Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 6: CASPA Law Discussion

Back in 2016, when I moved back to central PA, I was welcomed with open arms by the KCA Board – awesome people, so thankful these amazing and friendly people are in my life and my family’s life. Outside of the KCA Board, I was fortunate to meet such great industry people like Michael Metz-Topodas. Michael’s an awesome dude and I’m glad to call him my friend. It’s crazy to think us two PA people could have met in 1990s when I was living in Norfolk, Va and he was living across the Bay-Bridge tunnel in Hampton Roads, VA. Regardless of when we met, I’m glad it happened.

Michael is a wealth of construction contract knowledge. Give this podcast a read below with this transcript or click to hear him educate Chris Martin and me:https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/business-of-construction-caspa-law-61532373/

Chris Martin (00:00):

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Building Pennsylvania Podcast. I’m Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing

Jon O’Brien:

And I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And today we are going to be talking with Michael Metz-Topodas of Cohen Seglias, and we are going to be talking primarily and asking Michael’s input on CASPA law and how that affects contractors throughout the Commonwealth. Michael, thanks for being here. Yeah. Welcome Michael.

Michael Metz-Topodas (00:40):

Yeah, it was great to be here. Appreciate it guys.

Chris Martin (00:43):

Thank you. I know we have a lot of questions, so let’s dive in here. And Jon, I know you wanted to lead with the first one, so let’s go from there.

Jon O’Brien:

Yeah. Michael, how about we start real basic. And how about just kind of explaining what is CASPA? The Construction & Subcontractor Payment Act.

Michael Metz-Topodas (01:05):

Exactly. Jon said it best the Contractor & Subcontractor Payment Act. Generally speaking is a statute in Pennsylvania. It applies to private projects and it outlines a certain requirements regarding payment to both contractors and subcontractors. In particular, it allows for either contractors or subcontractors to obtain additional relief beyond what they might be able to get in the contract or under Pennsylvania contract law, additional relief where those contractors or subcontractors have not been paid under the terms and conditions of their contracts in particular. It allows for an additional 1% interest penalty per month or sorry, 1% yearly interest that’s calculated per month on any unpaid balance and as well, one of the most aggressive features of it is it allows for a contractor or subcontractor who has not been paid to recover its legal fees for any litigation or other legal action that needs to take to get itself paid. That’s generally what the statute does. There are a lot of details that it provides for us to how you go about that. But in essence, it was created to protect contractors and subcontractors to give a little extra ammunition for them to make sure that they’re paid for work performed on a project. And that should be work that is undisputed with respect to the amount of what is paid.

Jon O’Brien (02:40):

You lead us off here. We’re setting a nice foundation there, cause we’re talking a little CASPA today. Michael, did an awesome job there. And as both, you know, Chris and Michael, as you both know, KCA does a lot with politics in the Harrisburg state Capitol. And it seems as though with CASPA every few years, this issue pops up and there’s a movement of foot amongst the construction industry to kind of tweak CASPA a little bit and improve it. And one of those tweakings came along last session and House Bill 566 came, which passed through the legislature and Governor Wolf signed as Act 27. And are you you’re pretty well versed on that, on that piece of legislation. Aren’t you Michael, you want to touch on that for a little bit.

Michael Metz-Topodas (03:35):

Yeah, no doubt. As, as most of the construction bar was certainly well attuned to what was going on with the changes to CASPA we saw it coming and we all eagerly awaited back in October of 2018 when that bill became law after it was signed a few months earlier it was certainly an interesting and compelling change to how CASPA was structured. I believe it came out of you know, a push from some of the subcontractors to afford them the opportunity to recover and still enjoy the benefits of CASPA because there they were being pushed in certain instances to forego some of the rights that they may have otherwise had. There are several changes that the law created for CASPA, but I really will only focus on the three major ones that became the focus of a lot of the literature and a lot of the discussions that the bar had regarding the changes. The first one involved waiver essentially the statute provided that any contract that asks or purports to have an agreement by a contractor or a subcontractor to waive that entities rights under CASPA, that provision, no matter how many times people agreed to it, signed it initially at whatever is null and void and unenforceable under Pennsylvania law.

Michael Metz-Topodas (05:06):

So that was the first revision there and made it easy for contractors and subcontractors with regarding those provisions, because they could sign the contract and not have to worry about waiving their CASPA rights cause it’s unenforceable. And it’s one less thing to negotiate. You know, during the course of ramping up to getting started on a job the second provision, the second change that the Act amended CASPA render concerned on concern suspension of work for either contractors or subcontractors. And it outlined a schedule that was sort of the floor by which a contractor or subcontractor could effectively suspend work. Oftentimes construction contracts will have provisions that require a subcontractor or a contractor to keep on working despite disputes about payment. This change though, is to make sure that if it’s an undisputed amount then a subcontractor would not have to keep, you know, essentially working for free or, or financing a job.

Michael Metz-Topodas (06:10):

That’s sort of the complaint you hear often from those in the industry, you know, I keep working on financing the job. And so these provisions now allow for a contractor or subcontractor to walk away only a certain procedures are followed. So first you have to wait for the billing period and the payment due date to expire. So at 30 days past the payment due date, a contractor or subcontractor can send written notice to the owner or to the general contractor form it as an agreement notifying that entity that payment has not been received at that point. However, the contractor or subcontractor still has to keep on working and another 30 days needs to go by at which point a second notice would be sent. Now, I certainly recommend that those notices identify the amount owed and identify all the 30 days has passed, identify the statutory provisions.

Michael Metz-Topodas (07:08):

And then also remind you the contractor or the owner that if payment is not received that in accordance with CASPA, work would be suspended. So after the second 30 days, you send a second notice providing all of the information I talked about earlier, as well as notifying the recipient that after another 10 days of nonpayment the contract or subcontract will have a right to suspend work and we’ll exercise that route. Right. and importantly to that second notice must also go to the owner. That’s in particular for subcontractors, obviously the general contractor is already going to be notifying the owner, but for subcontractors, they make sure the owner gets a copy of that second notice for obvious reasons an owner doesn’t want to see its project appended or, or paused for any reason, especially if it can make sure that just by putting a little pressure on the general contractor can keep the project moving along.

Michael Metz-Topodas (08:05):

And then as well as you can see, there’s an obvious benefit to the subcontractors too. So these are the procedures that somebody out in the field needs to follow in order to make sure that they can properly suspend work on a project for nonpayment of again, undisputed amounts. You can have this schedule short and I called it a floor earlier. You can have it shortened by way of contractual agreement, but you can not have it lengthened. So any contract that has terms and conditions that lengthen any of these periods for notice and suspension, they too would be null and void under CASPA. And therefore it would default to what is provided for the statute, the final major change that the admitted CASPA concerned with holding of amounts out an owner or a contractor can withhold amounts from the general contractor or a subcontractor for deficient work.

Michael Metz-Topodas (09:10):

However now under the new CASPA that owner or general contractor must provide a notice of the withholding and an explanation for the reason for the withholding and must do so from within 14 days of the decision to withhold, that applies irrespective of what other contracts or requirements might be. And also in terms of whatever payment schedule might be there. So once the decisions made about withholding there needs to be a notice provided if however, the owner or the general contractor fails to provide this notice then the right to withhold is waived and the payment must be made. So that’s a very important provision. It serves two functions, one, it allows the subcontractor or the general contractor, whomever it may apply whatever the case may be. It allows that entity to correct any work that might be deficient or address the reason for the withholding and as well it ensures that if an owner isn’t conscientious and just withholds the money, but it doesn’t have a good reason or cannot provide one.

Michael Metz-Topodas (10:23):

Then there, isn’t an unnecessary dispute over arbitrary withholdings and that the parties get a, that this isn’t used as leverage over a contractor or subcontractor for their work on the project. I know a lot of that gets, you know, down into the weeds as to how all of these things operate. And it’s really, we’ve given even a very you know precise recitation as to how these provisions operate. I think though that anybody out in the field can see that with all of these measures in place it changes the dynamic as to how a project would proceed. And it gives a great deal of advantage to contractors and subcontractors in the event that they are denied payment, that they are otherwise entitled to. And so it affords that, you know, money is flowing properly that there aren’t suspensions of payments you know, for reasons that aren’t justified and ensures that a project moves efficiently in a manner that’s beneficial to everyone.

Chris Martin (11:26):

Very, very thoroughly explained there. Thank you, Michael, for that, for the third item, though, the withholding that does that notice have to be written, or can that be an oral statement from the owner and or GC? I know that’s written notice written. Okay. Yeah. Just thoughts. I just wanted to make sure about that. And then as far as the suspension of work, there’s quite a few notices that you mentioned. So if you max out on all of those notices, you’re getting close to a hundred days, I believe, right.

Michael Metz-Topodas (12:02):

It could be that long, depending upon, you know, how the payment schedules are set up in the original agreement. Yes. And that was one of the critiques that was brought out. And some people said, well, wait a second. Yeah, that’s terrific. I can suspend work, but my goodness, you know, it’d be so long. I might already be done with my work. If you’re an excavator on a small project, you might be done by the time it comes time to suspend. So yeah, so the one hand there’s a certain benefit, but that practical consideration was noted that that said, Jon, there is a possibility that those who do have a shorter timeframe for work on a project could negotiate perhaps a more favorable schedule. It just depends upon whether it’s worth it to the subcontractor. And that really comes down to a business decision, but I’m glad you asked that question because it really gets down into the intersection as to what the law provides and then how it really operates for guys out in the field. Those sometimes can be two different things.

Jon O’Brien (12:57):

Yeah. You mentioned the site work. I was thinking that as well for the site work, but then also as far as the small, you know, mom and pop shops that get in there might do a little interior work and they’re done in a week or so, you know, their works long gone. And they’re the people that probably need this law the most. And they have to wait for a long amount of time like that. So I’m just thinking out loud here.

Michael Metz-Topodas (13:20):

Well, they might have to wait, but I think the other point is it just might not apply to them. And I think that’s what you’re getting at as well. And it’s a good point is okay, fine. Then they can suspend their work. They finish it and they move on all the other protections that cast before it’s remain. And so if there’s no dispute from the owner about that, the workers performing the money is owed, and for whatever reason that owner or general contractor doesn’t want to pay, they’re going to be subject to that 1% penalty among others. And as well, subject to attorney’s fees for the collection, if it’s a small enough amount, those attorney’s fees could be a substantial portion of the amount. You know, that entity is that business is seeking to get paid. And, that’s a great advantage to allow those small mom and pop shops, Jon, because you know, oftentimes those entities would forgo their rights and just say, well, I can’t go, I agree. You go for that money. It’ll cost me too much money to get what I’m seeking. Well, now, if you know that you’re protected by, but then you can go after the money you’re entitled to. So in that respect you know, cast was original provisions are the ones that are for some of the best protection.

Jon O’Brien (14:26):

Yeah. Good point. Good point there, Michael. Yeah. Also, I mean the law just recently went into effect this year. I believe. I don’t have the exact date, but it’s probably too early to tell any sort of actual feedback, you know, in the field feedback, have you heard anything at all?

Michael Metz-Topodas (14:43):

You know, we really haven’t, I’m kind of surprised by that. The issue of the suspension just hasn’t come up typically. We often advise our clients to continue to keep working on a project only because suspension and again, I mean, look, Jon, you got us right back to the, I think that the key point, which is the law can have its provisions, but what really happens in the field could be different. And that is that if a subcontractor or a contractor decides to suspend for nonpayment, if for whatever reason that entity, that business guesses wrong. And they did not have justification for suspending work, let’s say they were not entitled to the payment that that business was seeking. Then that entity would be liable for all the delay damages, the damages that flow from that suspension. So you gotta be careful now, granted, if it’s, you know, if it’s clear on the project that looked the work was done, there were no objections and then people moved on and, and accepted it then.

