Mon, 23 Jul 2012
Filed under: Lessons Learned,safety — Tags: apprentice, Breslin Strategies, changing labor union perception, college or apprenticeship, educational system, labor union, Mark Breslin, organized labor, registered apprenticeship, safety training, skilled workforce, union construction — Mark Breslin @ 12:56 PM
I’m sure that some people will disagree with the past tense in the title of this article…but in recognition of my previous sins, omissions and stupidity in the area of safety, I will confirm my idiot status. Years later, I did finally figure it out, proving that even the dumbest horse can be led to water and made to drink. But the stories noted below are true. They are from a two year period (many years ago) when I put myself through school working construction in downtown San Francisco. The company is long out of business. Big surprise.
I was twenty, immortal and clueless. I hefted the Sawzall again and began cutting the tenth pipe that day. The pipe wrapping exploded in a cloud of white dust and powder. It covered me as the blade bit into the steel. Sweating in the crawl space, in my paper dust mask, I cut those pipes for weeks on end as we did the demo and conversion on an old San Francisco tenement hotel. And at the end of those days, I looked like Casper the Ghost covered head to toe in white dust and powder. Just another construction guy doing his job. Except that the dust I was wearing and breathing was mostly asbestos. Know what? If someone had told me that, I probably would have kept doing it anyway.
Safety in the field is not about company rules, programs, training or OSHA. Safety in the field is fundamentally about influencing BEHAVIORS. Safety, when it comes down to it, is mostly about the individual worker selecting the appropriate behaviors in concert with his or her own interests as well as the company’s. You can give workers the information and tools all day long but if you can’t shape behavior, then you cannot create a safe jobsite. In my experience, you have to craft these behaviors; they do not appear on their own.
I dipped the steel wool in a canister of industrial JASCO paint stripper. Nasty stuff, thick and poisonous as napalm. Cloth gloves soaking through. Respirator with two month old filters, foam dust mask or sometimes just a bandanna. Stripping three coats of paint off 50 old hardwood doors. Stuff stank up an entire floor of the job. Just another construction guy doing his job. I knew it couldn’t be good for me but why do something different if no one tells me why.
There are many barriers to effective safety and injury prevention. The macho construction image. Poor pre-job planning. Employee denial. The “It won’t happen to me mentality”. No employer driven rewards or consequences. Every year scores of workers die in our industry and many more are injured. Some of these are flukes but many more of them are workers who made a bad judgment call, engaged in risky behaviors and ended paying the consequences. So who then is the person most able to influence these jobsite behaviors? The individual worker and his or her foreman.
I was stripping lath and plaster off of a ceiling that was just out of reach. I used the second to-the-top step on the ladder; the one that is labeled “This is Not a Step.” I believe the term to describe me at that time would definitely be “idiot”. With a twelve foot fall I only bounced once but the crew got a laugh out of it. I was both an idiot and a construction crew foreman doing his job. Setting a great example.
In the 1990s I taught many safety courses for construction field personnel. Over 3,000 students in all. In each class, I would ask them to anonymously write down the stupidest most unsafe thing they ever did on a jobsite and put it in a box. The responses were very scary. After lunch I would read the worst and finally nominate The Stupidest Guy in the Class. They loved it. But what I learned, after talking to hundreds of students, was that they KNEW they were not doing the right thing but THEY DID IT ANYWAY and that EVERY STUDENT HAD DONE IT AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER. It wasn’t ignorance or lack of training or anything else. There was just no compelling reason to do it differently, so they didn’t. So the real question is: can you as a trainer, up-front, provide that compelling reason?
Mike could not get the exact cut he wanted on his saw. So he pulled up the safety guard. Again. Like lots of guys did. Like I did. I was standing right there. Didn’t say a thing. Dull blades kick back. I knew it. He knew it. Combined with the open guard it was no wonder that after it kicked, it sliced right through his thigh. The wound was deep and nasty. But you know, guys still had their safety guards up the same week. I changed my blade; but that’s about all.
Training and apprenticeship programs can only do so much for influencing key behaviors. There is a difference between having a Safety Program and implementing one. There is a difference between having a set of rules and policies and enforcing them. There is a difference between telling the hands that safety is a competitive issue and rewarding them for it. To create safety as a profit center takes proactive contractor involvement in providing clear rewards and consequences. It takes setting up safety as a non-negotiable value system for a company and thus an industry.
All this is just fluff without the tools and resources to make it happen. But more importantly, the coordinated determination, willpower and discipline to change the values and behaviors that will dictate results. Everything begins and ends with attitudes and behaviors. The training centers and instructors do an outstanding job at forming the values and standards, but the contractors need to implement and reinforce effectively. Otherwise we’ll just end up with a bunch of boys (and girls) behaving badly; at our industry’s expense and their own. Take it from me. A reformed idiot.
