before me. I want a snapshot of how we’re doing from a cash standpoint and I want to know if we have any issues in the field, maybe from an equipment standpoint, so different KPIs but I want them in front of me and at my fingertips. Does that make sense?

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So to me, I’m picturing a front end and a backend to that side of the story. I mean, what do each take to be effectively managed?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well, one thing to consider is you got to get the information from the field, right? I mean, you ever hear the old adage garbage in, garbage out with all the cool stuff we have, that still applies. So provided that we put the tools in the, I’ll say the right procedures in place to collect information, make sure it’s accurate, timely. Now we can deploy all these reporting tools to establish our KPIs and our dashboards. And that’s something I know Ben, I think you’ve actually done in practice. So I don’t want to steal any thunder you may add. 

 

Ben Harrison:

No, I think that’s what I do see. You think about KPIs, think about an airplane cockpit. There’s a lot of indicators that are really important there. So it’s hard to say that altitude is not more important than how much fuel is left in the tank. But from a construction point of view, field productivity is where margins are tight. You estimate it based upon some assumptions to know whether it’s going bad or not. You can’t wait till the end of the month reports. You really need that daily productivity understanding. And then construction industry, that’s where I see the biggest benefits is that field business intelligence has given me insight into how did I do today so I can take action to fix it by tomorrow.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. I know in my world the term we like to use, and I think companies should be more focused on than they are today is live field data. And so I don’t know that that’s a buzzword yet, but if we can make it one, we’d sure love to because I think that visibility is really what everybody’s after, wants to have their finger on the pulse of the money if they can. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Go ahead, Frank.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I was going to say, I mean, absolutely. Think about this for a minute. I could provide you the prettiest dashboard on the planet with the nicest, most vibrant colors but if it has a column that says hours yesterday, and it’s a zero, because I can’t get that information for three days, the report is pretty useless, frankly. So having that data stream in place is very important from collection all the way through to backend.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great analogy. And another thing, you talked about garbage in garbage out. One thing that we see and hear commonly is there are people putting numbers in that cell, in the spreadsheet or in the report that are guesstimated or estimated and maybe aren’t even accurate. So that could be worse than a zero.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Could be worse. Because misinformation now is dangerous.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. All right, well, so speaking of labor in the field, we all know today the crunch in the construction industry to find mid-level skilled labor, just everybody said, I just came from a large, the 99th annual AGC event here in Salt Lake City, just a great event. It was a live event, something fun to get to with everything that’s been going on and get back in front of people again. But that was the theme of every conversation I was in. Everybody was saying, “Our biggest gap right now is just finding enough good help. We were so backlogged. We just can’t find the labor and have a major shortage in skilled employees to come and help us work on these projects that we actually have locked in.” So how can having better data or more proper and appropriately managed data get ahead of that to a degree?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Ben, do you want to take that one? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. Yeah. I think I that’d be good. So that’s a great question. And I think it’s something that every contractor struggles with as long as I’ve been in the industry and has been for a few decades now, where am I going to get the crews to do the work that’s been important. Part of that is understanding your crews and the company I came from, we had A-level crews, essentially your A-level crews, you kept busy all the time, right? If there’s no work for them, you put them down the yard cleaning stuff up because you just want to make sure they never go find a job elsewhere. Then you had your B-level crews who are pretty good and then your C-level crews. So part of that is if you don’t have good analytics, you can’t understand your true capacity. And I think contractors need to have that understanding of what’s possible and even turn work away because it can be expensive to get the wrong crew on a job that you’ve been with really tight margins. Right? So does that help? I thought that answers for me the question.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think that’s great. And you both spoke about just getting that predictive data or that trending, the productivity ratio. So I think some of what you spoke about also would be helpful in knowing in two months we’re going to have a major shortage. We better start getting ahead of that if you’re doing that.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I’ll just add really quickly. One other thing, I think it’s one thing to find quality talent but to retain it is another thing. And I think part of that retention is the employee’s experience at that company and providing them proper tools to do their job is one. I can’t imagine, some young talent in the industry going to work at a company and saying, “Okay, your reports are paper-based.” Or, “Start writing your time on this notepad and we’ll collect it later.” That causes stress that reduces that employees, I think, job experience in total. So I think data helps you enjoy a better experience on the job because you know where you are, there’s less surprises, less angst and the proper technology tools help with that retention as well.

 

Mike Merrill:

No, that’s great. You mentioned reporting and it just makes me think, I was a contractor a couple of decades ago, used to be a general contractor. We self-performed a lot of work of our own also. And the capabilities in reporting today versus back then, or I mean, it’s just two completely different worlds. So how has BI changed reports that contractors can actually enjoy today, for the last decade or so?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Ben, I think you could share with us that one.

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. I’ll jump on that. I obviously, I think the most important thing is mobility, right? The idea that technology… I can remember our first laptops we gave to Formaway long, again, decades ago. And that adoption level changed a little bit but it was still you’re filling out a time card and an Excel sheet and sending it in. But the idea that I now have a tablet, the phone or a mobile tablet that’s always connected, not only allows me to provide that real-time data back to the main office, safety data, punchless data, just anything that’s there but also allows me to see data back consolidated from other people in the same job site, so that the biggest thing to me that has changed in the last 10 years is the expansion of what we can expect to have in the hands of a foreman or a project engineer who’s out on the job site.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So I’m hearing like a loop basically. Is that what you’re saying? A data loop where that’s actually getting back to the field instead of being trapped in a file cabinet in the office?

 

Ben Harrison:

Yes.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Data feedback loop. I like that, Mike, I think that’s spot on.

 

Mike Merrill:

And from there, what’s the value of having the field plugged into that information to make those decisions?

 

Ben Harrison:

Well, there’s all sorts of implications. I think one of the things I saw most of the company I worked for was improving on safety, right? So we did lots of near miss recordings and you look at compliance of not safety but even environmental compliance and not being shut down for a day for whatever reason drives all sorts of things. So I guess for me, it’d be hard to say, how could you not live that way now? Right? If you’re going to be in business and you don’t have that visibility on the job site, I don’t see how you stay in business.