Michael Metz-Topodas (15:46):

Yes. I think go ahead and suspend it and not worry about any of the delays. But if there’s any dispute about that or any uncertainty, then you just need to calculate that risk. And the liability that could flow from that even so, you know a measured and calculated suspension you know, could be another way to make sure that payment properly flows. But again, as you point out with that kind of long period there, sometimes the work required it might be long gone long done and completed before that suspension period ever arises.

Jon O’Brien (16:19):

Yeah, that’s true. My favorite is whenever I find myself in the halls lobbying for bills like this and the various subgroups come up to me and they say, you know, if we could only work for your GCs all the time, we wouldn’t have to do measures like this, you know? And I’m like, yeah, but when we do measures like this, you know, we have to change the way we operate just to make sure we’re abiding by the new law and the new contract.

Michael Metz-Topodas (16:48):

Oh, that’s such a great point only because I don’t know, I know we, you and I have talked about this. Others may not know, but before becoming a lawyer, I was a teacher. And one of the things I learned as a teacher in terms of making rules or policy for people is you gotta make your rules for the worst kid in class, not the best kid in class, unfortunately. So good to see the same rule applies in legislation, right? Absolutely.

Chris Martin:

And that’s a good point, Michael. Michael, I have a question for you. So clearly you have a solid understanding of this law and really know how it, how it works, but if I’m a contractor or a subcontractor, what’s the process that I have to go through to actually make a claim or file under the, under the legislation. If I feel like I’m not being paid accordingly.

Michael Metz-Topodas (17:43):

That’s a great question Chris. And it’s actually a very pointed and almost obscure legal question. We have this debate in the hallways of our firm all the time. I’ll give you the short layman’s answer first, and then maybe we can get to some of the technicalities legally call your lawyer. And that started there. Quite honestly thankfully there, unlike the mechanics lien law, CASPA was a little more forgiving and doesn’t have quite the stringent requirements as to what you need to do to operate under it, separate apart from some of the withholding and suspension provisions. We already talked about any time we file, for example, our firm, we filed complaints against either general contractors or not paying our owners who are not paying we’ll include a breach of contract claim. We’ll include a casebook claim. And we’ll just do it as a matter of course assuming that there’s an undisputed amount for which payment is owed and I can get into later if you guys are curious to why I keep saying undisputed amount, but that’s, that’s a separate issue.

Michael Metz-Topodas (18:43):

But there is this sort of a stylistic debate as to whether you even need to have a separate CASPA account, and you can just put the CASPA damages as part of the breach of contract either way. The way to bring in the way they get recovery under CASPA is to, by bringing legal action. You could arguably, if you have an owner or a general contractor who is not paying, you could just make a request or a demand letter, a demand for that payment and ask for the CASPA damages. But I can’t see to any owner to GCs, we’re going to cough up the interest in attorney’s fees, unless there’s a court order, making them do it. So going to courts the only way and very often to you know, you’ll follow that legal action and then find some sort of settlement you know, that will account for some of those costs, but damages, if you can, otherwise just their mere existence are enough to drive people, to finding a way of resolving a dispute.

Chris Martin (19:37):

Perfect. Thanks, Michael. Yep. No problem. And that’s good for, for our listeners so that they understand, and I kind of figured the first response was going to be call your lawyer cause that’s what I would be doing too. So another question for you in your experience, is there a typical contracting category for that that typically has to fight for this, this form of payment? You know, you mentioned an excavator earlier, you know, like maybe there’s a, is it, do you typically see this in like tile contractors or, you know, residential versus commercial, like help us understand where the, that typically happens.

Michael Metz-Topodas (20:24):

I haven’t made any formal study as to any sort of percentages of that would be a fascinating question to see you know, it’d be a twofold analysis. Who’s not getting paid and then who’s bringing CASPA claims and they’re not always coextensive with each other. That’s not always the same group of people. But certainly I think as we all know, they’re the pressure flows downhill, if you will. And so very often we see a lot of subcontractors, you know, guys who are sort of towards the bottom of the food chain, if you will. Well, I should say the contractual chain only by way of just their positioning on a project. They sometimes fail

Michael Metz-Topodas (21:03):

Certain amount of pressure in terms of, you know, not being able, not receiving the payments promptly or, or payments that are owed or an attempt to try to leverage negotiation from the original amount agreed upon for work perform. And so that, that tends to be yeah. How it will play out. I think really to give a full answer to that Chris would be the subject of a whole another podcast. We actually, as a firm, do a whole presentation on all the things that occur on a project where there are pressure points applied to subcontractors to trim if you will, the amount they otherwise expected to collect for the work performed based on the agreement they have. So it’s a really complicated dance that occurs throughout the life of project. I have also seen instances where owners sometimes just are paying or a dispute them an amount of work. I think also to CASPA tends to come into play on some of the smaller projects only because it’s such a great mechanism to help obtaining payment obtaining payment where there’s, you know, you otherwise might think twice about going down a legal Avenue to obtain recovery.

Michael Metz-Topodas (22:17):

I think the other thing to your point in all of this, I know we’re going a little bit of a tangent here, but because a lot of these issues arise throughout the life of a project. I do have to repeat my warning earlier as to calling your attorney early and often only because this case was definitely a situation or any kind of payment issue on a project where I announced that prevention is worth a pound of cure and early intervention can sometimes be very effective, even if your lawyer’s in the shadows and unknown to the other parties of the involvement. I can provide some effective advice on how to proceed, you know, through the course of a project little field from what you originally asked. But I think it was such a good question that it inspired a lot of that additional information. So thank you, Chris. I appreciate that. That’s good. That’ll help your listeners here in the Building Pennsylvania podcast. So that’s great.

Chris Martin (23:06):

There we go. Yeah. Yeah.

Michael Metz-Topodas (23:08):

I would I know we’ve had a rather technical and detailed discussion here about CASPA and some people might find it overwhelming. And maybe just a lot of detail. And I know certainly there’s a culture and an ethic of look, let’s just get the job done. And I don’t disagree with that. I think at the end of the day that’s what makes our industry great is that there’s that focus on you know rolling up our sleeves if you’ll permit the cliche and putting up buildings and structures that people can use and, things that workers take pride in. But that said it’s always a shame to me when I see people, businesses sometimes, you know, businesses that have been within families for years, generations, et cetera, being shortchanged, any amount of money. And so there are ways of doing both of our roll up our sleeves and getting the job done, but also making sure that you don’t get short changed.

Michael Metz-Topodas (24:06):

And that’s what I mean again, earlier about early intervention with your council. We take calls all the time at our firm from people who are, you know, midway through a project, Hey, what do I do? And we offer the guidance to say, okay, here’s the end game. Let’s see what we can do about today. So we can safeguard your rights for later on tomorrow. And you can go back to doing what you do best. And that is like I said getting the job done. So that’s our role and that’s our philosophy. And we’ve been doing it coincidentally us for, for 30 years. I’ve been honored to be a part of this firm for now since 2014. And I love every minute of it. For a lot of those reasons you guys know as well as I do, we have a great industry full of great people. It couldn’t be more fun.

Jon O’Brien (24:52):

Absolutely well said.

Chris Martin (24:54):

Well, well said, I agree with you. That’s a great way to end it. And thank you for your time and definitely the technical information. Very good information.

Jon O’Brien (25:07):

I just want to remind everyone out there. This is a new law. There’s going to be a lot more questions. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Michael is a resource. But Michael, you want to toss your, your contact info out real quick.

Michael Metz-Topodas (25:19):

Oh, Jon, thank you so much. As you can tell, I kind of like talking about this stuff and I see each other at a lot of KCA events and he probably has always seen me quartering poor guys, lecturing them about everything. So it’s all good. It’s all good. It’s over a cold beer. So it makes it even better, but no, in all seriousness my contact information is on the web at our website. www.cohenseglias.com. I invite anyone and everyone to reach out at any time with any questions, always happy to talk shop about this. I’m always happy to help people out in the industry. As you can probably tell I love our industry. I love being a lawyer and I love helping people.

Jon O’Brien (26:04):

Well, thanks for the education. And I look forward to seeing you at the next KCA event,

Michael Metz-Topodas (26:08):

Jon, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the industry.

Chris Martin (26:10):

Thanks, Mike. And thank you for listening to the Building Pennsylvania podcast more episodes to come and we will talk to you next time. Thank you very much.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 5: Workforce Development, Sheet Metal Workers

In 2019 when I approached the KCA Board of Directors to suggest that we launch a podcast, the first question I received was: ‘what topics do you think we should cover?’ I said, I think the topics for construction are endless from safety to succession planning to business development to BIM to ……the list went on and on (trust me I was prepared for this question and reeled off a nice list). I ended with this list with workforce development. I said we should heavily lean on workforce development to showcase all the great careers in construction.

Now I don’t want to speak for Chris Martin, co-host of Building PA Podcast, but I think we hit a homerun on our first workforce development episode when we had Joshua Moore of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 12. I think Joshua’s passion and excitement for his trade come across in this episode. Below is the transcript and here is the recording: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/269-building-pa-podcast-61501833/episode/apprenticeship-training-sheet-metal-workers-61532372/.

Oh by the way, yes you do earn while you learn! Pass it on to future builders!

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building Pennsylvania. A podcast series dedicated to Pennsylvania’s construction industry. I am Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association,

Chris Martin (00:14):

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Martin.

Jon O’Brien (00:16):

So we have a great episode for you today. As you may recall, we like to focus on anything and everything related to the industry. Anything from safety, construction contracts, labor relations, you know all that fun stuff, but we also want to devote a lot of effort into workforce development and we’re excited to have with us today Joshua Moore from the Sheet Metal Workers Union, Local 12.

Chris Martin (00:42):

Welcome Josh.

Josh Moore:

Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me today.

Jon O’Brien (00:46):

Let’s jump into the meat of the episode here. You just want to provide a couple minute introduction on yourself just to let us know who we’re talking with. Okay.

Josh Moore (00:55):

Yeah, sure. I’m the apprenticeship coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers, Local 12 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but we cover 23 counties in Western Pennsylvania. And I oversee the apprenticeship and training for the local.

Jon O’Brien (01:08):

It’s a big territory you got there.

Josh Moore (01:10):

Yeah, we do. We cover quite a bit of a of area. So you know, we’re looking for people from all around Western Pennsylvania

Jon O’Brien (01:19):

And our industry definitely needs people.

Josh Moore (01:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Recruitment is one of the toughest challenges that we face along with retention. So it’s, it’s great to get something like this out here where we can we can reach some different people.

Chris Martin (01:34):

Absolutely. And part of our effort also is to work with local school districts and K through 12 educational school boards across the state. So for the benefit of this audience, you just want to introduce, what is a sheet metal worker? What exactly do they do? What type of projects, you know, all that good stuff.

Josh Moore (01:55):

Fortunately for a sheet metal worker, we do a wide variety of things. We have sheet metal workers that don’t touch sheet metal. You know, we have drafting people, we have planning and ticketing. We have estimating and we have welders, we have installers, we have all kinds of people and jobs within the sheet metal industry. So it’s not just specifically one thing.

Jon O’Brien (02:23):

So since it’s not just one thing, I assume that training is more complex,

Joshua Moore (02:30):

Absolutely. We’re looking for people that are interested in all kinds of different things. Our apprenticeship program offers people the opportunity to pick a career path. We’re a five year program. So they get to in their fifth year kind of concentrating on a particular sector of the industry, which benefits the member.