Sat, 12 Nov 2011
Filed under: Lessons Learned,Planning Tools — Tags: apprentice, Breslin Strategies, changing labor union perception, college or apprenticeship, educational system, labor union, Mark Breslin, organized labor, registered apprenticeship, skilled workforce, union construction — Mark Breslin @ 6:34 AM
Graduation from a top performing union apprenticeship program is the equivalent of graduation from any junior college and many four year institutions. It melds technical and practical learning; provides payment for the duration and escalates the market worth of the student in visible and immediate ways. This preparation will lead to earnings over a 25 year career that will range between a million and two million dollars. In short, it is a hell of a deal. So how many apprentices really understand and appreciate the opportunity they have been given? Not many, I think.
These same students are being instructed by top craftsmen who otherwise could almost always make much more money if they decided to continue to work in the field; particularly those that would be in supervision. Selfless and dedicated, these instructors did not just wash up on the beach. They made a conscious choice to teach and help others at their own expense. How many apprentices understand the personal and financial commitment being made towards their success?
These are just a couple of examples of opportunities we have to both sell the value of apprenticeship and get the students to realize the opportunity that lays before them. It is a regular occurrence that apprentices write an email to me after one of my presentations exclaiming how they really never understood how they fit into the picture; or what was at risk or the true upside of their career opportunity. Beyond the students are the barriers of career counselors, parents and teachers who often still have a totally unrealistic view that everyone should be on the college track and that the trades are not suitable for a career destination. When people don’t get it, we lose. It seems more important than ever to tell our story effectively.
What are some ways to create a more comprehensive picture of apprenticeship and its benefits overall? Well here are a few:
- Host community events at the training center. Allow non-profits, schools and the community to utilize common areas during underutilized times. Seeing firsthand the training infrastructure will make a big impression.
- Review the career pyramid with first step apprentices. Show them the upward mobility of time, earning and opportunity in our industry. Right from the start we want to fire their ambitions.
- If your program provides college credits for apprentice courses, let everyone know that. Many programs now have the ability to sell a trade, a career and college credit – a very potent package that may attract a different profile of candidate.
- Utilize social media to tell your training story – especially You Tube. Right now do a search on your craft or Local Union on You Tube. See if what comes up promotes the best part of your organization – don’t be surprised if it alarms or dismays you instead. In today’s world your website should have streaming video, testimonials and all the key benefits of your training program, apprenticeship and the union.
Union apprenticeship is the best kept educational secret in North America. Let’s shine a light on it for what it is – for the student, the industry and the community.
I am hearing again about another round of economic stimulus checks being sent out in 2011. Wait – what? You know, the ones that are paid from taxpayer dollars and then given back to the taxpayers to be spent at Walmart or the Toyota dealership. Remind me again – exactly whose economy and what country are we trying to help? Did we did not learn our lesson yet?
The idea that “refunded” public sector money can be spent in three hundred dollars increments so that people will buy that new Ipod or flatscreen or Timmy’s Iron Man backpack is simply lame and unsustainable. Every single dollar that is going into these types of schemes should be directed at creating something of real value – infrastructure construction jobs. It stimulates OUR economy, creates sorely needed capital improvements, improves quality of life for entire communities, creates jobs HERE in the U.S., and can ramp up faster than any other industry.
What seems to be lacking in our economic recovery is a strategic model focused on delivery rather than rhetoric. Dems got hammered because they thought they had a left leaning mandate (and took their eye off the economic ball). Republicans are still DOA on the popularity chart but got a boost only because there is no alternative. Can we awaken them to a solution? Do you think that the mighty construction industry, employing millions of workers, and perhaps the powerhouse of our economy, should be heard from?
If political activism (not red or blue state) that is PRO construction was to tap into the millions of skilled tradesmen who perform the work (of which 30-40% are currently unemployed), it could be a political tidal wave. Politically engaged and energized, awakened from apathy – like soccer moms (except with beards and hammers) they could take over the this country, redirect focus on construction and manufacturing, and turn this economy around.
Wishful thinking or unfulfilled potential? You tell me.
Wed, 27 Oct 2010
Filed under: Articles — Tags: Breslin Strategies, changing labor union perception, college or apprenticeship, construction industry, labor union, Mark Breslin, skilled workforce, trade unions, union brand, union stereotypes — Mark Breslin @ 6:49 PM
If you surveyed a hundred sets of parents in society today and asked them what success looks like for their children, what answer would you get?