 

Mike Merrill:

Certainly you have to be competitive. So one of the other words that’s been floating around in the conversation, we’ve talked about data visualization, what are some options within that term that relate to construction today?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I’ll take a first pass Ben and then certainly I know you can add some more color to it. But when you’re visualizing your data and there’s some favorite charts we have, one’s called a waterfall chart. So if you’re looking for, am I above or below the line, if you will performance over budget, under budget is an example, that’s where a waterfall visualization can really help illustrate that. Visualizations are really meant to make the data pop, stand out, show trends, show outliers and think about this, when you combine some of the AI and machine learning capabilities of Microsoft with those visualizations, I can now say, “Okay, here’s all my data, Power BI, what do you think?” And it will actually draw up some visualization. Some may be meaningless but others might become part of my dashboard package. So visualizations is just a new, and I think more complete way to see inside our data, if you will.

 

Ben Harrison:

Can I add to that then as well? We are getting more sophisticated, not we me and Frank, but we as a society are getting more sophisticated on visualizations. I can remember as a young engineer, pie charts were how people thought of visualizing data. And so then there’s bar charts, there’s stacked bar charts and all of these new capabilities. And now there’s these key indicator charts that break down components that you can drill through. That brings to question some sophistication that’s not natural, not natural does not explain what I mean, it brings the idea that I need to bring to the table some willingness to understand, right? Pie charts, people got led away. Some of these more advanced charts give you really, really good insight but you have to stop and struggle with them. And so that’s what I’m seeing is that the more sophisticated visualizations provide very powerful insights but you can’t just look at them right away always and see exactly what you need to see. You have to engage in them.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a good point, Ben. Part of our data journey and working with clients in this whole data experience is training around that, how do you take your data and visualize it? What does that mean? Where should you start? So there’s a bit of training I think that helps with that adoption. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think back to something that you mentioned earlier, Ben, now that the field has this data and they have the ability to see what’s going on in a more real-time manner, like you spoke Frank, I think the decision-making capability is enhanced and the field is now more empowered than ever to make good decisions without waiting for approval and extra unnecessary steps and bottlenecks. Wouldn’t you say?

 

Ben Harrison:

I would. And I would emphasize that one of my bosses early on wanted to measure performance and posted on the room in the lunch room, right? So that every form is rated. And I said, “Isn’t that going to de-motivate people?” And he said, “No, no.” He says, “Nobody wants to be the last person. Some of them want to be the top person, but the fact that you’re measuring people, inspires them.” People want to excel. That’s what I believe is true. And so one of the beautiful things about better analytics is that lets people be proud of the work they do, it lets them be engaged in becoming better. And that visibility drives process improvements that you wouldn’t have dreamt of if you didn’t allow people to see that data.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. They say when things are measured or when performance is measured, performance improves is a phrase I like.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a good phrase. I like it as well.

 

Mike Merrill:

So one of the terms that I’ve used over the years too is businesses really need to try and find a way to look through a windshield to manage this information instead of the rear view mirror, see what’s coming at them, not try and figure out what the pillar of smoke is behind them, that they just pass by as the job blew up, so to speak. So in talking with that, so I know I’ve heard Frank say before that most of the data that’s used, I mean, its around 90% of the data, whatever some large number goes unused. How does data visualization help leverage and tap into more of that information that does exist within the company? It’s just siloed.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a great question, Mike. And I think part of it is having a better data strategy. So visualization is a part of that strategy. But if somebody out there is looking for just prettier dashboards, that means they’re thinking I need a report. If culturally they’re ready to say, “We need to be a data driven company.” The reason why so much of that data goes unused, I think is because they don’t have the bandwidth or the ability to get their arms around it in a meaningful way. So having a data strategy in place, allows us to greatly improve that, having access to much greater data, hopefully accurate data makes those visualizations much more impactful and value adds. 

 

Ben Harrison:

I’d jump on that as well. Frank, I agree with you 100% that that idea that you’ve got all this data and if it’s just unstructured and there’s no thought put to it, then it’s really hard to get insight out of it. But if you have this data and you actually put a little bit of work into creating a data model, and honestly, that’s one of the things we do as a company, that model now provides a framework so you can do the same type of things that Netflix does or Amazon does, right? So you’ve got a structured data set that now you can actually use tools that are available in something like Power BI to do some artificial intelligence, digging through it, where it’s as Frank said, and analytics is about trends, correlations and outliers. 

Machines do that really well. But they do that really well on a structured data set. So really we’re saying put 100 million records into a data set, structure it well, and then let a computer sort through that. And that other 85% of the data that you’re saying never gets used, it could be used but people probably won’t be doing that. Machines are going to be doing that. They won’t tell us the answer but they’re going to help ask new questions we didn’t think of before.

 

Mike Merrill:

So ask better questions because we got better data there. Interesting. So what I’m hearing then you gentlemen do not subscribe to the idea that Excel is BI.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You know what? I would say Excel can be… Well, yes. Short answer, yes. But Excel can be a part of the BI. I mean, Excel is a great reporting tool. Where I say no, no, no is when I see Excel used as a data silo. So if I’m starting to depend on Excel spreadsheets where I’ve typed in standalone data, or it’s static downloaded from two days ago, not a great use. If I’m using Excel as a part of my data-driven strategy to work with data and visualize it and do what if scenarios, then it has its place I would say. Ben, what would you think? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah, absolutely. Excel is a great slicing and dicing tool. It’s not a good database. And so use Excel one for what it does well, and it will serve you well. Otherwise you’ve got a maintenance nightmare.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point. So speaking of automated processes or tools, how have you gentlemen seen AI have an impact on job sites today?