Chris Martin (02:53):

So it’s a five year program. Can you kind of walk us through the first year or two and you know, that obviously the workers are getting their feet wet and kind of understanding the trade and the industry. Can you walk us through that process?

Joshua Moore (03:08):

We usually bring apprentices in July. And that’s when they start their first year of apprenticeship. We, we go to school for a week. We’re a day school. So you go to school for a week, then you’re off for six weeks. Then you come to school for a week. So you do that five times a year. So you go for 200 hours a year here at the training center. But while you’re in training, you’re eligible to receive unemployment. So you’re not completely out of making a living as you’re getting trained. So you get paid while you learn. No one is having to miss out on making a living while they’re learning the trade. So you don’t have to be still living at home. You can be someone that’s a different stages of life and still become an apprentice with local 12. Those first two years you’re in and out of a shop. You’re learning the trade, you’re getting familiar with different aspects of the trade. So in those last couple of years of apprenticeship, you can kind of concentrate on what you like. And then after your fifth year, you become a journeyman. And obviously, you know, the sky’s the limit once that happens.

Chris Martin (04:24):

When you say that an apprentice or someone applies and it starts in July, is it only a small window of time for you to apply or do you accept applications year out?

Joshua Moore (04:37):

We accept applications year round. Usually our deadline is the end of February is when we’ll stop accepting them because we have to start scoring applications, getting interviews ready, getting things set up for the selection process to get into the apprenticeship. But there’s also a limited apprenticeship that you can apply for. Whereas you’re waiting to become a first year apprentice and to get into the program, you can work as a limited apprentice. What that means is you’re limited to a little bit of what you’re able to do. So you’re assigned to a shop. You won’t be out on job sites mainly because you haven’t received the proper OSHA training that you need to be on those job sites. So to keep you safe, they keep you in the shop. And that’s something that can help you out when you do go to your interview for your apprenticeship is that you’re already in with local 12, you’re working towards your apprenticeship and you’re familiar with what we do. It’s a little different, huh? Yeah, it’s it is. But it definitely helps. That’s someone that you’re probably going to retain as someone that has done a limited apprenticeship. They’ve kind of already know what they’re getting into when they get into the apprenticeship.

Chris Martin (05:52):

I like the approach that you’re taking, where you’re putting them in the shop before they’re actually out on the job. That actually gives people a good understanding. One other question for you, and then Jon, I’ll hand it back over to you, cause I know you have some questions for those listeners that don’t know anything at all about what a sheet metal does. Can you give a quick overview of what you guys work in HVHC commercial, residential, those types of things.

Joshua Moore:

Most of our contractors are commercial installers. They do commercial installations of duct work. We do things like a hospital work buildings downtown. We have a lot of work, fire, damper inspections things like that. And then on the shop, we have guys that actually make the duct they ticket it, they run it through, they make it, or the last tray that actually takes a flat piece of metal makes our own product and installs it yourself. We take it from the drawing board all the way to the job site and we do it from flat to finish. So as you can imagine, that opens up all kinds of different career paths within sheet metal.

Jon O’Brien (07:14):

We all know this and we hear it all the time, but every time I talk to schools and especially the students, they get amazed when the first question is, okay, how much is it going to cost me for this program? How much is it going to cost them?

Joshua Moore:

Free. Yes. Earn while you learn,

Jon O’Brien (07:30):

You gotta love that earn while you learn.

Joshua Moore:

And this is the one thing that we do ask is that you give us a little bit of time. You don’t compete against us with the training that you received. I think that’s a pretty fair deal. We ask that you work with us and, you stay with us and why wouldn’t you, the benefits are phenomenal. The opportunities are phenomenal. I, myself as a sheet metal has been wonderful to me and my family. And it’s been even better since it’s with a union contractor.

Jon O’Brien (08:09):

Absolutely. And since you mentioned benefits, could you touch on that kind of briefly?

Joshua Moore (08:13):

Absolutely. A first year apprentice starts out at $20.84. When a sheet metal worker gets out of his or her apprenticeship right now, they’re making $36.21, that’s with full benefits, that’s medical, dental, vision, annuity, pension. We have a benefit which is known as (?sp?) sashimi that you put into every hour. And what that is, is if you were to ever get laid off, you would be able to draw from that fund either monetarily for bills or for medical benefits. If you ran out of hours and you needed to supplement those hours to continue to keep your medical benefits, you’re able to do so. And if you don’t use that money, we are one of the last to have 30, 55. So if you have 30 years of service and you’re age 55, you can retire, you can then take that sashimi to supplement your healthcare and pay for that healthcare while you’re retired until you’re eligible for social security. So that’s a wonderful benefit that a lot of people don’t think about as they’re younger, because they’re not looking at that, but that’s something that is great for a sheet metal worker.

Jon O’Brien (09:33):

That is awesome. Wow, that’s fantastic.

Chris Martin (09:37):

We just you know, why anyone would want to go any other direction it blows my mind. So Josh, can you repeat that?

Jon O’Brien (09:48):

The wages again for a starting apprentice it’s????

Joshua Moore (09:52):

Right now starting apprentice first year apprentices at $20.84. And when they get out of their apprenticeship, they’re at $36.21, that’s a negotiated wage that will change yearly under this four year contract. So next year they’ll get a raise the following year, they’ll get another raise. So we try to stay in line with kind of what the cost of living, because that’s what we do. We work and live here in the community.

Jon O’Brien (10:18):

So you’re probably seeing all sorts of students. You’ve touched a bunch, you know, others, are there any sort of traits that you see that make one more successful than others.

Joshua Moore (10:30):

Self-motivators, someone that knows what it takes to be successful with someone that is able to motivate themselves to get up and come to work every day. These are adult jobs that require you to be here every day because they’re multimillion dollar projects. They’re very important in the contractors within this local depend on you to be at work. That’s it, you know, the skills will come with the training and the experience. But some things like that are very important for someone to be involved in the construction and building traides.

Jon O’Brien (11:10):

Okay. So picture this, you know, high school student, little Johnny listened to this podcast, he’s like, wow, the benefits are awesome. There’s pay, earn while you learn this all sounds amazing. How do I get in, you know, can I get in, hopefully I get in, in the future, but is there anything now, while I’m in high school, I could do to better position myself and better improve my chances of getting in with the sheet metal workers

Joshua Moore (11:36):

Being proficient in math obviously is very important in any building trade. But some HVHC experience, you know some welding shop experience things like that can really help out when you come to apply for your apprenticeship.

Jon O’Brien (11:56):

Okay. And is there a a good website or contact information for more information?

Joshua Moore (12:02):

You could go to www.SMlocal12.org or you could call my office at 412-828-1386.

Jon O’Brien (12:11):

And you said there’s 23 counties. So are there other locals in Pennsylvania?

Joshua Moore (12:16):

Yes, there are. There’s a Local 19 over in Philadelphia and there’s Local 44, which runs the central part of Pennsylvania.

Jon O’Brien (12:24):

Any other closing statements you have concerning workforce development or anything in general?

Joshua Moore (12:30):

No, just that right now is a great time to be in the building trades. We’re growing and we’re doing big things and doing great things here at Local 12. We got a new training center that’s getting ready to open up. We have some big opportunities here at Local 12, and we appreciate you guys for including us today.

Jon O’Brien (12:53):

Absolutely. We’ll have to check back with you every so often to see how it’s going.

Joshua Moore:

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely.

Chris Martin (13:02):

Definitely. Hey, Josh, thank you so much. I’m sure that you literally have almost eliminated the barriers or obstacles I should say to joining a union opportunity there is fantastic. So thanks to you and your and your brothers. And so thank you.

Joshua Moore:

Thank you. Yeah, we’re going strong and we look forward to seeing the new candidates coming to join the apprenticeship.

Jon O’Brien (13:31):

Take care. We’ll talk later then. Bye. Bye.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 4: Building a Safety Culture the Alexander Way

ABOUT THIS EPISODE: Since the KCA and its contractor members are renowned for safety excellence, we wanted to showcase safety with our podcast. Alexander Building Construction Company has a proud history especially when it comes to safety. Its founder, H.B. Alexander, was a pioneer in the area of construction safety and he was an active and early member of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Safety Committee in the 1950’s (two decades before OSHA was established and decades before construction companies placed safety as a priority.) Something tells me that Mr. Alexander would be proud of the work that its current safety director, Darren Rech, does to build a safety culture with the company. To hear the interview visit: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/safety-alexander-building-and-construction/id1506259467?i=1000470794135

Jon O’Brien (00:01):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building PA Podcast, a podcast for construction professionals living right here in the great state of Pennsylvania. I am one of your co-hosts, I’m Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association and I’m joined by my other cohost.

Chris Martin:

Alright, this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing. We tell stories for people who build things.

Jon O’Brien:

We have an excellent episode today, you know we’ve touched on so many topics whether it’s on workforce development, legislation, construction contracts, but I think, well, when we talk about safety, nothing beats construction safety…and we have a Bonafede superstar in the area of safety, Darren Rech from Alexander Building Construction. Welcome Darren.

Darren Rech:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Chris Martin:

Yeah, so one thing when we started with this podcast is, you know, we wanted to make sure to touch on a lot of construction industry topics.

Chris Martiin (01:04):

And when it comes to safety, we have this series and reminding other contractors just to get their feedback and their comments related to building a safety culture. So, you know, welcome to the podcast. And let’s talk about building a safety culture. What do you say, Darren? You ready?

Darren Rech:

Sure. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien:

Do you have any comments for our crowd or audience?

Darren Rech:

Not necessarily. I guess. My experience in construction is over 12 years in various managerial roles and I actually have a safety science degree from IUP, so I actually went to school for safety. And you know, I’ve been doing it now for geez, almost 30 years. So in various industries.

Jon O’Brien:

And how long have you been at Alexander?

Darren Rech:

So it’ll be in June, it’ll be seven years with Alexander as a safety director. Okay, thank you. Yes, we cover State College and Harrisburg and the surrounding regions, you know, York, Lancaster Williamsport, if necessary, wherever the job is, that’s where I go.

Jon O’Brien (02:22):

Okay. So your corporate wide with Alexander, you’re the safety guru, correct?

Darren Rech:

That’s correct. My title is Safety Director. We have at Alexander, a project in Mechanicsburg, the Hampton medical center project. It’s a Penn State Health project and we have a site safety coordinator on that particular project in State College. We had a site safety coordinator on our Paterno library project. And since that project completed, we have her moving around to different jobs in that State College region. So sort of helps. And she does a lot of the site assessments and whatever’s needed on those particular projects in that region.

Jon O’Brien:

Well, that’s a good place to start. So let’s talk about the two people you were mentioning there. How do you build a safety culture within them? You know, how do you coach them?

Darren Rech (03:24):

Yeah so my approach personally is one of coaching and mentoring. I’m not necessarily a, there were days of safety cops if you will, back years ago. And in this day and age with the workforce and different types of people working, really the method to get through to people is through coaching and mentoring and really just having an opportunity to build alliances with these people and build a rapport and build relationships you know, rather than the old yelling method or throwing somebody off the job. So that’s sort of my approach with our two site safety coordinators and they’ve done a good job adapting to our industry, especially the building construction and have come a long way and just, you know, sending that message out to their folks on their particular projects and in our region as well.

Jon O’Brien:

So you get a sense and you see that the buy in is there, you know, the people, your two safety professionals buying into the safety culture.

Darren Rech (04:27):

Yes, absolutely. You know, we have owners and we have some important owners who, who really value safety. And so when we can provide a site safety coordinator, you know, on one project, that’s pretty rare. Usually it’s one person per company hitting, you know, multiple jobs and doing site assessments and, you know, compliance regulatory assessments, things like that. So when you have multiple people, you know, you can create more of a focus on safety and you can drill down a lot more and into the training incident investigation, site assessments, and, you know, just have a well rounded safety program.

