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My First Blog Post

This is the post excerpt.

This is my very first post. With this blog, we hope to cover the construction industry issues that are important to the AEC industry in Pennsylvania. While the Keystone Contractors Association cover most of the state, we may not be in the know on all issues. If you’d like to guest write, please let me know. You can either email me (Jon@KeystoneContractors.com) or call the KCA (717.731.6272). I’ll be sure to promote you and/or your company to make it worth your while for contributing something.

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Coaches & The Career Journal

Life is beautiful. I’ve been fortunate to find myself in unique situations to receive mentoring and advice from some awesome people along the way. Starting with my parents who taught me to work hard for what I believe in to excellent leaders in the Navy to many construction executives, there are so many people who I’m fortunate to have encountered in life. And I’m lucky for learning some life lessons from these individuals.

In high school, I played football for two dynamic head coaches in Paul Cronin at Trinity and Rich Lichtel at Mechanicsburg. Coach Cronin was the first person in my life who truly incorporated input from all levels. With young minds, it’s typical for coaches to have the authoritarian attitude and run the team with zero input. I can recall my freshman year and we’re hanging in the game with powerhouse Bishop McDevitt – nobody gave us a chance (probably even many of the faithful green). During halftime, Cronin spent his time with the offensive unit just listening to the linemen talk about what plays we should run; this goes on while the running backs, receivers and I were staring in disbelief for being shunned from participating in the offensive game plan. At the time in the locker room we didn’t realize it, but Cronin was building team chemistry by involving those who seldom are asked for their opinions. Total team engagement. We ended up losing the game, but our team won in life that night and we were better off for the remainder of the season because of that halftime.

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Over Thanksgiving break, I visited my aunt’s house only to learn that she’s downsizing and moving to a smaller home. Over the years, she collected some stuff from her nieces and nephews and now she’s in the process of returning these items. She gave me this gem that I haven’t seen in decades. 

When it comes to Coach Lichtel, I feel like there’s nothing I can say that others in the central Pennsylvania area have not already said about this icon. He touched so many people. But for me, it was a very emotional time due mainly to the reason why I transferred high schools at the tail end of my sophomore year. I only knew of Lichtel as the region’s famous football coach and I never met him. When we did meet after I transferred, he and I just talked like we knew each other years. Coach Lichtel saw a young soul in me who was at a crossroads in life and he wanted to lift me up to a higher road. We would just talk…talk about anything and everything; geez did I enjoy those crazy stories of his from his younger days. Looking back, I now know how important this was since so many at the time saw me as just a ‘football player.’ This relationship carried on after high school into my Navy days when I would come home and visit with him just so we could talk.

I think due to such positive experiences with my high school football coaches, as I was maturing in life, I found myself studying successful coaches. I started out reading about the greats – Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Mike Shanahan, to name a few. I pulled some great advice as I learned about how these leaders operated.

Then I set out to learn more about the current football coaches. I constantly read articles about coaches to see if I can pull anything from them for tips I can apply in the business world. How do they manage and motivate people? How do they interact with others during the game, practice, community, etc.? From the current coaches I got some good quotes, tactics for team building, and great suggestions for books to read to gather more advice. But then IT happened.

In early 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers hired Mike Tomlin. Since I’m a Steelers fan I spent a lot of time learning about this individual who was set to lead the Black & Gold. In articles and radio interviews, I learned about Tomlin’s career journals. Per the articles it was stated how he had a vision and he would jot down the way to achieve that vision. No detail was too small. He would write about how to conduct practices, team meetings, etc. All of these details and strategies were for when Tomlin landed his dream job so that he would be prepared to achieve greatness.

When I learned about Tomlin’s career journal, I was sold. You can’t just sit there and hope for your dream career to be given to you. You have to prepare for it. Now granted I wasn’t a little boy growing up in Mechanicsburg thinking: “I’d like to be a construction association executive.” However, that was the world I found myself in during my mid-20’s. Despite not setting out to work in this industry, I really enjoy it. Working for a Pittsburgh-based construction association, I sat through many board and committee meetings, educational seminars, networking events, community functions, etc. and after learning about Tomlin’s usage of keeping good notes, I started keeping a career journal. I created this career journal to put down in writing what I would do when I was running a construction association. I experienced many lessons learned over the years, and I jotted them down, but as with Tomlin no detail was too small.

When I was invited to interview for the position of Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association, I studied my notes and I came prepared to discuss the many ways that I felt this association could prosper. It was a very enjoyable experience that felt more like a few friends hanging out, swapping business stories and not a formal interview as it was. I still refer to this journal, adding to it so that the KCA can work towards being a better association.