 

Ben Harrison:

I think it’s just coming online. For myself, I haven’t seen it have a major impact yet. I think we’re on the leading bleeding edge of it will soon but not so much adopted yet. Ben, how about you? What have you… The successes that I’ve seen again, I think it is early still. I think construction industry particularly has not figured out how to use these tools well, but from a safety perspective, I think that I’ve seen some AI looking at what are the trends where you’re looking at a lot of data and trying to understand what are the things that work? I’ve seen a few successes in that area. But we’re just beginning with AI and construction. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think maybe some steps towards that, or at least some technology steps that I’ve seen a lot more active would be BIM or maybe virtual reality, VR. Those are some things that I’m starting to actually see out on projects. And we’re hearing about from our customers. Are those things more common and a part of what you service your customers with?

 

Ben Harrison:

I’ll take that. We do see the, particularly the GCs and the AEC companies doing that. Our customer base is more of the operational install and we’ve not been seeing that as much, but I do think those technologies do slowly filter out. But that’s again, I haven’t seen that.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. Great. So one of the things, and even it’s the same for me too, with anything new, you hear about the fear of technology especially on the lower end of the labor perspective where people are afraid, this AI or these new tools are going to take my job. We even hear that with our mobile data collection systems, people think, well, my whole job is to key in reports all day and key in payroll manually all day. If you take that from me, I’m not going to have a job. Do you think it’s justified to have those kinds of fears? Or what would you tell people that might be worried about that?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, it’s a good question. I think it’s understandable. I wouldn’t say justifiable but certainly understandable. Since the first time someone hit post on a keyboard and things started happening automatically, people started to be concerned about their job security. And I’ve heard that multiple iterations of new technology when GPS came out, I’m being tracked in my truck. My gosh. You’d hear stories of techs trying to disable it or take it out. They were afraid of that tracking. Now that it’s become mature in the industry, people have adopted it, they know the value of it. And I think AI is just going to be another case in point of that. So with AI, I think there’s some unknowns, fear of the unknown but as it becomes more mature in the field, it will be something they don’t want to live without.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. So what I’m hearing if I read between the lines, change is good as long as that change is improvement.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Change is good. Change can be feared. It’s okay to have a certain amount healthy but work through it for a better end. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like that. So speaking of these tools automated and more digital really, if we think about our cell phones or a machine and they do certain things like a robot might do. When we talk about labor law compliance, especially, I know you gentlemen, both happened to be from the state of California which is famous for some pretty stringent labor laws and compliance laws, Department of Labor, work comp, all these other things for safety, not bad things but certainly very specific. So why do you think it’s imperative that companies find technological or automated tools or solutions for their employees to record and document this data like time and labor or activities or safety out in the field to help mitigate those risks on the job site?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I would say one just the pure cost of an error can be so egregious that you just don’t want it to happen. So that would be the first one that comes to mind. And then Ben, I’m going to call on you just because of your experience in collecting that data. What would you add? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. I think that the benefits and I think you’re pointing out the cost of an error is so expensive. And I can think of the types of things that I’ve seen companies try to do of, “Did you take your rest break?” In California you got those laws to do that. Those laws are meant to protect employees. In California it can be 106 degrees outside on a hot day, and you need to know, did you go and drink some water? Are you hydrated? So I’ve seen systems that are starting to put a heat sensor in a hard hat to see, is your body temperature over temperature, a heat stroke again, terrible thing to have happen but also shuts down the job site. You can’t afford to risk noncompliance. So having your tools that help you manage the compliance is important. You just have to do it. It’s the right thing to do. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And from my experience companies, that don’t do it, it only takes getting stung once then suddenly it’s a big priority and they do it. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Both great points. And I love what you said there Ben that it’s the right thing to do. It’s a safe thing to do. And then even from just an accountability standpoint, I know I’ve said it for years and I hear others say it in construction, we’re really risk managers, we’re data managers and we happen to build things and we need that data to help drive the revenue and to make our business run. But essentially, every day you wake up and take a step out the door, you’re at risk from a liability perspective. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. 

 

Mike Merrill:

So to just wind things down a little bit, just going to maybe do some rapid fire questions and maybe we can just alternate here. So Frank if I were to ask you, what’s one skill that you’ve really mastered or that you feel like you’ve got a great handle on and made a positive impact on your business career?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, I love the question. It’s a good question. And I would say it’s a skill that I continue to hone and will improve for the rest of my career. And that is relationships with my clients or with my peers, building and maintaining and earning the trust and friendship I like to call it of our clients. So to me, that’s an important skill I think that they trust you and that you can be an advisor. You have some value to convey. And that’s a skill that I’d like to think I’ve brought in a positive way to this team and continue to work on because it’s important to me personally. 

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great one. I’ve seen you do it for years and you embody that. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Thank you, Mike.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. So Ben, for you, what’s one activity or something that you feel is your wheelhouse or your super power that you’ve developed?

 

Ben Harrison:

Well, it’s interesting and picking one is hard. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I feel like I still continue to learn and maybe that’s it is that I’ve realized I don’t know all I need to know. And so if there’s something that doesn’t make sense to me, I’ve learned to stop and ask why? Try to essentially have a humility that I don’t know everything that I need to know and someone else might have some insight for me. So I guess that’s super power sounds, antithesis to humility. But if humility is a super power and I’m not saying I’m that good but being willing to question yourself and your judgements, I think is a really important thing.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great one. If we’re not growing, we’re dying, right? If we’re not learning, we’re dying. Love it. All right. Frank, how about this? What’s the most powerful thing that data has done for your business?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Good question. I would say transparency because in our business, we can’t hide. We have experts with data, so everything’s in a Power BI dashboard. And what that I found has led to is no surprises, nobody thinks anything’s not being displayed or hidden. Anybody in our team has access to every piece of data that they should to stay in their lane and do their job properly. And it goes back to your superpower question. I’ll just mention this because I think the superpower I found here is the beyond the power of one, it’s the power of our team. We’re a super team, not a super individual. And having the data just makes it all the more powerful and collaborative.

 

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. Love it. All right, Ben, one more then I can ask you each one final question. What is one mistake in business that you have made that you wish you would have been able to avoid and would like to help others avoid?