Chris Martin (05:05):

Do you find that the employees outside of the safety department are embracing safety? I mean, I I’ve been working in construction for about 30 years, just like you. And it seems to be this. Everybody might not love everybody, but everybody knows it’s of importance. Everybody recognizes how vital it is to the job site, but do people really buy into that safety culture?

Darren Rech (05:36):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And in reality, you have buy-in at various levels. Certain individuals will buy into it more so than others. And I find also that certain project teams will buy into safety more so than others. They’ll support the safety approach. They’ll do the initiatives that we typically set out for on those particular project. So, you know, it’s constantly up and down and we push this buying on a constant basis. And again, it’s really a lot of chemistry between the project teams and you hope that you have a team that a few people are buying into it and at least take the lead on safety for that particular project, because the way we’re set up is just really the site safety supers. I’m sorry, the site superintendent is in charge of safety, ultimately, but we have project managers, we have project engineers and also carpenters working on these projects.

Darren Rech (06:41):

So our approach is really to encourage everybody to buy into safety and have a stake in the safety approach. If you see something step up and do something to fix it. So that’s really our method of safety and communication is if you see something, make sure you step up, it’s not just the superintendent’s job. So that’s really what we try to push here.

Chris Martin:

And to that point, what are some best practices that you’ve seen instituted or are looking to institute at Alexander as it relates to that buy in?

Darren Rech:

So typically some of the methods we’ve incorporated where just tool box talks, for instance to discuss a task with your teams performance, or a morning huddle to discuss what task you’re going to do that week and have a review of that task and sign off by each team member.

Darren Rech (07:44):

So everybody has buy in. We also do what’s called a job safety analysis and really what that entails is reviewing what the hazards are for the task you are about to complete. So “do you have the right equipment for the job?” “Has everyone understood what is needed?” “Does everyone understand the hazards?” And so as a team, you have different levels of experience. Some guy might be working for 30 plus years. You may have a guy who’s, you know, maybe less than a year in the industry. So there’s such a variety of experience. And really what we’re trying to do is between each team member just communicate what the hazards are that they see and make sure they understand how they’re going to approach that. And what did we do to eliminate or minimize the hazard? So the job safety analysis, and we call it the thing card is something that we really push.

Darren Rech (08:39):

And we want to make sure that we understand what tasks the hazards are before we jump into the tasks. So oftentimes when I do incident investigations, a lot of times the correct or the root cause was some something to the effect of, well, we just, you know, we did something stupid or we knew better. And so, you know, many times, if they would just think through the task and pause before doing something, then often you get a good positive result. So that’s what we constantly encourage is the JSA – job safety analysis. Another thing we do on a monthly basis, we typically have what’s called a site safety stand down, and we will have a huddle. And it entails a group of foreman carpenters. It could be a project managers and we all walk the site together and we look for observations with deficiencies and things that need corrected and also you know, just pointing out things of areas of improvement.

Darren Rech (09:47):

And it’s a real collaborative approach. No, one’s yelling at each other or finger pointing. So it’s real positive buy in from everybody. And we typically do that once a month and, you know, we would buy lunch, maybe it’s you know, grilling hot dogs or hamburgers on the grill and you stand around and talk safety for maybe an hour, hour and a half with everybody on the job site. And so the personnel working, they typically have a good feedback response to us and you know, it’s well received. So it’s been an effective way of promoting safety and thinking about what they’re doing before they jump into their tasks.

Jon O’Brien:

Would you say everyone on the job site? So you’re including subs, consultants, anyone that might be on the site?

Darren Rech:

Yeah, that’s correct. So at Alexander we’re a construction manager and we have mostly subcontractors on our project. So these walk throughs will be mostly subcontractors. Oftentimes the owner will jump in and join us, but primarily it’s Alexander and our subcontractors and the owner at certain times.

Jon O’Brien:

For the client, what’s the owner’s take on not only the walkthrough, but the culture of safety at Alexander?

Darren Rech (11:10):

Yeah. So, you know, more and more these days, we’re finding owners who really look at safety and the culture of safety within your company. What we have is in every company what’s called an experience modification rating, and it’s a number used by insurance companies to gauge both past costs, injuries, and risk, or chances of risk. So the lower, the EMR of your business, the lower your workers’ compensation insurance premiums will be. And so what we’re finding is a lot of owners are really looking at that number. So if you have an EMR, for instance, of 1.0, that’s considered the average. And so to mitigate the insurance risk, they raised the workers’ comp premiums when your EMR starts creeping up over 1.0, right? And so, you know, the bad news is the, as an EMR increases, it sticks with you for about three years.

Darren Rech (12:14):

So it doesn’t go away after say a year. And as I said, more and more clients are starting to look at that that particular number. And you know, I sort of use the analogy, if you have your auto insurance premium, you know, on your personal vehicle, then you get into maybe two or three accidents a year. You know, what happens with your premiums, they shoot up, right? So the same thing is the case for workers’ comp insurance. And again, a lot of companies, a lot of owners, clients are starting to look at that EMR a little closely when they do their due process for a particular project. So it’s a very important number.

Jon O’Brien (13:13):

I heard on a conference call recently a comment, from I think a General Contractor from New York City I believe, and he made the comment that these young professionals that are coming out of a school they have been born and raised to talk safety. Their entire lives safety’s all around them. They’re always thinking about everything around them, and the educational process is doing a great job of preaching safety. It’s the old timers on the job site, it’s the guys that have been there forever and they’re like, Oh, I’m just doing it this way and I’ve always done it that way, you know? So yeah I’d like to get your feedback on that comment.

Darren Rech:

Yeah. That’s you know, it’s interesting. And I mentioned earlier, my approach to safety is more coaching and mentoring. And, you know, as we grow older into this business of safety and in some of our industry experience and your dad’s move on, you know, I’m seeing a shifting culture from that mentality. These, you know, a lot of these guys are getting older and they’re starting to feel their aches and pains and things like that that are creeping up after years of working in the construction industry.

Darren Rech (14:13):

So, you know, they’re starting to appreciate safety a little bit more, which is interesting. So it makes our job a little easier because they’re open to safety, suggestions and ideas to make their job easier. So, you know, ironically, I’m hearing a little bit less of the, you know, this is the way I’ve done it for 30 years now approach. So it’s been good and it’s been refreshing. And I think the culture of the industry starting to shift a little bit more towards that, you know, let’s do something safely and, and easier so we can, you know, go home safer.

Jon O’Brien:

Absolutely. And are you saying that too, amongst the younger professionals, their safety conscience too?

Darren Rech (15:16):

Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot of the folks coming out of the union halls and just entering industry in general you know, carpenters, electricians, plumbers laborers, most of these folks have the OSHA 30 hour training or the OSHA 10 hour training at least. So it’s been a good training for these folks. And, you know, I noticed on some of our projects that the owner will actually require that anyone working must be trained by a licensed OSHA 30 hour trainer, as well as maybe the labor has the OSHA 10 hour training. So there’s certainly a requirement from owners that a certain level of safety, the training is completed. And so that’s been a great plus as well, as far as culture and maintaining the safe culture.

Jon O’Brien:

I think it was maybe a year or two ago, you approached me, Dan, you approached me and mentioned a topic I’d never heard of before – Prevention Through Design. Is that still active on your radar? And if so is it a needed process during construction. And do you wanna explain what that is first of all?

Darren Rech (16:17):

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Prevention Through Design is you know, it’s a concept that’s been around for years and it has a little bit of a change in name, but ultimately what the concept fundamentally is one that you think of safety. You know, I’ll take building construction, for instance. You think of safety during the design of the building throughout the construction of the building, as well as the life cycle, after we’ve finished the building and the end user comes into occupy this building. We think of safety all through it from cradle to grave, basically. So, you know, we obviously want to work safely while we’re building it, but when we give up the project and the building is complete, and we turn it over to the owner who has folks who need to work daily in this building, or you know, different types of maintenance folks, they have to maintain this building and how do they do it in a safe manner?

Darren Rech (17:21):

So Prevention Through Design is really a concept of, you know, making sure that gauges, switches, light pictures and anything that must be maintained can be maintained in a safe manner. So the elimination of ladders, you know, maybe it’s a light the community lowered, so the bulb can be changed or maintained. And so, you know, the concept of just minimizing the risk is really what PTD is. And we continue to push that on all of our projects and we do it in different levels. It depends what the owners buy in from a safety standpoint and what they’re willing to spend with the design phase. So it varies in different degrees. You know, PTD is typically on one of our projects, but you know, we certainly continue to push it as a company and the certain requirements. So kind of in a nutshell, that’s what PTD is.

Jon O’Brien:

So it varies depending on who the owner is?

Darren Rech (18:34):

Yeah, varies, I guess of what it could involve. The occupants would be involved in the Prevention Through Design process and kind of let their opinions weigh in. Got some, right. Yeah, yeah. Really it’s driven by the owner. So the owner may say if, for instance, if the owner hires the architect, they, as well as the engineers, they really push the architects and engineers to design a building that’s safe, you know, for instance, a parapet wall should be at 39 inches. And of course there’s a cost to that. But if the owner is pushing the architect to design that building, regardless of cost, you know, you may have typically a 12 inch parapet wall on a rooftop. So if you can raise it to 39 inches, the folks who need to get out on that roof and maintain equipment and things like that can do so without fall protection, because you already have that parapet wall at the required height. So that’s an example of PTD and how the owner can certainly push it down the community to the architect and engineer, so to design it to be a safe building.

Chris Martin (19:44):

That’s a really interesting concept. I know when I worked for a contractor out in the central part of the state where your headquarters are, nothing against that company, but that just wasn’t happening at the time and that wasn’t a thought of how to you know, it was just, here are your keys, we’re onto the next project. And literally pulling together the ability to think beyond that is a heck of a great service for your customers. And as well as the people that are going to ultimately work in there beyond just the building and the trades and the other folks. So kudos to you guys for that.

Darren Rech (20:27):

Yeah. And that’s a great point too, cause I think really that that’s a key part of safety culture. And within Alexander, we have executive leadership who pushes safety. We have a parent company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and, you know that’s our parent company. And from our parent company down to Alexander’s executive leadership throughout, we have multiple safety directors. And so, you know, they’re really encouraging to know that they’re pushing safety and they make our life easier when, you know, they expect safe work projects and people were considerably. So, and they typically give us the resources as safety directors to do our job and, and do what’s needed to keep working safely. So, you know, really it did call it true from an Alexander standpoint.

Jon O’Brien:

That’s good. I’m guessing along that process too, there’s some good best practice sharing between your businesses and the safety professionals.

Darren Rech (21:35):

Yeah, yeah, that’s correct. And you know, in fact, we’re having a safety director meeting next Tuesday and the safety directors from each region basically get together. We typically do try to do one on a quarterly basis or at least, you know, twice a year. And we talk about best practices, what each region is doing for safety, sharing ideas and just really a good general discussion on safety on you know, where resources are needed and how we can do a better job and improve our project safety. It’s a great opportunity. And I, and again, it goes back to our executive leadership, you know, enabling us to do that and providing resources of your time away from projects and working on these ideas and concepts and making sure we can share these ideas.

Chris Martin:

It definitely starts at the top. Doesn’t it?

Darren Rech (22:33):

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. There’s no question that’s you know, if you don’t have good leadership in place who focuses on safety it makes it really difficult for everyone you know, working down to work safely and to really buy into it. So certainly starts at the top.