My advice to my daughters is to think about where they want to go in life, a career journal is an excellent tool to help them get there. Maybe this journal could help others too.

Labor & Management – We’re Friends

NOTE: This week I had the honor of providing welcoming remarks for a construction labor-management conference held in Harrisburg, PA. This event was sponsored by the General Building Contractors Association of Philadelphia, The Builders Guild of Western PA, Keystone Contractors Association, and the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council. The following are my prepared remarks:

 

Good morning. How’s everyone doing today? To our Philadelphia and Pittsburgh friends, welcome to Harrisburg. I hope that you are enjoying yourself in central Pennsylvania. Before jumping into my remarks, I’d first like to ask Leo Gallagher to stand up…Leo for your efforts to create this statewide labor-management conference, I’d like to thank you and I wanted to make sure all of us here today know who the person is that’s responsible for this event. (clap) Thanks Leo.

My name is Jon O’Brien and I am the Executive Director for the Keystone Contractors Association. The KCA is a commercial construction trade association based in the Harrisburg area, with members located around our Commonwealth. KCA offers services in labor relations, safety, government affairs, business development, workforce development and community service.

When I was thinking about my comments for today, I kept going back and forth on which topic I should cover, either the ACE Mentor Program or Opioid awareness efforts. I ended up calling Leo and asking him what he’d like for me to express during my brief time on stage and he said to “just share a labor-management story.” So that’s what I’ll do, but first please allow me to briefly update you on the two topics I mentioned.

Concerning the ACE Mentor Program, KCA is proud to support this program that’s mission is to encourage high school students into entering the construction industry. ACE, if you didn’t know, stands for Architecture, Construction, Engineering. The central PA ACE Chapter is really unique in that this chapter allows students to enter into a professional track or a building trades track. The professional track focuses its programming on sessions related to A/E and Construction Management services. Due to our labor friends being with us today, I especially wanted to mention this ACE chapter in central PA with its labor track – and I believe this ACE chapter is the only one in the country to feature an exclusive labor track. If you’re not involved with ACE, I would highly suggest you consider it and help our industry attract future workers. Our labor track could be so much stronger, with a strong support cast from our labor unions.

Additionally, concerning ACE, KCA has been working with Penn State University and others to establish a new ACE chapter in the State College area. We could use help from labor and management to launch this ACE chapter. Please see me during the conference to see how we can use your talents, expertise and contacts to make this happen. Hopefully at next year’s labor-management conference, I can report that this ACE chapter has successfully been established.

As for the Opioids awareness campaign, KCA was all in this year, working with our contractor members to provide them with the tools and resources they can use to educate their workers on this critical issue that’s wreaking havoc on the construction industry. With these tools and resources, we are able to help our members start the conversation on this topic. During this year, we did a lot on raising the awareness on the opioid issue and educating the construction industry on this issue. We’re not done on this issue. You should expect to hear more from us during 2019. Later this week, KCA will be in Boston to strategize with the National Safety Council to develop plans to improve education of workers on this topic in 2019. Trust me, there will be more to come on the opioid issue from the KCA in 2019 and beyond.

Now that’s a brief update on two important initiatives of the KCA and our current efforts related to the ACE Mentor Program and combating the opioid issue. If anyone would like more information on either topic, please stop by our table in the hallway, as we have resourceful materials. But now, as requested, I’d like to tell a labor-management story. I’d like to tell you about my first day of work at the Master Builders’ Association, a contractor association based in Pittsburgh. Before jumping right to that day in 2005, allow me to set the stage.

After graduating high school, across the river from where we are today, from Mechanicsburg High School, I enlisted in the US Navy. I proudly served our country during the mid-to-late 1990s. After my four years in the Navy, I enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduating from Pitt, I started working for the SSPC – Steel Structures Painting Council. And actually my boss from SSPC is here today. Great to see you Michael Damiano, a person I haven’t seen since my SSPC days. At SSPC, I worked in the certification department and assisted contractors. I found joy in being an extension of a company’s staff. I liked learning about companies; how they operate; what their challenges are. I’m a sports junkie and I saw how successful business owners and coaches are similar in that both can drive their employees and players to higher levels and both can overcome challenges. I definitely enjoyed working on the management side.

After a few years at SSPC, a friend of mine told me about an opportunity at the Master Builders’ Association, and how this opportunity would afford me the chance to continue working on the management side. I was interviewed, offered the job, and accepted it. Prior to starting, my mindset was on this management position and what I can do to help business owners. Leading up to the first day, I was thinking only about what I can bring to the table to help business owners.