 

Ben Harrison:

I feel like Frank and I are on a similar theme here. So for me, it would be on that collaboration side, right? Of my mistakes have usually been when I thought I had a great solution, I’ve planned it carefully. I plotted it all out and I come and present it to the team and it doesn’t work. They have no buy-in to it. They didn’t understand the context. And so my biggest failures have been when I did not get adequate buy-in from the people around me so that it wasn’t a Ben solution. It was our team solution. And my biggest successes were honestly when we collaborate well, and the solution we come up with is better because more people contributed to it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Collaborated, team, solution, better, people. I heard all those words in your last sentence and that’s awesome. Well, it sounds like an incredible organization to work for and with. You guys obviously have a great team. So one final question, let’s start with you Frank and then Ben if you can finish it out. What’s one thing, Frank, that you hope that our listeners can walk away from hearing this conversation today?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Sure. Yeah. I think that 2021 is the year of data for me. If you look at the investments being made by the construction industry in tools and training and procedures to manage the data that they have, it’s really exciting. So take a step back. Don’t just look at your next report but look at your data strategy from a big picture standpoint. And then the other piece of that is, it doesn’t have to be us but find a partner that’s going to treat you the way you should be that you expect, that’s going to partner with you, bring the expertise and the collaborative spirit that you need to make this work. So a multiple mic thing. Hope that helps. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. How about you, Ben? 

 

Ben Harrison:

What I would like you guys to take away is that this is a journey. It’s not something that you’re going to buy an analytics tool and install it in a number of weeks and then be masters of it. This is something that’s going to take effort, purpose, training, budget, time, transformation. But expect that and honestly the results can be astounding but you can add to your bottom line, you can add to your job satisfaction but it’s going to take some intent.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Put it this way, Mike. Rarely, if ever do I hear, I hear people say, geez, we’ve got to get our arms around our data and it’s going to be hard. I’ve heard that in the beginning of the journey. The clients that I’ve had the good honor to work with that have made it through that journey, I’ve never heard anybody ever yet say, “Yeah, we got to remove this stuff. This is not important. It’s not helpful to have BI and visualize our data.” Once they’re there, they don’t want to give it up for a good reason.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Great stuff. Well, what a wonderful conversation. I sure appreciate you, Ben and Frank for joining us today. It’s been fantastic. And hopefully we can do it again down the road.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I hope so. Thank you, Mike. We appreciate it. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Thanks for having us. It was great to be here.

 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So thank you all for the listener for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation today that Ben and Frank and I had, please follow us on Instagram at WorkMax_, follow us on LinkedIn or join our LinkedIn group of WorkMax, and also subscribe to the podcast on your preferred platform. If you really enjoyed the conversation today, please give us a five-star rating in review and leave a comment on what you enjoyed or learned from the podcast. And this will help us to continue to bring these types of episodes and conversations to the industry, which will hopefully improve your business and in turn your life. 

Innovation in Construction: Using Tech to Tackle Its Bad Rep

Innovation in Construction: Using Tech to Tackle Its Bad Rep

There are a lot of stereotypes about the construction business, such as all projects go over budget and delays are inevitable. Most of them are dated and untrue, but these misconceptions still weigh the industry down. How? For starters, by making it harder to attract good workers and increasing skepticism by prospective customers. The good news is there’s never been a better time to work in construction, with technology at the helm of significant changes that improve how companies budget, report progress, and track issues. Fortunately, technology and marketing are the answer to freeing the industry from outdated stereotypes once and for all.

In this special crossover episode with the Bridging the Gap Podcast, host Todd Weyandt breaks down common stereotypes about the construction industry and shares ways to reshape construction’s image in 2021 and beyond.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Contractors should partner with their local trade organizations on community initiatives. The industry will be able to change the general public’s perception if everyone works together for the greater good. By working together on projects that give back to the community and unify to recruit for job fairs, contractors will begin to be trusted and respected by the community and each other. Trust and respect for the construction industry and the different trades benefits the entire industry. 
  2. Promote soft skills on the job site. Construction is not a muscle-only industry. The need for soft skills and tech savvy is only increasing. On-the-job training and fast tracks for promotion give anyone willing to do the work the opportunity to succeed. As an industry, we need to show that making a career in construction is rewarding, does not require extensive college debt to get into, and has unlimited upward mobility. 
  3. Sales and marketing are a huge part of the process today. Studies show that 85% of all purchasing decisions are researched beforehand online. If you do not have an online presence with a website and social media, especially LinkedIn, you are missing the opportunity to set the expectation for new clients. But having a website and social pages isn’t enough. Show off your diverse team, the technology you use and the quality of the jobs you have already completed. 

Make sure to check out the second half of our conversation on the Bridging the Gap Podcast! We discuss actionable steps to build a new reputation for your business by promoting the processes and technology you use on the job site and online. 

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrell:

Hello and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host Mike Merrell and today we are recording part one of a specials crossover series with a host of the award-winning podcast Bridging the Gap Todd Weyandt. Thank you Todd for joining us. I’m excited to sit down with you and have this discussion today.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me on.

 

Mike Merrell:

You bet. So before we get into the conversation too deep, would you give our listeners just a little bit of an overview in your background and experience?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. So my official title is Director of Creative Marketing at Applied Software and we are AEC and manufacturing systems integrators, so we tackle pretty much anything under the sun with AEC, whether it’s software or custom development or workflow enhancements, we probably have it covered there. And then through that, I get to host the Bridging the Gap podcast which focuses in on the innovation and the innovators out in construction and MEP. So we focus a lot on kind of what are those foundational elements to make technology adoption successful whether that’s on the culture side of things or business process side or the innovation and growth mindset that is needed to not only just survive the future of construction and the changes happening, but really thrive in that new year.

 

Mike Merrell:

Oh, that’s awesome. Yep. I applaud your efforts and enjoyed listening to your podcast episodes so far and love what you’re doing for the industry. It’s a great resource that can be really helpful to our brothers out in the field.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Thanks.