Chris Martin:

Well, that’s something we want to do also with this Building PA Podcast, do a lot of best practice sharing. We want to give good stories, good answers, hopefully something in there, some company or some construction professional heard something that the light bulb went on. And, Oh, that’s a great idea. You know, we should try that. So we’re constantly want to drive home safety on this podcast. And safety these days is not something that is sort of copied, right. You know, in the past, people wanted to keep their ideas, you know, because they were their ideas.

Darren Rech (23:31):

And nowadays I see a lot more sharing of ideas with safety to promote safety just between different directors and you know, safety professionals everybody’s willing to share their ideas or, you know, help each other out. And that certainly goes a long way with a more safety. And, you know, especially in the construction industry, it’s a pretty tight knit industry. So when you have different professionals helping each other, you know, helps us individually. And that certainly happens. And you know, at least with Alexander and a lot of the subcontractors that we work with, that’s it professional. So, so yeah, it’s really helpful. And you know, again, it’s about building, building a relationships and, and trust between each other.

Chris Martin (24:24):

Well, Darren, thank you for taking time to talk safety with us. I know we’d love to have you come back on and we can continue to have this conversation on safety. We can reach out to you in the future and have you back on the Building PA Podcast. That would be fantastic. Thank you. Brought a lot of great insight and best practices clearly from the Alexander Company. So thank you for that and thanks for your time.

Jon O’Brien (24:53):

Yeah. Thanks, Darren.

Darren Rech:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me guys have a good day. Thank you, you too.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 3: Evolve’s Workforce Development Efforts in Harrisburg

NOTE: This episode of the Building PA Podcast focuses on workforce development efforts in the City of Harrisburg by a company called Evolve. Unfortunately schools like Harrisburg School District turned their backs teaching its students hands-on trades and places like the Dauphin County Vo-Tech were bursting at the seams. Our region is lucky to have organizations like Evolve who take it upon themselves to guide youth towards the trades. Here is a transcript of our conversation with Evolve founder and president Patricia Robinson. To hear the entire episode visit: Building PA Podcast Season 1 – Episode 3.

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Building Pennsylvania. My name is Jon O’Brien and I’m from the Keystone Contractors Association.

Chris Martin:

And this is Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey, Chris, hope you’re ready for today. We’re going to talk some more workforce development. Hope that’s okay with you. I can’t wait. And I understand that we’ve got a great, a great person joining us to talk about that and absolutely. Yeah. We have a Patricia Robinson, the founder and owner of Evolve Training. Patricia is calling in from Harrisburg, I believe. Yeah. So welcome. Welcome to the podcast.

Patricia Robinson (00:43):

Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Jon O’Brien (00:45):

Yeah. So before we dive in and we focus on your efforts in workforce development, why don’t you let our listeners know who is Patricia and what is Evolve?

Patricia Robinson (00:56):

Well again, my name is Patricia Robinson and Evolve Training & Development is a training company. We focus primarily on personal development and professional development. And we’ve now moved into some other areas of development in terms of the trades. And we’re working with young people to help them develop a pipeline for students that are in middle school to high school age to be able to get into an apprenticeship program, or at least getting to a trades program that meets their skillset.

Jon O’Brien (01:37):

Now this day and age, it seems like workforce development is the big buzz word. Everyone wants to talk about it, whether it’s in the media, legislators, school boards, everyone’s talking workforce development. I can honestly say, even though I’ve known you a short time, a few months here, you talk the talk and you walk the walk, many people just throw that word out there. And, you know, for starters, before we jump into this interview, I just want to commend you for your efforts and keep it up. The industry needs this.

Patricia Robinson (02:09):

Thank you. Thank you. I truly appreciate that. Thank you so much.

Jon O’Brien (02:12):

Yeah. Do you want to just talk about the program for a little like the various trades that you that you handle?

Patricia Robinson (02:18):

Yes. Yes. We focus on primarily right now on three trades and those trades will be carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. We’re going to be moving in to other areas of three other areas, which will be HVAC, welding and possibly graphic design. But our main focus right now is carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. We are, we’re doing a six week program. That’s just how the program started by just looking at students who were not interested in going to a four year college and just didn’t know where they were going into, but asking the question, what am I going to do next? When I get out of high school, or even as young as middle school asking the question, like, what am I going to do? I really don’t want to go to a four year school. So I don’t know what direction I’m going.

Patricia Robinson (03:12):

And so we developed this program to start with middle school age, because that is the key. And I think the key point and getting them to recognize what they could be good at an early age versus waiting until they’re in high school. When they always already formulated in an ideal what they want to do or what they don’t want to do. And primarily it’s the latter. They don’t want to do it. They may not want to go to college, but they just still don’t know where they want to do. So we try to give them options. And these options are only mainly focused to low income students that are in an economic poverty in terms of just don’t have the resources to go to a school. But we want to provide them with some training skills that will help them identify a trade. That may be something that they will become passionate and doing, and then turn out to be a career, a lifetime career, and they be able to sustain themselves and their families for a long time? And so we start at middle school age because again, I think that is the beginning of really developing their minds and giving them direction versus starting at high school age.

Chris Martin (04:28):

That sounds exciting! Sounds like a really good stuff you got going on there. You mentioned carpentry and I believe you’ve presented the program to the carpenter’s union. Did they have any feedback for you? Any suggestions?

Patricia Robinson (04:42):

Yes, I’m working hand in hand with them. I was able to help them recruit a young lady into their program and she just graduated from their program. So what we’re trying to do is kind of work together and working at looking at our curriculum and their curriculum and combining some things together. And hopefully we will be able to collaborate on our efforts in terms of getting more students, whether it be diversified or just students into the program, because there’s a lack and there’s a shortage not just in this area, but across the United States and tradesmen. And so we want to identify those early so that we can start putting them in the places that fits them the best.

Jon O’Brien (05:28):

Patricia, you mentioned grabbing the students at an early age. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, like, are there mentor opportunities to help the students at that age. I have a middle school daughter, and I’m just trying to think of how to help her get to the point of knowing what she wants to do. And then the other side of that too…

Chris Martin (05:58):

Parents involved like help our listeners understand what kind of helps to bring that middle school age student along?

Patricia Robinson (06:08):

One of the things that we offer in our program is a mentoring program. So we just don’t train them, teach them the trade, but we also use that opportunity to walk hand in hand with them and try to develop not only their professional skillset, but their personal. So we identify areas like low self esteem. We also talk about entrepreneurship. We talk about communication skills. A lot of the kids that are going into the workforce don’t have good communication skills or also they don’t have good word work ethics. So we talked to them about how to really dive into a career choice, but not just a profession, but you also need those soft skills to help you continue to grow. And so we have mentors that are going to be side by side with these students to help them with financial literacy, because you really need to know how to manage and budget in the trades.

Patricia Robinson (07:06):

Primarily because they’re going to be times where you may not be working. This is the season where a lot of carpenters or plumbers, or, you know, if they, they may not have a job to go to. So we want to make sure that in the good season that they’re putting away, they’re saving for those months where they may not have a steady income. So we’re wanting to show them how to budget, how to manage their finances. That’s so important. And those are the skills that are not getting taught in middle school and they’re barely getting them in high school.

Chris Martin (07:37):

Excellent. Those life skills are needed throughout every industry. So that’s awesome. You mentioned middle school and high school. Are there are there certain school districts that you partner with or work with or do they support you? There’s certain schools help you out at all?

Patricia Robinson (07:54):

We are currently working with Steelton Highspire in Harrisburg. That is a small district and they actually have their middle school and their high school combined into one building. So we have been afforded the opportunities starting in January to do a pilot program around Evolve. We’ll be going in there three days a week for two hours the last three periods of their day and talking to them and working with them and training them on the trades. And so it was an elective for these students. So they are electing to choose this program. And we right now have about 60 students that will be starting in the new year, learning the trade. And no two trades that we’re introducing to them in the beginning is electrical and carpentry. As we grow in the next two years, we’re going to be adding on more of those trades because we have partnership with them for at least three years.

Patricia Robinson (08:55):

We are trying to also talk to the Harrisburg School District so that we can bring the trades back to their students. We have also had the opportunity to speak with cyber school, which is a school for students that choose to do their work on a on the computer. They want to talk to us about possibly coming in and teaching the trades to their cyber school students. So they have the opportunity as well. So in the year 2020, we’re looking to work at least with two other entities that want us to come in and train their students on the trades.

Jon O’Brien (09:33):

That sounds like 2020 is going to be a great year for Evolve and all those students that’s amazing. That’s awesome. Hey, one other question for you, knowing our understanding that you’re working with younger students and even the high school age students, what is your typical student like when they come to you? what’s the biggest skill that they have and that you find that they need?

Patricia Robinson (10:05):

Are you referring to the trades or just in general. Just in general, that will be communication. They have, most of the kids are coming with, they don’t know how to be effective in conversation. They don’t know how to handle their emotions. Right. Those are some key things that we have to work on, especially the emotional part get receiving instruction and receiving constructive criticism, those types of things, and then just their attention span because they are now in the computer day and age where kids are focused on the computer. It doesn’t talk back to them unless they require it to talk back. So they don’t know how to have a conversation. So we need to start training our kids on how to detach themselves from their cell phones, from technology, and really communicate one-on-one and build relationships so that they can be successful in whatever field or choice of career they go into.

Chris Martin (11:14):

Right. And it’s funny cause I have daughters that are in the age group that you’re focusing on and I tell them all the time, if you can’t have a conversation with me, you’re not gonna make it too far. And that ability to communicate. So I’m really glad to hear that you’re focusing on that as the first step before you even teach them the carpentry skills or the electrical skills, because that relationship, like you said, is so important to their individual growth. So fantastic to you, hats off to you for that.

Patricia Robinson (11:49):

Yeah. I really think that’s important. And it’s the key to, if you can be confident in yourself and, and the other pieces is if the self image, cause a lot of our kids really don’t know who they are and can’t identify themselves with what they should be doing, because they’re confused. They don’t know what direction to go in and often times some kids are thrown out and saying, you need to do X, Y, and Z, and they’re not given the right tools to be able to do it. So you’re not giving them the tools, how you expect them to be successful, avid added if they was never introduced to it. So I think that’s where we’re expecting them to be adults after they turn 18 and that’s not the case, so we’re doing them a disservice by not giving that skillset. And just thinking that they’re learning it at home and that’s not always the case.

Chris Martin (12:40):

That is so true. One other question I have for you, and as far as that communication skill, are you seeing that the students are getting into the building trades and are actually seeing that element of communications being applied in any way, shape or form?

Patricia Robinson (13:08):

Yes. Yes. I had the opportunity to speak with a one of the representatives from a company, a huge company in Harrisburg. I’m going to plug, or HB McClure. They were doing it at an expo both here in Harrisburg and some of my students were part of that career day. And they were so surprised at the knowledge. Some of the young ladies came to their booth and we’re talking about plumbing and putting things together. And they were so articulate in terms of what, where they got the full set from and how did they learn it? And so HB McClure reached out to me and said they were just amazed at my students wanting to know more about the program. So just being able to go into an atmosphere where they are, what’s unknown to them, but let’s pick something that’s familiar to them and be able to articulate what they learned was a huge, huge plus for those students because they have evolved. And I really was happy to hear that they were able to articulate.

Jon O’Brien (14:15):

Again, congratulations to you and the whole evolve team, because that’s a big element. And to see it actually in places is big. So congratulations for that.

Jon O’Brien (14:26):

You’re obviously only one person. So, you said you can’t teach everyone. Are there instructors on your team? And is that a challenge? Do you need more help from the industry?