Well, the first day arrived – January 10, 2005. I show up, meet the staff at the MBA and then grab a seat in my new office. I sat there for about fifteen minutes, fumbling around with my new laptop when I heard a knock on the door. As I look towards the door, a head pops inside the office and I hear: “Hey you’re spending the day with me today. Don’t worry I talked to your boss and he’s aware of it,” said this stranger. I mumbled something like: “Excuse me, what’s going? who are you?” Then this individual said: “Hey I’m labor and you’re management; we’re now friends, we have to be friends to succeed. If you fail, I fail; and if you succeed, then I succeed.”  That person turned out to be Bill Waterkotte, who at the time was the number two person for the Greater PA Regional Council of Carpenters, which is now the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, a seven state labor organization in which Bill oversees.

Bill and I spent my entire first day of work at the MBA together, touring jobsites and getting to know each other. We’ve been supporters of each other since that day, helping each other’s organization succeed. That was a valuable lesson for me; the labor-management partnership is extremely important. There is strength in numbers and an adversarial labor-management relationship hurts both sides. This partnership can drastically help both sides; I experienced this firsthand at the MBA in Pittsburgh. Since moving to the central PA area, I see a need for a stronger labor-management partnership, which could help both sides in this competitive market that we face. I look forward to working better and communicating better with our labor allies in central PA.

Thank you for all for attending this labor-management conference in Harrisburg and I look forward to strong labor-management relationships moving forward.

 

AMB Incorporated: Say Hello to Heaven Brian

NOTE: Around five years ago I wrote the following article for BreakingGround Magazine, a construction industry publication that covers the Pittsburgh region. The article never ran, but after hearing that my friend, Brian McKay, passed away this afternoon, I felt the need to share it. Brian had one of the biggest hearts and would drop everything to help people.  Upon hearing the news of his passing, one of Brian’s good friends said to me: “There’s a big plumbing job in heaven that was behind schedule and Jesus needed Brian.” RIP Brian.

 

 

AMB is a well-known, respected name in Pittsburgh’s construction industry. Well, not the entire construction industry knows of this contractor. “We have our own set of clients that we serve and they keep us nice and busy,” said Barbara McKay, President of AMB Incorporated. “We’re pretty selective in who we’ll work for. Our focus has always been on quality in the field – not image off of the jobsite.” To illustrate their point one needs to only look at company vehicles and notice that they do not even place a logo on it.

“AMB is a very dependable firm and their field guys are very conscientious. I enjoy working with them,” said John Paul Busse, President of F.J. Busse, Company, Inc. “They have reasonable prices, which is great, but the part that does it for me is that they have the owner’s interest on a construction project. They ask the right questions and have the solutions to help a project succeed. Plus they understand coordination and schedules which comes in handy for digging as their excavating work can help other contractors on a project”

AMB is a certified woman-owned company that was founded in 1989 by Barbara under the name of AMB Excavating. The company’s initial mission was to handle the excavation services for Bryan Mechanical. “We started small, with a Superintendent in the field digging and me in the office,” said Barbara. The company grew over the next decade until it landed its most renowned project to date in Heinz Field. AMB joined a consortium of contractors to handle all of the underground piping at the home of the Steelers. The contractors included in this consortium were: Bryan Mechanical, SSM Industries, and Sauer.

Along with growing in size, the company also expanded its service over the years to include plumbing. Barbara’s husband, Brian McKay, joined the AMB team in 2004. He is a card-carrying member of Plumbers Union Local 27. He graduated from the apprenticeship school in 1983 and he went right to work for Bryan Mechanical. He worked there until SSM acquired the mechanical contractor in 2001. In 2004, when Brian went to work for AMB, he did not have to travel too far as the companies are in the same yard on Neville Island.

AMB has a pretty even workload of half its work public and half private. Some of the notable projects that AMB has worked on over the years include: Master Builders’ Association Headquarters, City of Pittsburgh Public Schools, PPG Place, Omni William Penn Place, and the University of Pittsburgh’s Chevron Science Center and Salk Hall. For the latter two projects, AMB was hired by Burchick Construction. “Brian’s hands-on approach always makes sure the appropriate resources and equipment are allocated for each project,” said Dave Meuschke, Vice President of Burchick Construction.

