New Hampshire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute

Learning the Ropes in Construction
by Ken Lambert, CSI, Red Thread

We often hear how young people (high school and/or college age) are not entering the field of construction and the trades like they used to.   The statistics, and local anecdotes, bear that out.  We as an industry need to get them interested but then also train them and impart some wisdom. 

The topic got me to thinking of what I learned during my first 2 jobs in the construction/building field, and how that may help the newer colleagues in the industry.

My first job in construction was as a mason tender/general laborer for a family contracting company.  The second job in the field was working in a manufacturing plant for a well-known building products producer.

Before the age of 22, these lessons were engrained into me and now at 44 they are still decent rules to follow:
  • Be 5 minutes early for everything.  Never be late to a meeting or other key activity.  Construction projects are always fast-paced, and time is everything.  Don’t make other people wait around for you.
  • You cannot stay up late and then be useful at 7am the next day.  If your job requires you to physically accomplish anything, being at 50% capacity for the first few hours in the morning will not help your status with your coworkers, or the company.
  • Construction workers don’t get sick or injured- it seems.  There is definitely a bravado on a construction site that one does not see in a more white-collar environment.  I’ve worked alongside many guys that should have been in a hospital, but they were right there up on staging braving it out at 7:10 in the morning (for better or for worse).
  • All kidding aside, DON’T TAKE CHANCES WITH LADDERS (OR STAGING).  I almost seriously hurt myself the very first day at my first construction job- up on an extension ladder.  Set the ladder correctly, and don’t lean or bend over.  Sounds simple, but people get really hurt every day due to negligence in ladder safety.
  • The Golden Rule DOES apply.   Do someone a favor, and they will return it at some point.  There are many occasions where this happens on a construction site.  Don’t be a jerk- it will come back to bite you later.
  • Don’t judge people based on their background or prior life mistakes.   I’ve often said that when I was working at the mill/plant, I was amongst the 35% there that were not ex-cons.  It was certainly an eclectic group, maybe a bit rough around the edges.  In addition to various workers with prior legal issues, we also had several military veterans.   I enjoyed working alongside people that had some different experiences than my own, and the one thing I learned is that we all showed up and did our job.  That is the bottom line; nobody was better or worse than the other person on that site.
  • There is satisfaction in building something.   Today when I drive around all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I (almost) every day will see a building that I helped build in some fashion.  This is a great, concrete (no pun intended) example of accomplishment.

Readers who have spent much time on a construction site will hopefully agree with these basic tenets mentioned.   Hopefully those outside the industry have some similar experiences as well.  Either way, I can truthfully say that what I learned working as a high school and then college student helped shape my career and how I looked at work and the building field.

It also still affects me whenever I need to climb a ladder!