Co-Founder’s Corner: Is Construction Working Hard and Smart?

Last month, when the newsletter topic was distributed, I didn’t connect the dots that it would publish right after Labor Day weekend.  So many angles to this topic have been going through my mind and how and what to cover in this short editorial space.

I want to start by making sure each of you are familiar with Mike Rowe and his campaign, “Profoundly Disconnected”, that focuses on the college recruitment campaign from the ’70s called “work smart, not hard” and the history of bad advice that has followed ever since.

Is Construction Working Hard and Smart?

After 17 years in construction employment, my prior years of boots on the ground, and actively participating in industry associations, events and educational venues, I could tell you countless stories of those happy in their careers and successful today because of self acceptance, but not necessarily acceptance of their chosen professions.  I say chosen profession because, whether you fell into construction or selected construction from the start, each day you have a choice to stay in or get out.  There is a quote about war  by G. K. Chesterton that I believe carries into construction:  “ The true soldier fights not because of what’s in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”  This is true about the “A” players in our industry.  They care about the team, the project, and the client and are fully prepared and honored to serve on the front lines daily.

I have a six-year-old nephew who just recently started first grade.  From the time he was a toddler, he was stacking blocks, tying ropes, asking to take things apart and putting them back together, lugging things for fun–he’s focused, he’s driven, and when he gets his mind made up to build something, fix something, move something, or acquire something, he will stay the course.  I have commented before that maybe he’ll grow up to be a contractor only to hear others that are not in our industry say, “or maybe an engineer, architect…”  He even recently, when asked about new friends in his class,  said the other boys are okay, but he doesn’t really relate to them.

Let’s look at that comment.  Do people comment this way because they see contracting as a lesser vocation?  Do they comment this way because they just don’t realize the value of a contractor, someone who is happy to work hard and do physical labor for them?

It could be because their only experience with someone in the construction industry  has been with someone who didn’t appear to work hard, work smart or even remotely think about combining the two!  Do you know any of those individuals?  Oh, and for all you commercial guys who are  thinking this is just a residential or service- industry construction problem, think again! The” B” and even “C” players are throughout our industry.  Is it ignorance or is it choice?  It depends on the case, but either way, you can do your part to help them get better or encourage them to get out.  Just don’t let it go.  How can you tell?  Skill can be taught; attitude and aptitude cannot.

Whether you are working in construction labor or trades or construction management, be proud of who you are and what you do.  Your family and friends may have wanted you to be a doctor or lawyer or a desk jockey, but God created  you just the way you are and He makes no mistakes.

Consider the following industry numbers and share with those naysayers.

Construction makes up 3.6 % of the GDP in the U.S. (2012).

In 2011, annual pay of all construction workers in the United

States averaged $50,700, 6% more than the average for all private-sector employees. (AGC)

The average wages per profession in the United States:

Construction general laborer–up to $53,162, on average, a year.

Average wage of a 4-year college graduate in America, $44,259 a year.

Master plumber with 5-9 years of experience:  up to $100,671 a year.

Construction superintendent:  average $71,555 a year.

Average wage of an architect in America:  $76,750 a year.

Average wage of an attorney with a small firm in America:  up to $76,471 a year.

Average wage of a construction project manager with 5-9 years of experience in the U.S. (4-year degree): $85,500; and those who specialize and have additional years   of experience or additional specialized certifications or degrees can earn double or more.

Some other benefits of a career in construction are that many individuals earn incomes while they are obtaining their certifications or even their degrees so their industry experiences accumulate from the start, and starting as a general laborer right out of high school and advancing from there is valued as a plus, not looked upon as a negative. In addition, construction professionals are typically not starting a new career with $50,000 to $100,000 in student loans.

Not to mention, everything you do contributes to making the world a better place! (insert the contractor love poem link)

Now, here is where the work hard and smart comes in.  Many individuals in the construction industry are great at what they do: electrical, plumbing, drywall, supervisory of all trades, etc.  However, they lack the soft skills that you tend to see more in college-educated professionals.  What are some of the characteristics that  “A” players in our industry  (working any jobs) have that get them the “A” grades?

The individual must recognize that his or  her job exists to serve others.  Whether you are a laborer moving materials or cleaning a site, a handyman working at someone’s home or office, or a Super, PM or Exec on a larger project or development, if  you make an effort to help others around you achieve their goals by communicating effectively, working in a timely manner, cleaning up after yourself, working safely and communicating effectively, you will earn the “A.”

This means respecting others around you enough to never leave them wondering about where you are, what you are doing or how much it will cost.  This goes for clients, consultants, co-workers, supervisors and anyone who  will benefit from peace of mind.

In addition, communicate with respect, and lead (versus command) others. It is sometimes not what you say, but how you say it.

Lastly, never think you know it all or have the best way of doing something.  If you are not constantly learning something new, you will eventually be replaced or devalued. I don’t care how good you are at the main thing you do, it is not enough to withstand time.

If you are interested in learning how you can become more valuable in our industry to those around you, send me an e-mail at so we can add you to our mailing list for the upcoming Construction Career Builder workshops where you can learn your communication style, how to build your resume and industry value and what you can do to be part of the “A” team in construction.

This month, make sure to check out our blog (link) and learn something new from our partners! (link)

Happy Labor Day month!

Suzanne on behalf of Kent, Suzanne and the Construction Connection team!

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