Today, AMB features three operators, four plumbers and Barbara and Brian in the office. One of the plumbers in the field is the son of Barbara and Brian – Matt McKay. Matt is a fourth generation plumber. The vision now for the elder McKays to assist Matt to succeed as an owner of a construction company. Matt, along with longtime employee Stanley Marciak, are both being mentored to be an owner. “My time is short in the industry. I want to make sure Matt is set up to succeed,” said Brian. “Matt is a graduate from Local 27 so he has the hands-on knowledge, but now he needs to fine-tune his management skills. I stress all the time how important estimating is – a bad estimate leads to losing money and you can’t have that when employees count on you.”

“I’m in a real fortunate position where I not only get to go to work with my parents, but I get to learn from them. While it’s a real hands-on learning process, I’m lucky in that I can walk down the hall and ask advice from someone that has been there, done that,” said Matt. “Going from a tradesman in the field to the office can be a challenge: you have to learn to operate a business and maintain relationships while cultivating new ones. My parents know what I’m going through and they are good at offering advice when I need it.”

Another point that the McKays stress to the next generation is to be active in the industry you work in. The company is signatory with Plumbers Local 27, Operating Engineers Local 66, and Laborers Local 373. Brian serves as the Chairman of Plumbers Local 27 Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, as well as serving as a Trustee on Local 27’s Pension and Healthcare Fund Boards. “Brian is the model Board Member,” said Rege Claus, Executive Director of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Pennsylvania. “He’s knowledgeable in the field, a card-carrying Local 27 member proves that, and he’s quick to volunteer to help the association. He serves on each of the MCA’s negotiation steering committees, plus he’s respected by his peers.” The last point is proven with Brian being elected to serve as President of the MCA.

Along with helping in the industry by serving on construction association boards, it is also important to be a steward of the community and improving the place you call home. The following story demonstrates the McKay’s hands-on, get-it-done volunteer spirit. Last year at a Pittsburgh Builders Exchange Board Meeting, Board President Brad Bridges of R.J. Bridges presented a community service idea for the association: they would renovate a home for the Habitat For Humanity. “Brad set his sights on rolling up the sleeves and getting to work and I told him that I was not sure how construction executives on the Board would react,” said Del Walker, Executive Director of the PBX. “When we presented it to the Board, the first volunteer amongst the group was Brian McKay. Then on the renovation day he shows up excited to work, but there was no plumbing work on this project. Instead he was tasked with building stairs for a deck and he shined at the assignment. He did a great job on the stair stringers and I was amazed.”

“I find it funny that people were surprised a plumber could have carpentry skills. I’ve spent my life in construction and picked up a few secrets from the other trades over the years from the many talented craftsman that I’ve worked alongside,” said Brian.

I Stand Corrected, but I still believe Safety First!

Last week was the fifth annual OSHA Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. The Keystone Contractors Association members joined the rest of our country’s construction industry in being excited about this weeklong tribute to safety.

This enthusiasm rubbed off on the KCA staff, and as a result I penned an article about how the staff plans to hold a Safety Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. We held the training and I’m glad we did it so now we’ll be prepared if something happens at our office.

However, after the training we were informed that while OSHA encourages training, if you’re going to hold a Stand-Down during May 7-11, 2018 and call it a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week event, then it has to be falls related. Upon learning this fact, the KCA staff had a safety consultant speak to the staff about fall hazards during the week so that we could state that we held a falls related Safety Stand-Down during OSHA’s Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week. We urged each KCA member to conduct a Stand-Down during the week and because of that we felt it was important to practice what we preach.

While I erred in encouraging any type of safety training to be held during the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week, I later discovered that the error was in the moniker I used in labeling the event during the week of May 7-11, 2018. Five years ago, this May week was originally named an appropriate title to try to help in reducing the number one cause of construction fatalities – falls. But over time large, national/global construction firms working through the Construction Industry Safety Institute (CISI) created Safety Week (which is held in conjunction with the Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week).

The aim of Safety Week is to raise awareness of the construction industry’s continuing commitment to eliminate worker injuries, and to clearly communicate the industry’s dedication to a culture of care and concern and the belief that every week must be Safety Week!

So, I messed up and called our emergency evacuation training a Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week event, when in fact it should have been called a Safety Week event. But I’m kind of glad I flubbed this one, because of this blunder the KCA staff received two safety trainings during Stand-Down to Prevent Falls Week and Safety Week.

Safety First!

Let’s Pause for Safety During May 7-11

This Monday marks the beginning of the 5th annual “OSHA National Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week.” On May 7-11, 2018, thousands of construction jobsites across the country will hold a safety Stand-Down event. It’s time ALL industries join construction and take a moment to pause and talk about safety hazards at work.