Patricia Robinson (14:38):

Yes. it is a challenge and yes, I need more help on the on the team right now. I can’t say I’m a one woman team cause I do have some support system. Now we have about six tradesmen that are currently there working right now on a volunteer basis. Starting in January, they’ll be getting a stipend for working within the school district with me, along with me, I’ll be teaching the soft skills and they’ll be teaching the trades. I will also be helping with the trades because I’ve been doing it for a year now and I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t think I would be interested in, but I’m truly loving carpentry. I’m really loving working with wood. So yes, we do still need tradesmen, because again, we are going into different areas where I’m asked to help support other students in different areas.

Patricia Robinson (15:34):

So I want to be able to build a team of tradesmen that will be able to accommodate our growth. And so yes, I do need tradesmen and I’m getting tired, so I’m feeling strict, but I’m enjoying it because I’m seeing it making a difference. And I know that it’s going to make a difference and I want to change the story, the narrative that trades is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of career choices. It is not, it’s a thriving industry and not only that, it’s a skill set that will never go away. You will always be able to use it. And you will always be employed whether you’re self-employed or you go work with someone. So it is definitely something that we want to start talking to our kids more about in the schools and less about nothing wrong with a four year college degree, but everybody is not cut out for that. And everybody is not interested in that. And not only that the trades provides you with debt-free, if you choose to,

Chris Martin (16:35):

Well, it sounds like you have an awesome thing. I’ve yet to come to one of your sessions or meet some students. And that’s one of my 2020 goals to do that, to get more involved and help you out as needed. But for others that are listening if they feel inclined to help out or get in touch or to learn more about the program, is there a good contact information we could share?

Patricia Robinson (16:57):

Oh yeah. Yes. They can contact me on my website, which is www.evolvetraininganddevelopment.com. They also can reach out to me on Facebook, it’s under evolve, training and development, or my personal link, which is Patricia Robinson. My email address is Tris Robinson10@gmail.com. That’s Trish, T R I S H Robinson ten@gmail.com. And also my they can reach me at the office, which is (717) 608-2315.

Chris Martin (17:39):

Awesome. And we’ll make sure to get that information out as well as we promote this podcast. And you can tell you’ve done that before. You’ve got that down. Pretty good.

Patricia Robinson (17:51):

I’ve been speaking frequently lately. So yes, I’ve got it down. I mean, I can talk about it as much as I can and get it out as much as I can, but be able to effectively do it is important. So thank you for this opportunity to allow me on to share about the training program and what evolve is doing and how we are evolving in the community. I think it’s so important to have the opportunity. And so I appreciate you having me on today.

Jon O’Brien (18:19):

I’m glad we could do it. And maybe we could check back every few months and maybe talk to you and a student and then get their feedback.

Patricia Robinson (18:26):

That’d be great. That’d be awesome. Yes, that would be great. That would be great.

Chris Martin (18:30):

Well, Patricia, thank you for your time today. It has been very, very helpful and very insightful. And as your company evolves, no pun intended, I’m sure they’ll keep growing and doing all the things that you’re helping with young, young people learn our industry.

Patricia Robinson (18:50):

You’re welcome. Thank you. Thank you. Keep up the great work. Thank you, Chris. And same to you, Jon.

Building PA Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 2: COVID-19 Impact on PA’s Construction Industry

NOTE: This COVID-19 conversation was recorded on April 1, 2020; a lot has changed since then. For more information visit Building PA Podcast.

Chris Martin (00:01):

Welcome to the Building PA Podcast, a podcast specifically for the construction industry and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I am Co-Host Chris Martin with Atlas Marketing, where we tell stories for people who build things. And I’m with my partner, Jon O’Brien.

Jon O’Brien:

Hey everyone. How’s it going, Jon O’Brien from the Keystone Contractors Association based right here in good old central Pennsylvania. Hello, Chris.

Chris Martin:

Hello, Jon. Hey, I know that you have been a busy these days, and I know that, you know, our topic today is a very timely, special topic. We are going to be talking about, and Jon has been instrumental in this. So I get the tables are turned a little bit here. This isn’t our normal interview process, but today we’re going to talk about the Coronavirus and its impact on the construction industry. And like I said, Jon has been integral and very, very busy to say the least for the last few weeks. And even though this is not a typical Building PA Podcast topic, we want to start with this and share as much information as we can through the podcast platform. So, Jon, I know that the Keystone Contractors Association and GCAP, the General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania have been very, very instrumental in helping get the industry back to work these last few weeks, but can you explain for our listeners the difference between the KCA and the GCAP associations?

Jon O’Brien (01:50):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s probably good because there does seem to be a lot of confusion with the two different groups. So yeah, KCA, the Keystone Contractors Association is a full service construction trade association. We offer typical services that contractor associations offer like labor relations, safety services, marketing, community service, you name it, we’re pretty busy, pretty active helping our members. That’s KCA. So, yeah, KCA was founded in 1940.  And as far as GCAP, which is the General Contractor Association of Pennsylvania, GCAP is an association of associations. So KCA is a member of GCAP. And our other level one members include the Master Builders Association in Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, the General Building Contractors Association and GCAP’s primary and main purpose is to be the advocate for the commercial construction industry. Let me make that clear commercial construction industry, because that adds some confusion as well. When you mix in residential and people think we cover it all, but no, we’re busy enough just in the commercial world. Yeah.

Chris Martin (03:19):

That is more than enough time, effort and energy to be put toward one at one element.

Jon O’Brien (03:24):

Yeah. So, the for the staff, I double as the executive director of both KCA and GCAP, and I’m also the registered lobbyist for GCAP. So don’t hold that lobbyist thing against me, you know,

Chris Martin (03:40):

And, and more importantly you, that lobbyist hat has been in on your head for quite some time now for the last couple of weeks regarding the pandemic that we’re in, but can you give us an update on what GCAP is doing, but maybe some other associations are coming together to really work for the industry. Can you tell us what’s been going on?

Jon O’Brien (04:04):

Absolutely. If you like, why don’t I start with the work shut down. Governor Wolf posted the Executive Order on Thursday, March 19th, leading up to that Thursday afternoon, there was talk, you know, earlier in that week, and even the week before this might be coming, you know, once we heard NHL canceled and they’re not canceled, but postpone season of Major League Baseball, you know, all these big corporate events everything’s shutting down there is rumblings and a lot of rumors that construction might be shutting down as well. And out of the blue, out of nowhere on a Thursday evening governor Wolf just imposed a workstop of all nonessential businesses and per his administration’s classification, construction was listed as a non-essential classification. So being that, you know, I have a hundred members of KCA, and then you factor in GCAP with another 700 construction members….

Jon O’Brien (05:12):

So Thursday night, I think the Executive Order was issued around 4:00 PM or so an hour before the work day shut down. And from four o’clock till, probably two in the morning, I was on the phone all night, receiving text messages, emails. “What’s this mean” “what’s going on?” And there was no heads up that this was going to happen. As you could expect, because this was such a drastic measure, the communication did not stop Friday either. So it’s a Friday, yeah we had tons of questions Friday morning. About 7:00 AM I had a conference call with Labor & Industry. You know the while the Executive Order came in on Thursday, all work was to cease, I think, close the business that Friday, the 20th, and then it was extended to Monday the 23rd. But regardless of that time period, we got most of that and there were some issues with inspections because we already had counties that were getting hit pretty hard by the Coronavirus. So we had some issues and L&I was telling their inspectors, if there is any hesitation at all, and you don’t feel comfortable inspecting a job site, you know, do not go, just use your best judgment. From members they were saying the use of their best judgment meant none of them are showing up.

Jon O’Brien (06:48):

Yeah. So there were some major Philadelphia projects and they wanted to find out what was going on. So we scheduled this call first thing in the morning with Labor & Industry. And we’re, the call was just intent, designed to talk about inspections and how will the inspection process work during this, during this shutdown? And we were wondering, is it possible to do like virtual inspections? Is that even a possibility? And we’re still looking into that. But then at the same time with this shutdown and earlier in the week, other businesses were shuttering down. And this led to a, I think a five thousand unemployed, I got the numbers in my head. They’re all jumbled together, but there was something like 75,000 unemployment cases within the unemployment office in one day.

Jon O’Brien (07:47):

And then that just added up every day that first week. So Monday the 16th, 17th, 18th, I think by the end of the week, they were over 500,000. So that call that we just wanted to talk about inspections. We had tons of questions about unemployment compensation and, you know what should we be getting out to our members? What should employers be doing? What should their employees be doing? And, Oh, it was a crazy day that Friday. And then it did not ease up on Saturday, Saturday, the 21st, we had some good email exchanges and some good conference calls with GCAP and other government organizations. And now I was talking to a lot of labor leaders as well, and collectively amongst all of us, you know, labor-management, we decided that a good route to kick off our plan of action would be for GCAP and the Pennsylvania Construction Trades Council should send a joint letter signed by labor and management and send that Governor Wolf.

Jon O’Brien (08:54):

So Sunday the president of the Building Trades, my good buddy, Frank, Frank Sirianni. I hope you’re listening Frank. Frank and I swapped emails and texts and phone calls all day that Sunday, that would be what, I think March 22nd. We wanted to put together a nice communication to the governor and why we felt construction is essential to our economy and to our society and why we thought construction should keep working. So yeah, we finished late night, you know, midnight or so on Sunday, we had a product we were happy with. We sent it to the GCAP Board and were like there’s not a lot of time to review this, but let me know if you’re okay with this. Next thing, you know, Monday morning, March 23rd, some of the leaders on both sides, labor and management, weren’t quite sure if we should be reacting so fast to this shutdown order and, you know, there is talk about, should we let the dust settle a little?

Jon O’Brien (09:59):

I mean, we’re inside learning about this COVID-19 and the whole pandemic. We’re still learning about this. Are we really doing the right thing? You know, pushing the economy to move forward as if this doesn’t exist, you know, we should just ignore it and just keep working, you know, so there was a lot of questions internally, you know, and ultimately we couldn’t come to a decision. So we decided just to, just to sit back a little bit and let the dust settle. And when I say sit back, I mean, sit back on side of the lobbying. So while we were sitting out on the lobbying game, we kind of shifted our attention towards the area of safety and you know, through GCAP we’re rather fortunate to have that partnership with Master Builders and the General Building Contractors in Philadelphia. We’re fortunate to be partners with those two great associations. And we created within probably three, four days, maybe a week, we created the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Response Plan for Construction,

Chris Martin (11:19):

Excuse me, I know it’s good I’ve seen that plan. And not only is it thorough but it, it lays out a solid way for the industry to showcase not only how important this is to our industry, but more importantly, the level of intensity that we’re taking this as it should be.

Jon O’Brien (11:49):

Yeah. I mean, the plan is pretty awesome, you know, I mean, you saw it, but hopefully our audience as too. We’ve posted it online. It’s on our website. It’s kind of all over the place. I believe through the Master Builders and their Director of Safety Bob McCall. And I believe in Bob used a lot of connections and a lot of his relationships through the Associated General Contractors. He used those relationships to kind of form what I was calling the dream team of safety. I mean, they had safety professionals from across the country come together to really create this plan. And it’s awesome from details all the way down to making sure your autos and all sorts of transportation devices are cleaned daily make sure 24 hours a day, they were cleaned. You don’t see too many safety plans that go that into detail.

Chris Martin (12:49):

Yeah. That was one thing that I was shocked when I saw was just the level of detail that cleanliness comes into. And let’s be honest.

Jon O’Brien (12:58):

Yeah.

Chris Martin (12:58):

Our industry is not exactly the cleanest. So, you know well, Jon, let me ask you this, as far as the, you know, that process that you’ve gone through has there been any I mean, obviously there’s been a lot of progress since that initial announcement from Governor Wolf, but on the legislative front, can you explain a little bit about what not only the KCA and the GCAP is doing, but where things could potentially go as it relates to the industry?