 

Mike Merrell:

You bet. So I guess kind of to get things started off, I just thought maybe we could talk about one of those quote unquote elephants in the room that sometimes happens in conversation about construction people and workers, just the stereotype that it’s grunt work and people that are less skilled in other areas end up working construction because that’s all they’re really good at. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, I mean it’s for sure a prevalent stereotype and I, true confessions, I have fallen guilty of that in the past myself, that it’s maybe just a job, it’s not a real career path. Some of the other stereotypes of it’s a dirty job or slow to change, stuck in the past, no tech. What I have learned though, I’ve been at Applied Software for almost seven years and doing the podcast for about a year and a half, and what I’ve learned over that time is that’s just so not true. There are so many cool new technologies coming into the construction space and there are so many people that have their arms wide open for embracing that technology, they’re just not good at sharing what they’re doing and talking about it. And that probably stems from a whole bunch of reasons. Chief among them is that the construction industry is full of a bunch of really humble people, which is great, and their head down, get the job done. That’s all they’re focused on, which is definitely, I’m not knocking that. That has its place and its advantages for sure, but they’re not great at sharing their stories.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. I think I would agree with that completely. I mean I grew up in construction company industry and, did some pretty cool projects, but when I go out and about and travel throughout the country and even the world sometimes internationally, I am just amazed at some of the structures that I see and some of the architecture that’s happening in this day and age. And I really tip my hat to the trades that are able to create these beautiful structures and incredibly, just almost inspiring buildings that are also structurally sound and built with quality.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Oh for sure. Yeah. I mean some of those are pretty just mind blowing, especially when you add in how modulars coming into the industry and that the offsite bringing in manufacturing principles. I mean there’s some just really cool mindblowing stuff out there.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. You mentioned a minute ago just kind of the stereotype that construction doesn’t necessarily adopt technology. What are some examples of some things that amaze you from the guests you’ve had?

 

Todd Weyandt:

On the technology side of things?

 

Mike Merrell:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Todd Weyandt:

Well I think what I just mentioned there with modular construction coming in and the industrialized construction that’s starting to overtake the industry, I think that there’s just really cool processes that they are able to get a lot more efficient, move projects a lot faster, and then really increase safety just by shifting into a different workflow with offsite and kind of pulling in those manufacturing principles and turning a construction site into a factory for all intensive purposes. Yeah. I think that’s some really cool things going on there that, it’s not a majority of jobs doing that right now, but I think that it’s going to be growing in popularity for sure.

I think another big thing is the construction industry proved over the last year especially that they can adopt technology at a rapid clip when they have to and start to put in place all those digital workflows, whether it’s as simple as getting on a Microsoft Teams application or something and having that chat functionality and collaboration within that platform. I think the construction industry has really proven that they had the chops to adopt the technology. It’s not as foreign as some might have you believe.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. And these younger generations that are coming into the trades and advancing in management roles as some of the baby boomers retire, we’re seeing waves of new technologies being adopted in all types of industries and companies that I’m seeing.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Oh for sure. Well they’re demanding it. The younger generations, it’s not a nice to have, it’s an expectation here. The company would be very strange and weird if they didn’t have the technology for millennials and gen Z as they’re coming into the industry now as well.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah, I like that. And you mentioned something a minute ago about safety and I think that’s another area that I’m very, again coming from the trades, I’m just very impressed with not only how incredible these structures are becoming and the methodologies that companies are building these buildings and that the engineers are putting them together, but these things are being done very safely at record rates and safety percentages that we haven’t seen in the past. So amazing.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, for sure. Especially all the COVID curveballs that have been thrown the way of the construction, for them to keep the jobs going this last year I think really speaks volumes to the grit and determination of the industry, but also the can do, get her done mentality of the industry.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. I think, like you mentioned a minute ago, that just generally the attitude and even the humility, the quietly just get to work, get their elbows dirty and just dig in and figure it out. I mean that’s definitely something that construction companies are good at doing.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Oh for sure.

 

Mike Merrell:

So what about when you hear things like when people talk about oh the projects are always late, they’re always over budget, you can’t trust a contractor as far as you can throw them. I mean what do you say to those types of stereotypes that also get thrown around on occasion? Or maybe shown on a TV show or something?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. I think that there’s such a broken cultural and communication aspect in the construction industry right now. One of the things that we talk about on Bridging the Gap is how to embrace those soft skills and what does that really mean. And I think, going back to the generational aspect of it, this is not a knock on older generations by any stretch, but millennials and the gen Zs are coming in expecting a little softer edge than what the industry has typically been accustomed to, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. If you take it to any extreme it’s not great, but…

Now I’m not saying everybody sits around all day and just sings Kumbaya by any stretch, but I think focusing in on the trust factor and having that as an undercurrent between those different teams is a really big opportunity for the construction industry because there is bad blood, whether you’re talking about between the architect and the GC to the subs to the owner, there’s so much people talking past each other and not really sitting down and saying, alright, where are you coming from, what are you trying to get out of this project. I don’t necessarily have to agree with where you’re coming or your process, but I have to know where you are at so that then I know what I need to bring to the table and how to communicate back with you. There’s so much of the industry of it’s just easier to push it down to somebody else, blame somebody else and really contracts are set up that way as well, too. You look at contracts and it’s if something is going to fail, it’s when it fails this is what happens.

And so that is just an environment that sets it up for that mistrust and all of that has a huge impact on delaying projects and slowing projects down because everybody’s now in this super cautious cover yourself mode instead of offering and really embracing that true collaboration. So I know that’s a big buzz word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but that’s because people have that mistrust and aren’t really taking the time to sit down and hear the other person’s point of view.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. You mentioned a lot of really powerful things there. And I recently just came from an AGC event, Associated General Contractors, for the state of Utah and it was their 99th annual conference. So really cool, big year, a hundred years next year. And it was an in-person event so with everything going on that was a lot of fun. And we spent a couple of days up there with a lot of our team members. And one of the things that was so inspiring, in our local chapter there’s a building, I think it was between $7 and $8 million cost for an AGC training center, and the vast majority of the labor, the materials, and the money to build that facility were donated by the contractors in the state of Utah.