A safety Stand-Down is a voluntary event to allow for employers to speak with its employees about safety at work. Any workplace can conduct a safety talk, and any topic can be focused on – distracted driving, proper lifting, emergency evacuation, workplace stress, etc. Just because OSHA refers to it as: “Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction Week” doesn’t mean this week is only for construction and the only topic is falls. This week-long tribute to safety was born out of the construction industry and falls are the leading cause of casualties in this industry so I assume OSHA wanted to draw more attention and training to falls hazards.

However, over its brief five-year existence, this has grown and more and more industries are celebrating safety during this week. Every year more non-construction employers are holding Stand-Downs. In fact, OSHA claims that the largest single participant for one stand-down was the United States Air Force in 2015 and 2016, both times reaching more than one million military and civilian personnel.

toolbox talkThe Keystone Contractors Association is a commercial construction trade association. We hope 100% of our members participate in an OSHA Stand-Down this year. We, the association staff, are not construction professionals – we work in an office providing various services to contractors. But our staff of three will conduct our Stand-Down on emergency evacuation. Hopefully we won’t find ourselves in an emergency in real-life, but thanks to this year’s Stand-Down we’ll be prepared. This also shows that any sized employer can hold a Stand-Down.

Following the Stand-Down, employers should visit the OSHA Stand-Down website to download a Certificate and provide feedback on the experience. (https://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/index.html).  The sharing of best practices is an excellent way to improve safety and protect our workers.

At KCA we believe that teamwork improves safety and we hope that work teams across Pennsylvania will take a moment to focus on Safety during May 7-11!

Veterans – The Forgotten DBE

Last evening, the City of Harrisburg and the Capital Region Water hosted an informational event. The purpose of this event was to educate disadvantaged business enterprises on getting work so that small, emerging companies could perhaps gain a piece of advice or make the right connection to help their business. Awesome initiative – that’s why the Keystone Contractors Association was there to support it. The KCA looks forward to assisting in the delivery of more events that benefit DBE firms. The KCA has established and respectable construction companies that look forward to helping emerging companies, plus we represent quality DBE firms.

However, I cannot let an absent item slip by without speaking up. During the two-plus hours of speakers during the program, not a single speaker mentioned Veteran Owned Company. The KCA supports all DBE classifications and we were glad to hear that both the City of Harrisburg and Capital Region Water supports DBE participation on their projects. Both groups were pointing out how they help to get participation from the minority, woman, and gay-and-lesbian-owned companies.

But during all the speakers, I kept thinking: “What about the Veteran Owned Company?” The owners of these companies protected our country.  By no means am I saying that one DBE classification is better than another one – all are important and should be supported.

As a Veteran myself, who represents many fine Veteran Owned Companies throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, maybe I’m a little sensitive to this subject. To all the Veteran Owned Companies in Pennsylvania’s construction industry, KCA will work to make sure you’re recognized. On behalf of the KCA President Ron Virostek (Army) and myself (Navy), we want to thank each of the Veteran Owned Companies that belong to the KCA for their service and say that we are honored to represent your company:

  • Serviam Construction
  • AJ Roofing Inc.
  • Howard Warner Construction
  • RBVetCo LLC
  • Spartan Construction Services

 

2018 PA Budget Hearings with DGS

As was the case the last year, the Separations Act was a discussed topic during the Budget Appropriation Hearings with the Department of General Services.

In the Senate, DGS Secretary Topper was asked questions about the Act by Senator Folmer. The gist of the Secretary’s comments related around DGS experiencing increased administrative costs, but they are unsure if total cost is more. DGS would like to continue to study the issue more.

As for the House, Representative Everett led the way with the questioning. Topper echoed his comments from the Senate – increased administrative overhead in the norm for a Separations Act project, but he felt there was a need for more studying of the issue. Everett countered with hints about a new legislative strategy that allows for the current multiple prime delivery system to be used if that’s what the public owner chooses; however, the public owner can also select from other delivery options too.

Personally, I think if the DGS was serious about wanting to study the issue more they should make three phone calls to Pitt, PSU & Temple. When these schools receive state funds they have to abide by the Separations Act and build as the school’s call it: ‘the DGS way’ but when these schools build with their own money they build using Design-Bid-Build with Single Prime; Design Build; Construction Management At Risk; and PSU is even trying IPD. All DGS would have to do is review projects built on these campuses using multiple prime compared to using a variety of single prime. End of ‘we need data’ story.

Click here to hear DGS Topper answer questions from Senator Folmer: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/6d6hud1x5z