If you surveyed a hundred school counselors and asked them what success looks like for their graduating high school students, what answer would you get?
If you asked academics, legislators and others who hold sway on the court of public opinion and resources, what answer would you get?
In this day and age, can you tell the difference between college and apprenticeship graduation ceremonies? This is the 2007 Northrop Grumman Graduating Apprenticeship Class of Newport News.
That the kid earns a college degree. This would be the common identifier.
And I would venture to say that not one of them would identify a high paying, highly skilled trades career as the definition of success. Why? Because our industry image and story are deficient and unattractive. As time marches on, and the gap widens between the 21st century and our aging, out-of-touch locals, we become even more so.
Ask anyone who has not been on a jobsite, about a job in construction, and they are going to likely describe old stereotypes and images of an industry that has evolved. But everything from media images to our own lack of imagination continues to stand as obstacles to our attracting an enthusiastic crop of young people to join our industry. Now I know this is not the case in some communities, and having had generations of construction in my own family, I know there are exceptions to every rule. But simply put, it is time for us to articulate and illustrate the opportunities of our industry in a more strategic manner. And to do this I have three very specific suggestions:
1. Change our story.
Every apprenticeship program in the United States and Canada needs to become accredited to issue college credits. In doing just this one simple thing, we remove almost all parental and school counselor opposition to construction as a career destination. Why do most people join the military? For the educational benefits associated with service. Why not take a page from their long-standing recruitment approach and change our story profoundly. “Hey mom and dad, I am going to learn a trade and get a college education. I am going to graduate making $ 50-60-70K and have an A.A. (or close) degree too.” The apprenticeship programs in North America can stand up to nearly any junior college curriculum in terms of value, curriculum and scope of instruction. If we simply change our story a little, we can push aside pre-conceived notions of our industry that are outdated and create a dual track for those who want and need it.
2. Communicate the construction career pyramid.
Being an apprentice is just a start in the industry. Anyone with some smarts and ambition has unlimited opportunities from there. Journeyman. Foreman. Superintendent. Project Manager. Area Manager. Estimator. Operations Manager. President and Owner. With the demographic shifts occurring in our industry, younger people are going to be running our industry faster than ever before. The leadership opportunities within the next decade are going to be unprecedented. The opportunity will be there. The money will be there. The upward mobility will be there. It is time to communicate this more effectively. We are not just building a highly skilled workforce, we are building an entire industry of field, office and management prospects.
3. Pay more for talented prospects.
The average union apprentice in our industry is 28 years old. What the hell are we doing trying to pay these people $ 13 per hour? Are you kidding me? Many apprentices have to take a pay cut to get into their programs, but at 28 years old people have obligations, family and other financial challenges. Some will argue they have no practical construction skills at that point so why pay more. My take is that you have to pay for the future potential or you get the bottom of the barrel whose current market value is low and remains low. We are competing for talent with almost every other industry. Law enforcement, military, technology, energy, rail and transportation and many other industries are not going to start someone at some marginal wage and make them wait five years to make a living. Perhaps apprentice rates need to come up two or three dollars. Perhaps they don’t need full blown family health or pension benefits and these can be converted to wage. Find a way to put it in their pockets earlier or we are going to lose many prospective stars to other industries.
In summary, we are going to have to do better than the old “booth at the high school job fair” routine in the future. We are going to have to borrow lessons from the most sophisticated and successful organizations in North America if we want top talent. And it starts with something ever so simple. Changing our story.
The construction industry leaders that I know spend a lot of time developing and promoting a “skilled workforce”. I am of the mind that the time, money and effort to create a skilled workforce leaves a massive vacuum in the areas of onsite performance and accountability.
Skill acquisition has nothing to do with how they are going to use them. Skills are the base upon which jobsite behaviors determine productivity and performance. Weld the beam. Finish the concrete. Set the turbine. Spray the wall. Tighten the joint. This is tasks level action and thinking. Of course we want them to do it well, but we need them to understand why they are doing it and more importantly how they need to perform while doing it.
Our educational system nationally is pretty good at missing the boat in the same vein. Hey my 17 year old can tell me about photosynthesis, the War of 1812 and algebraic formulas. She can’t tell me about money management, relationship challenges, time management or other information that very well might help her shape her behaviors for better life outcomes. Simply put, if you don’t help people understand the context of their environment, then they are going to settle for whatever is provided to them and act in accordance.
A culture change of the magnitude necessary in our industry requires not only advanced skills but the hearts and minds of those possessing those skills. This is not touchy-feeley stuff. This is how you motivate people for maximum performance.