And so there were a lot of what I call frenemies or competitive companies working side by side in tandem donating time, labor, money, resources for the greater good. And it’s all in the name of safety. It’s a safety training center for members of the AGC. So it was so inspiring and I was truly proud to be a member of AGC and to be a technology partner for companies that are members and just to see that incredible brotherhood that existed in that environment. I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about. We need to broadly do a better job of those types of things working together for the greater good.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Oh for sure. Yeah. I’m a big proponent of just having those conversations and humanizing the other person. I think that goes a long way. And that can sound super corny, but it’s effective.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. Yeah. And then one of the things too that was a big push, they have a hashtag, we build Utah was the hashtag. They had a really inspiring video clip of probably a dozen of these construction projects, highways, bridges, buildings of all the different contractors and little outsert quotes from different team members that were out there working in the trenches. And it was just incredible to realize the impact that the construction industry has on society in general. And I think sometimes we in construction even take that for granted and need to be reminded of this new term of being an essential worker. We’re all essential for sure. We all equal our part of society, but construction is just a critical component, especially the services trades and people that keep things going. And so it’s inspiring to be a part of it and we need to do a better job of reminding ourselves and others of that at times I think.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. More than agree with that.

 

Mike Merrell:

So tell me, within the industry, do you think sometimes we’re our own enemy a little bit or kind of need to be better proponents of this as we have dialogue within our organizations?

 

Todd Weyandt:

I think within the industry we are most definitely our own worst enemies there. And really the blame starts and pretty much ends within the construction industry on this marketing problem. Because if you’re not telling your story, who is? And you’re leaving that up to somebody else that does not know what is really going on. And that’s just silly.

 

Mike Merrell:

Almost like the TV sitcom persona of a construction worker?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. And they have no idea what actually goes on in construction. Most people within the industry doesn’t really fully understand the scope of what all is going on. Like what you were saying there about construction and the essential worker, maybe it stems back to that humility again, that construction is so just head down, let’s get this project where we’re all in on the specs and the criteria for this one thing that it’s hard to stop and kind of lift your head up and see that bigger picture of the impact that construction really has on society at large. With the, I’m going to get these stats wrong, but with the population booming as what it is worldwide, it’s something by like 2050 there’s going to be like a couple of hundred more New Yorks in scale and size that are being built within the world. That’s insane. And that doesn’t get done without construction. So I think being able to see that bigger picture in mind is huge for the construction industry and it’s something that, as a whole, we’re not very good at.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah, we’re building the homes that Google’s employees live in. We’re building buildings that Google operates or Facebook or Microsoft or Apple. We have a customer that has worked on all of those large projects in the electrical trades and it’s amazing how busy they stay in expansion of some of the world’s largest and most successful businesses that depend on them in construction to allow them to grow their business and advanced technology that we’re all enjoying today. Even that we’re recording this episode with.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean who would have thought that data centers would be the end all be all this past year, but that became an essential building because with everybody going digital and remote, it’s all about the data center now instead of office buildings.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. And all the buzz with green energy and solar. We have lots of customers that do solar or cellular towers or all these other things that we’re using to power our homes and our offices, our communication systems. I mean just, there’s no end to construction’s impact on every facet of our lives.

 

Todd Weyandt:

For sure.

 

Mike Merrell:

So with what’s been going on in 2020, do you think the notion has been shattered of technology isn’t really needed on the job sites or maybe some of the old school mentality that maybe existed a decade or so ago?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Man, I’d like to hope so. But I’m really curious about it because I think in large part, yes, it has. But I’m curious if when things fully open back up, do you start to see a slow creep back to that mentality and, oh, well that was good as a band-aid for what we needed during that time, but now we can get back to the way it used to be. I think that the longer everything is happening, that probably diminishes and people get used to it. And once you’ve had that taste of tech and efficiency and you’ve learned that it’s not super scary, I would think that that’s a hard thing to give back up. But I think it’s a really intriguing open question for sure.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. I know we had another episode, in fact one of our first episodes of, the very first guests that we had on our show was Brian Kaskavalciyan from a company called gFour marketing and he was sharing a sentiment that I’ve said for a long time too that we are not contractors, we are businessmen and women in the construction business essentially. And one of the most important things that can happen to advance that business is marketing our ourselves properly and appropriately. And that’s definitely one of the big gaps that I see even still in construction companies.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. And admittedly I’m very biased in the role of marketing has that it can play, but in my mind it really goes back to what I was saying about if you’re not telling your story then you’re leaving it up to somebody else. And at the end of the day, marketing is all about storytelling. People are visual. They want videos, they want pictures, they want to be able to relate to the human success stories that are in the industry.

And in my mind, at the end of the day construction is a people-driven industry and we just have to do a better job communicating what does that really mean, what’s the impact of that? You hear all these stories of the guy going into the trades, not going to college, he’s not getting $100,000 in debt and he buys his first house by the time he’s 24, 25 and he’s doing awesome and making a killing compared to the college grad that comes out a $100,000 in debt and gets a remedial entry-level job right out of school and it takes him years to catch up to where the guy who started in the trades is. So I think being able to tell that in a more compelling way is crucial to the industry moving forward. And really with the skilled labor shortage and all that stuff, I think this is a key component to that.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. There’s some very, very well paid employees in the construction industry in this day and age. No question about it. I think that’s a fallacy that a lot of people maybe don’t understand. What do you think about the younger generation coming through college and maybe coming out of high school now. What can we do to do a better job of recruiting and getting some of them involved?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. Great question. So I think being able, going back to those stories, I think that that’s huge. Find the people that have done it and help make them the spokesperson for it. Because it’s one thing to say that it’s possible, it’s another thing to show somebody that it was possible with, this is maybe controversial. I’m a Tom Brady fan. So if you would tell somebody that it’s possible to win seven Super Bowl titles and go to the Super Bowl 10 times in your career, you probably wouldn’t really believe that that’s true until you hold up Tom Brady and say, this dude’s done it. It is possible. That’s way more impactful than just necessarily saying the stats of what could be. So I think finding the poster boy, poster girls for lack of a better phrase is crucial. It humanizes that story.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. And if you pick Tom Brady out of a line of football players, he’s probably not the first or even the 10th through the 20th guy you’re going to pick by stature or his chiseled physique, yet any team in the NFL would absolutely love to have him, right?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Mike Merrell:

No. So there are, again, so we’ve talked about some of these things. There are a lot of things to be excited about that are happening in the construction world and in the industry. What are some things that you wish people were more aware of? Or if you could shine a light on something, what would some of those highlights be?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, great question. I think what excites me about the construction industry right now specifically is it’s at the start of its own industrial revolution for sure, which is really exciting. It’s already starting to take place and we’ve seen that, but there’s still a whole lot more of that curve left to go. And I think the technology leaders over the next decade, meaning what you have thought in the past of as the technology leader of the Apples or the Googles of the world, I think over the next decade or two you’re going to see construction being thrown in the mix. There’s going to be a construction company that rises up and kind of takes that mantle from one of those companies. And in my mind, construction is really the tip of the spear with all the innovation coming, all the tech that’s happening and that growth mindset and the hunger for getting better, getting more efficient, getting faster, getting safer. All of that is just an incredible soup that is being mixed in, is boiling up, and it’s just going to explode here in a little bit, which is, the potential there is what I people would latch onto more, that it’s an exciting time to be in construction.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. Do you think social media has a big role to play in raising that awareness?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think. So LinkedIn is my drug of choice. I like to tease. Yeah. I think LinkedIn is huge because back to the story element and kind of raising up those poster childs of it’s possible, I mean that’s where people are going to find those stories right now, is on social media. So whether it is LinkedIn or Instagram or Facebook, whatever, telling those stories and relating to the personal aspect of it, that’s huge. And that happens on social now. Love it or hate it.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. We have a local, it’s a welder actually, that did some work for my partner that’s our CEO called Yeti Welding here in Utah and he invested a while back in a drone and posts stuff every day and it’s fresh and it’s fun and it’s him rising his guys or him doing aerial shots of a really cool project they just did or some huge plasma cutting table just doing something intricate. And it’s very fascinating and entertaining. And they’ve, I don’t know how they have 14, 15,000 followers at this point and it’s just a small welding shop. They do some incredible work, but if you look at just even their Instagram page, it’s very impressive and you wouldn’t think they’re small at all by the projects that they’re doing. And so that’s an example to me of where he’s doing a fantastic job of marketing a great product that’s still maybe a little bit of a secret just because of their size and scope currently.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. And the great thing about social media is it allows you, what may have been a regional player can now spread their message anywhere. There’s no limits. And that I think is a really cool, exciting thing. Opens up a lot more competition, but it also opens you up to a whole lot more customers and clients as well.

 

Mike Merrell:

Well everybody says they have the best quality or they have some tagline that’s the same as a thousand other business cards say, but it is another opportunity to differentiate yourself. And if you believe in what you’re doing and you’re passionate about it, I think that shines through and that will resonate with them more than just another marketing slogan.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. I totally agree. And then you get to compete against the best and that’s something in and of itself there.

 

Mike Merrell:

There you go. Yeah. We actually have him scheduled to be on the podcast here in the next couple of weeks. So pretty excited for him to tell that story and share his vision of what they’re trying to accomplish and how it’s helped them win more jobs.

So we’ve talked about social media, LinkedIn, different mediums that companies can utilize as tools. I mean it used to be just, oh, we’ve got a website and you immediately were in the upper echelon of a construction company. And so I think we’re well past that, but are there some other things, I mean commercials, radio stuff. I mean, what other kinds of things do you see companies doing that you think are helpful?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. I’m a big proponent of videos. Whether you can release them on the website, you can do in email campaigns or social or a ton of variety and people are growing more and more and more to be visual creatures. And we always have been, but the video allows people to see it in real life and put themselves into that story and kind of latch onto it in a different way. So any chance that you can do a video, and right now everybody has the power to do really good videos just on their cell phones. The quality there is, that’s all you really need so don’t overthink that. Everybody can be a videographer now.

 

Mike Merrell:

Well that’s a great point. And even as a learning tool for within the trades. I built a fire pit in my backyard of my home a few months back and I just looked it up on YouTube. I had a friend that had done it and I was laying cinder blocks and running gas piping and cutting out sheet metal, every step. Grouting, laying stone. And I come from construction so I’m pretty candy with some of those things, but I’d never physically done that. And it looks like I paid somebody three or $4,000 to do something that cost me about 800 bucks in materials and some labor.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. Nice.

 

Mike Merrell:

And it’s YouTube, right? So video can be a powerful tool to get the message out whatever it is you’re trying to do.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Oh for sure. YouTube is, if not the biggest, it’s second as far as more people are searching for anything on YouTube even than Google too. I mean YouTube dominates search results.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. How important do you think sales people are in construction companies? I know a lot of companies adopt that and have them and then a lot of smaller companies it’s the owner or really the upper management are the only ones really actually selling directly. But what are your thoughts?

 

Todd Weyandt:

I think that there’s obviously a place for sales reps hands down. It’s a personal business in construction and that handshake or fist bump in today’s world, virtual fist bump, that goes a long way for sure. But you see the stats of most people, like 70%, 80% of people have done 90% of their research online before they ever want to talk to a sales rep now. So if that’s the only thing that you are doing is just investing in sales reps, well you’re missing the vast majority of your people and your potential customers. So you have to, whether you like it or not, you have to have a digital presence in this world. You have to have the website, you have to have social because that’s where people are going to look for you. And if you’re not there, you might as well have your closed sign hanging out because nobody’s finding you.

 

Mike Merrell:

Right. Yeah that can only reach as far as their vehicle or an airplane can take them, right?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Right.