Jon O’Brien (13:32):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So early on when the shut down order came, there was a process that the governor allowed to have projects get waived, you know, and they could proceed. Yeah. So there is a lot of confusion with these projects cause you had similar projects submitted by contractors and some were approved, some were denied. You had elected officials, you know, state reps telling contractors if your project gets denied, resubmit it again, because a different set of eyes might see it a different way. And sure enough, you know, projects were getting submitted and approved the second time. So it was, it was crazy.

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

Yeah. And then further confusing the matter was this past Friday. So that would have been what I forget what the, my phone’s a little slow…the 27th. So Friday the 27th in the evening people within the governor’s office were sending emails out to the industry saying that K-12 school construction work is now allowed to proceed assuming they get approval at the local level. So school districts would have to approve this process. And we had that added another layer of confusion because there’s a lot of contractors that submitted waivers for projects

Jon O’Brien (15:12):

You know, they were denied in some cases, in most cases, I think all school was denied up until the 27th. So they were denied and then schools, we had schools out in the Pittsburgh area, tell contractors, just keep working. You don’t have to worry about that waiver process. And we’re like, what? And then you get this one line statement from the governor’s office that Friday night saying, you know you’re allowed to proceed if approved at the local level. And we’re like do we need more proof than just this little email? I don’t know. It’s not even that the top official, you know, it’s like, you know, a couple levels down, they sending this email.

Chris Martin (15:50):

You know you have been working your tail off here along with so many others that are in the industry. And, I want to emphasize how much I appreciate not only what you’re doing, but what everybody is doing to help move this along. But are you, you mentioned earlier there was a, a little bit of a, you know, some contractors say, “hey, wait a second are we doing the right thing here?” Are you seeing that there is a I don’t want to say a separation if you will, between the industry one being, “Hey, let’s get back to work.” The others, “maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Jon O’Brien (16:40):

Yeah, I’m seeing that, but I think a good thing for our cause was creating that safety plan and we had some legislators in both the Senate and the House that want to legislate the industry returning to work, which I personally, I don’t believe that’s the right route to take. I think that would take too long. I think the better approach would be leaders in both chambers and industry leaders sit down with the governor and his staff and, you know, talk their way through. Cause we keep saying, you know, along with a safety plan

Jon O’Brien (17:21):

Much like the schools can work because you know, schools are shut down for who knows how long, at least until the end of April. So those projects can proceed because, you know, there’s a trust that the industry knows how to operate safely and there’s no students and there’s no faculty within those schools. And I think that same logic should be applied to the entire industry. And if projects are currently halted, you know, halfway through the project and the business has shut down, there’s going to be no harm to the community or the occupants, so the industry should be able to get in there assuming they have a good safety plan, which is part of the K through 12, the school districts approach, the plan at the local level was okay, the governor’s office is giving us the authority to proceed. Our only requirement is we want to see your social distancing safety plan and we want to approve it. And I actually heard just yesterday, there was a handful of contractors that submitted our GCAP safety plan as their company safety plan. And it was approved every time. So that was always good to hear when you spend time creating something and knowing it’s getting used within the industry.

Chris Martin (18:39):

Yeah, absolutely. Especially with such a quick turnaround. Well, let’s just get this because this is a thought that’s been kind of percolating in my head, but potentially when we are back to a, some level of normalcy, not only within the industry, but you know in society as a whole, has there been any talk about what are the steps when we get back to that normalcy? In other words you know, Governor Wolf said, okay we’re going to start off with no big groups of 200. Then it went down to a hundred, then it went to 50 then to 10 and then everybody stay at home. Is there a ramping up? Have you heard that there’s a ramping up process or are we still too early in this process to figure out how we’re going to get back to work?

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

Well they are letting some highway projects resume. I thought that was a no brainer because they’re outside. And when you drive by a highway project, I’m not a highway construction expert by any means, but when you drive by, you don’t see people on top of each other, they’re pretty spread out in the field. So there’s the social distance aspect is covered there. So yeah, let’s approve some projects to proceed. I believe they letting 61 this week and I’m hearing there’s going to be more as far as like I said, the school districts, they’re now in the process of approving projects to proceed. We’ve actually approached the administration and leaders in both the House and the Senate and said, projects are, like I said earlier, if a location doesn’t have any occupants in it, the industry should be able to proceed. I heard word from some legislators that we should legislate, you know, only 10 people on a project at one time, and I don’t know how you quite do that. You know, it sounds like, kind of Russia to me, you know, like how many people can go inside a building and I think that decision’s up to the GC and the subcontractors to manage their workforce.

Chris Martin (20:59):

Yeah. And obviously with a safety plan in place, or at least maybe it’s not GCAP plans that people are using, but their own individual plans. Yeah. There is a policy, but has there also been talks with more on the legal side cause this, that was my first concern when we started talking about job sites, getting shut down and those type of things, we have that with our clients too. But has there been any conversation from a standpoint of contracts and, you know, a start date is now let’s, let’s say this, the pandemic goes into May. That’s my stating this for the conversation. I’m not saying that’s what it is. But if it goes into May and there are job sites that were, or jobs that were supposed to be completed in May, what would be the impact to the actual completion of that project?

Jon O’Brien (22:02):

Yeah. I mean those questions are coming in. It’s just going to be a legal nightmare to answer your questions. It’s going to be, you’re listening to our podcasts. I mean, you have worries about the supply chain and, you know, is the material pricing gonna increase, contract and might’ve estimated steel at X. And now with all the, the issues when the industry comes out full tilt, you know, that price might be jacked up a little bit and, how’s that going to be adjusted? And you mentioned the schedules, how are the schedules going to be adjusted? And then, manpower within the unions I’m hearing now that the unions are creating two lists, a list of people that want to work during the pandemic and people that do not want to work.

Jon O’Brien (23:03):

So now as more projects go, there is a contractor able to work, but do they have enough people and as more projects come out, you’re going to need more people. Yeah. And then plus factor in the projects that can proceed now, the healthcare emergency repairs, the waiver approved projects, the PennDOT projects, there’s more and more projects. And I’m getting word this week that some subs’ workers just aren’t showing up. There was a project in a Harrisburg area where the whole subcontractor team didn’t show up. And they said, we feel as if we’re putting our family at risk by working at this time. And so I mean, legally, what do you do there? I mean, yeah, yeah.

Chris Martin (23:54):

It definitely kind of adds a whole different level to contract management and contract administration. Yeah. Cause I know I’ve talked with other business owners who have said, you know we’re leaving it up to our employees and if they feel like they’re putting themselves in danger or harming their family, you know, there’s also that element. And I know we’re not really gonna talk about this now, cause we’re focusing on the industry, but you know, the element of pay over periods of time, I’ve had people ask me about, you know, our business at Atlas Marketing and how is the pandemic impacting our business? And fortunately for us, for me, my response is, well, you know, it’s impacting us, but it’s not impacting us as much as it is the industries that we work in.

Chris Martin (24:50):

And so, you know, but it’s interesting to hear how other business owners are addressing it. And that comes back to the whole contract administration aspect because that’s going to change the way that things are. Jon, let me ask you this, where do you see this going, like from again from your efforts on the working with the administration with Governor Wolf and his team and other association leaders as well as trade and industry leaders, where do you see this going? Like what do you think are the next steps here?

Jon O’Brien (25:26):

So we had a GCAP call, I think that was about a week ago or so. And you know, they asked where do I see it going? And I said, well let me get out my crystal ball here, let’s see what’s going on here. So I’m kinda off a few days: I thought all highway work would start this past Monday, but it started today I guess. Okay. So I was off a day or two. And then I thought the sixth, this upcoming Monday, I thought that would be a full two week for the shutdown and all projects construction would resume. And then I that all construction would resume Monday the sixth. So I thought it would be highway the first week and then commercial building the next week. But now that these numbers are coming in and Governor Wolf does seem pretty firm in his stance, which is good. You know, he’s trying to do what he thinks his best for the health of Pennsylvania. Sure. It might’ve been a knee jerk reaction at first. Maybe we could have eased into it a little bit more, but, but still, I mean, he has the right intentions.

Jon O’Brien (26:44):

I’m thinking now maybe like the 13th, I think we might need another solid week, you know, of all workers coming back. Okay. Just so you know, as you hear every day in the news, as we needed another week to flatten the curve. So we couldn’t have an interview on the coronavirus without talking about the curve.

Chris Martin (27:05):

That is true. I honestly never heard of that phrase until you know, March of 2020, so

Jon O’Brien (27:12):

Yes, absolutely. Yeah. But still our stance, I mean, that’s me personally, that’s my opinion personally, but within GCAP, you know, the stance is if a project’s unoccupied right now, the industry should be in there finishing the project.

Chris Martin (27:31):

Well on behalf of everyone who works in the construction industry. I thank you for your efforts. I know that you and other association and Building Trades and industry leaders have been working extremely long hours and dedicating yourselves to moving our industry to where it was just a few weeks ago. But thank you. And thank you for sharing this information with us. And as we continue, we’ll provide updates but you know, feel free to download more episodes. We have other episodes of Building PA Podcast available and thank you for listening. And Jon, thank you again for all your efforts.

Jon O’Brien (28:18):

You bet. And if anyone out there has any questions, concerns, comments, and wants to reach me. My email is Jon@keystonecontractors.com or give me a call. Either way, I’m here for you.

Chris Martin (28:33):

Perfect. And then I can attest that he is there. We’ve had so many calls just between he and I just on podcast related information that have been rescheduled or pushed to another day. And I can attest to Jon’s effort for the industry. So again well done and thank you.

Chris Martin (28:54):

Building PA Podcast: Season 1; Episode 1 – Crisis Communications

This Building PA podcast features co-hosts Chris Martin and Jon O’Brien as they talk about crisis communications for the construction industry. To listen to this podcast visit Building PA Crisis Communications.

 

Transcript:

Jon O’Brien (00:00):

Welcome to Building Pennsylvania, a construction industry podcast. Co-Hosted by the Keystone Contractors Association and Atlas Marketing. This is Jon O’Brien and this is Chris Martin. Yes. And today we are here to talk about crisis communications. Chris is a nationally renowned figure when it comes to this topic, he’s spoken across the country for AGC, the Associated General Contractors. And just today, he was in Hershey to speak. If you want to talk about your experience today, what brought you here? How was the audience? Give us a little feedback on your presentation.

Chris Martin:

Well, thanks, Jon. That really set me up nicely there. Thank you. Well, today, as you said, I, I spoke at the Governor’s Occupational Safety and Health Conference that was held at the Hershey Lodge. Thanks to your colleague and cohort Seth Kohr, who is a committee member and invited me to come and speak the topic this year, Chris Martin (01:07): The morning was crisis communications and its impact on safety and really what we focused on today and the discussion was the correlation between having a safety program and the need for a crisis communications plan. The, conversation and the presentation went quite well. I will admit the interaction was quite lively. There was a lot of comments and questions. And, and one question that came up was toward the end of the discussion, but it was focused on having technical support or experts to help tell the story when it comes to a news conference or even with a media interview. And it was interesting because the, question came from someone who was a safety officer. And the question was quite simply, should you have, you know, more people engaged in the communications element and telling the story of what has occurred.

Chris Martin (02:17):

And my response was quite simply the more people the better, but make sure that they have a, they have a reason to be there. You know, a lot of the times you see like a news conference or even a, even a, a politician who is behind the podium and they’re speaking, and then behind them, are even more people who are there more of a support element. But I just prefer that if you’re going to have people stand back there, they should have a role and they should be able to answer questions and, be a part of the conversation as appropriately, rather than just standing there for, eye candy. So I thought that was interesting. Jon, would you, I mean, you’ve done a, you’ve handled a lot of crisis communications for members in the past. What’s your take on crisis communications and safety?