 

Mike Merrell:

So one of the other things, and this just popped into my head, I mean a lot of the messaging that you’re sharing and the ideology is also that everyone’s in sales, even in the field, right?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Sure.

 

Mike Merrell:

They’re all a part of that sales arm and marketing arm whether they realize it or not. How do we help the field recognize their role in establishing that reputation and helping the company look as good as possible?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. I think it’s a great, important question. And it starts with telling them that they are and having that conversation. Because a lot of times, I don’t think that it stems from the people out in the field don’t care about it or they don’t want to embrace that, but they don’t think about it. They don’t, back to the head-down mentality, they’re like that’s somebody else’s job. This is my job that I’m getting paid to do.

And so to communicate that out, that goes a long way. And then follow that up. It’s not a one and done communication, it’s a consistency effort there. And then it’s a live by and set some examples. Have people throughout the company showing what that means. And maybe going back to the culture aspect as well too as I’m thinking through it is, in order to really market it well and to represent that well, you have to take pride in the company and the brand and what it all represents, which is the culture aspect of the company and making sure people are feeling heard and feeling included and feeling like they are valued in what they are doing and know the why behind what they are doing. And when they know all that and all those boxes are checked, a lot of that’s going to happen on its own. People are going to naturally start sharing what they’re doing and naturally start posting it out and talking about it more.

 

Mike Merrell:

So what I’m hearing is start the conversation and allow that message to bounce around in people’s minds so it’s top of mind and then you sort of go from there.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. Start with something and then share it consistently.

 

Mike Merrell:

So for a company that isn’t doing a good job of this or maybe for one that is, what are some things that they can do to start really marketing themselves better? After they have the conversation, what are some steps or things that you would recommend?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah. Pick a platform that you want to do. Don’t try to eat it all at once. If you’ve got a website, great. What social can you add in next? Then start sharing something. I know that there’s some people that are uncomfortable talking about themselves and putting themselves out there and that’s okay. You don’t have to. Brag on an employee, brag on a client, take a picture on a job site and share what you appreciated. It doesn’t have to be anything super complex or super intense. It takes you 60 seconds to do a post and just tag somebody and let it go from there and you’ll be amazed at how it takes off.

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah. And I think, I mean one bit of advice I would share with the listeners, just last week for the first time I posted something on LinkedIn that I like to trail run, get up in the mountains, and I was on a trail run and I thought, you know what? I’m just going to introduce myself as Mike Merrell the trail runner today that works with WorkMax and is a part of the team here. And I actually had substantially more engagement and interaction and comments and different dialogue from all kinds of people that I’d never heard from when I just posted a normal thing about our product or what we’re doing or an event where at. It was clearly more interesting and also stood out to them to just share a little bit of me even though it was on the personal side. So there there’s maybe another tidbit that the companies could try.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, for sure. Love it. I think one of the things to think about and have in the back of your mind is what makes you stop and catches your attention when you’re on social. Chances are if it’s making you stop there’s probably something there to it to use that as inspiration and an example.

 

Mike Merrell:

I love that. That’s a great point. So take note of the things that catch your eye is what you’re saying.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely.

 

Mike Merrell:

Love it. Well great. Well so to kind of wind things up a little bit, just like ask kind of a few questions here at the end and get your feedback on. So what’s one skill that you’ve mastered or that you feel like you’ve been able to really take advantage of that’s made a positive impact on your business life?

 

Todd Weyandt:

I don’t know if I’m a master at anything. But I’d like to think of telling those stories and championing the innovation in the industry and maybe tie that with because I think they all play hand in hand with the healthy team culture.

 

Mike Merrell:

I love it. Good. What about something that you do regularly that’s become your go-to kind of your superpower, something you’re really good at? What’s your one habit that you lean on to help you be productive?

 

Todd Weyandt:

I lean into conversations. So I will sit down and talk with pretty much anybody and really seeking to learn insights there. I am not the smartest person in the room, I will fully admit that, and I want to learn from smart people.

 

Mike Merrell:

I love that. Yeah. Always be learning, right?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah.

 

Mike Merrell:

Is there a mistake you’ve ever made or something that you wish you would’ve done a little bit differently that you could help steer others away from and maybe avoid?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Just one mistake?

 

Mike Merrell:

Yeah

 

Todd Weyandt:

Lots of mistakes. I think my biggest one is fighting the desire to control every aspect and details. I can be a bit of a control freak and perfectionist that I have to reign that in and learn that there’s beauty in relying on the team and trusting them to handle things even if it’s different than how I would go about it.

 

Mike Merrell:

Valuable advice. I think I could surely take a lesson from that. So the last thing. So if the listeners are to walk away from this conversation with one thing in mind, what would you remind them of here at the end today?

 

Todd Weyandt:

Perception is reality and don’t underestimate the power and potential that that holds. One of my mentors always says, “I’m not what I think I am. I’m not what you think I am. I’m what I think you think I am.” Meaning it’s all about perception. So it’s how I’m seeing the world through your eyes, which there’s a lot of gray in there, but keep that in mind. Perception is important to tell your stories. Don’t leave it up to other people’s perception. Paint that picture of what you want them to do and look for those ways to innovate even small things. And there’s always ways that you can improve and up your game there.

 

Mike Merrell:

That’s awesome. Love it. Well thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate the conversation Todd. Looking forward to the second half of this.

 

Todd Weyandt:

Absolutely. Thank you.

 

Mike Merrell:

And thank you guests for joining on the Mobile Workforce podcast today, sponsored by about Ten Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Todd and I had today, please give us a rating and review on your favorite podcast platform and a five stars works great for us. Also you can follow us on LinkedIn or Instagram at WorkMax_. And also please make sure that you listen to the conclusion of this two part series with Todd on the Bridging the Gap podcast which Todd hosts also. And he’s got a lot of other wonderful episodes to share there so encourage you to check those out as well. Thanks again and we look forward to continuing to bring you these valuable episodes. Again, those ratings and reviews really help us to bring these valuable conversations to help you improve your business and your life.