Jon O’Brien (03:11):

Well it’s a, you know, it’s a serious topic. You want to make sure your team’s prepared and you want to make sure you know everyone’s kind of on the same page. So like you’re saying you have various team members involved and again, I agree with you. You don’t want them to be there just to be there. You want them to have a specific role and a specific purpose, you know, to be involved. And part of that is, you know, making sure everyone that’s involved knows the story you’re telling and knows exactly what happened. And because the last thing you want to do is put someone up there and you hear, Nope, no comment, you know, it’s like you’re insensitive. You don’t care about this situation. You don’t want to comment on it. So you want to make sure knowledgeable people that are up to date on the incident or whatever happened, whatever the crisis is, make sure to have knowledgeable people with insight onto the situation are involved in the process.

Chris Martin (04:06):

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s funny, you said, no comment because that was a topic that, or that was actually an individual slide in the presentation. And it’s funny, every time I do that for construction or engineering or even manufacturing, when it comes to crisis communications, people’s eyes get big. Like, what do you mean? I can’t say no comment. Yeah. And it’s always funny because you know, my take on it is, and I’ll share this with our listeners, you know, it’s you’ve worked hard to develop us a message and have a response and coordinate with your members and your leadership and all the people that are involved in your crisis communications team. Why wouldn’t you want to go out and tell your side of the story, rather than just hiding behind two words that literally zap all the credibility out of anything that you’ve done up until that point. Yes, absolutely. I know.

Jon O’Brien (05:05):

Did you focus on the written statement at all? And do you, think that’s a good process to get your company to put it in writing first before any sort of spoken word is given?

Chris Martin (05:16):

Well, it’s funny you say that too, because although we didn’t get into that, you know, the varying efforts or the varying degrees of how to respond, one of the participants did ask you know, we have he was talking about a specific instance where he was talking at a chemical plant and he had mentioned to the reporter that it was a caustic… I’m sorry. I can’t think of how he said it, but it was the cash Alison of the toxics. And he said that the next day, the headline was caustic, toxics at the site. And, you know, it was a matter of how, you know, how do you, make sure that those words are specifically what you want them to say? And my response was, you know, that might be a perfect opportunity to do a written statement.

Chris Martin (06:14):

So just the actual having a conversation. And a lot of people don’t realize that, that a written statement is a viable response. And so, and especially in the construction industry, because, you know, just as well as I do, you know, contractors try to avoid the limelight, they just want to do their job and go home safely. And on time, all those fun things that come along with it. But I think there’s a lot of opportunity for contractors and safety officials and leaders within the industry to look at, you know, situations or crisis situations. And, as an opportunity to not only tell their story, but talk about how safe and how productive they are.

Jon O’Brien (06:59):

Yeah. That’s one thing I know every situation is different and perhaps it might not call for a written statement, but in the situations that I’ve helped out in the past with our various members, that’s one thing that we’ve kind of gravitated towards was first, let’s get a written statement out first, you know, get feedback and input from everyone on the job site, anyone that has input on the incident and then, you know, work with your superintendent and maybe the president of the company or whoever, and just deep have a good, detailed written statement. And that way, you know, if, the news cameras show up and not the right person’s there, or they don’t have issues, you know, they might have issues, you interviewing someone this way, they have a written statement that they can actually read on the news, just so that the perspective from the contractor is accurately described on the newscast.

Chris Martin (08:01):

Sure. Absolutely. And I think, you know, there is definitely a time and a place for that. And, and I agree with you. I think that that is always the right thing to do to, to write down your message, to make sure that the people that are going to serve as your spokesperson have that consistency. And, and actually one of the persons in the in the presentation this morning talked about unification and unified messaging. So I, I agree. I couldn’t agree more with it.

Jon O’Brien (08:28):

Yeah, that’s right.  The last thing you want the media to do is to show up at the job site and perhaps, you know, they have issues getting the interview from the contractor, and now they’re roaming the job site and they’re talking to, you know, just a passerby, or someone not really involved and might not be a good comment that’s coming out of that person’s mouth. That’s not really that familiar with the incident.

Chris Martin (08:53):

Very, very true. And you know, there’s been instances where that has happened and the comment was from a somewhat disgruntled tradesmen. Yes. Just simply had a bad day. And so you’re absolutely right, and making sure that the, you know, controlling that message and managing the situation is extremely important. And, that consistent single voice message and response is extremely important because that’s how you can manage the crisis situation going from that. Absolutely. When it comes to social media, was that brought up at all, as far as crisis management, the one thing that we always tell clients, and as you know, when it comes to social media in a crisis situation, the biggest thing is again, consistency, but more importantly, making sure that your response is well timed. And by that, I mean you know, let’s throw out an example.

Chris Martin (10:04):

There is a an explosion at a concrete plant out in the middle of nowhere. The explosion occurs the last thing you want to have is somebody going to Facebook or LinkedIn, or even Twitter and saying, Hey, I just heard a big explosion at my job site. So you want to limit that initially. We always look at social media as a great support for the followup as well as the opportunity to reinforce messaging. So I think that’s what I would recommend for utilizing social media simply because social media, one, there’s so many platforms and, you know, to be able to manage that it can be a little daunting, especially while you’re managing a crisis situation. And then the second part of that is, is making sure that you have your message in place before you start to get information out.

Chris Martin (11:11):

And, I say it that way because and all the crises that we’ve managed and have been a part of, you know, the messaging and the statements go back and forth and back and forth multiple times and are reviewed by a lot of people legal, financial, communications, safety, all of those people are involved. So you want to make sure that you have the right version of your response. So we always tell people that kinda go a little it’s in your best interest to go dark on your social media until you have something to say in terms of a crisis. Okay. So here’s an example here. Yeah.

Jon O’Brien (11:54):

You’re dark for awhile. Then you got your statement and you got your uniformity amongst your company, and you post something on Facebook. For example, your company releases a statement on Facebook about an incident, and you start getting comments that could be viewed as negative towards your company. Do you first off, would you recommend allowing people to comment would you? Would you respond or would you delete them? Or how would you handle that sort of situation?

Chris Martin (12:28):

That’s a really good question. I mean, typically if there is negative conversation or misinformation, we would encourage you to take that offline. And by that, I mean, having a conversation like in Facebook messenger, for example, or direct message in Twitter to that person and, the company representative, because that way you’re acknowledging their information, but yet you’re also making sure that whatever they’re saying, if it’s misinformation or just factually wrong, you don’t want to have that become you know, a mini crisis within a bigger crisis. So that would be the first thing I would recommend is, you know, take that information offline and have a conversation with someone. But the other side of that is, you know, depending on the level of the crisis you may want to turn off the commenting and not allow people to comment. You know, for example, if there’s a fatality on a job site the last thing you want to have is people, you know, jumping on to social media and saying negative things about the person that died, or the company that, you know, this infraction happened or something to that extent because you know, the bigger element is that we all want to be safe and we all want to go home and see our loved ones at night.

Chris Martin (13:59):

So it kind of becomes a sticky situation to say, a blanket response needs to just be go dark and don’t address things. But I think it’s in your best interest as a general contractor and owner a leader to manage the misinformation, if it becomes a problem.

Jon O’Brien (14:21):

Makes sense. Yeah, definitely. And every situation is different. Right. When it comes to a traditional media, like the print media and the news media, do you have any sort of a good feedback, pros, cons any sort of a good advice for contractors and dealing with them?

Chris Martin (14:43):

Yeah we’re really teaming up here, bro. First off personally, I always, I recommend and encourage conversation and, you know, a lot of the times, if you’re talking with a reporter you know easily, you know, the first question is are we on the record? So that, then that way you can know your level of engagement specifically with that reporter. Secondly, you know, always assume that you’re on the record so that you don’t make mistakes and share information that you don’t want out there, because if you do, it’ll be in the public record and the public domain. So you want to avoid that. But I’m always a huge proponent of having the opportunity to talk with someone. And mainly it’s not so much that I want to talk to the reporter, but I want to know what the reporter knows relevant to this topic or this situation.

Chris Martin (15:47):

So I would use that as an opportunity to ask questions and get them to talk a little bit more, and then not so much shut down the interview, but say, you know what, you’ve given me a lot of good information. Let me go back to my team, confirmed that this is all within the investigation and make sense, because I just don’t know at this point in time. And let me get back to you. That’s how I typically would use that conversation so that you have an opportunity to prepare yourself rather than just walking in there and doing your best to respond to a question or have that conversation right then and there. Yeah. Great advice. Good stuff, huh? Yeah. Anything else that stuck out today? Any good questions or good feedback you heard?

Chris Martin (16:39):

There was a lot of questions and I have to admit that I’m still trying to pull it through in my head, but I really enjoyed the fact that there was so much interaction between the participants and myself as the presenter. It was great. People were you know, quick to offer comments and questions. One woman in the audience even talked about her PR person who was very good in handling media and talking about things, but that person’s boss would be the one that would come in and in her words “screw things up.” So it was interesting to hear. And a lot of people had examples of, you know, instances that it didn’t go quite so well as they expected. So I was shocked by that. I wasn’t expecting that. So that was good. But overall, I really enjoyed it and had a great opportunity to speak to was probably about 60 people maybe 70 people at the Governor’s Occupational and Health Conference.

Jon O’Brien (17:50):

And hopefully that was just as good for everyone else as well. Absolutely. well, as, as you know, I’m a big proponent of KCA be an extended staff for all of our members. And I always tell them if they have any sort of crisis communication issues or problems, you know, feel free to get in touch with me. I can help help as needed or get professionals like you to come in and help. But another thing I was thinking was it’d be great if there was a crisis communication resource guide or some sort of like a crisis communications guide to kind of give contractors and construction companies some help on a (PHONE RINGING AT KCA OFFICE) Sorry about that call there. Hopefully that wasn’t a contractor with a crisis.

Jon O’Brien (18:46):

Right. I was thinking, it’d be great if KCA and, you know, maybe a firm like yours put our heads together and come up with some sort of crisis communication guide. And I was wondering what your thoughts are, and if that’s a needed resource.

Chris Martin:

So I couldn’t agree with you more and having the opportunity of, you know, here are the basic steps of what you need to work on and pull that together. I think that would be a great resource for your members. And we’d be glad to participate in and help to pull that together. Absolutely. That would be a fantastic thing for the industry and for KCA members. Awesome. And if any members or construction companies are listening to this podcast, I know our Building Pennsylvania podcast website, isn’t quite up and running yet.

Jon O’Brien (19:35):

We’re not at that point yet, but if they have questions or they want to get in touch with you, is there a good number or email just to reach out to you?

Chris Martin:

Sure they can. They can reach me at chris@atlasstories.com. You can call my office at (412) 749-9299. And we will be glad to offer assistance and provide the best knowledge that we can based on the situation and go from there.

Jon O’Brien:

Awesome. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say KCA’s glad to have Atlas Marketing as a member, and you do a lot of good stuff for the industry, like giving today’s presentation and keep up the great work.

Chris Martin:

Well, thank you. It’s great to be a part of KCA and we love being a part of this industry. So thank you. You bet.

Jon O’Brien (20:30):

Thank you for all you do. And for all you listeners out there, I hope you enjoyed it. Many, many, many more topics are coming. You know, like I mentioned earlier, we might talk about ACE mentor one week, workforce development the next. We might talk about the various trades and what does it take to get into those trades? Talk about different delivery systems and ways to improve collaboration in the industry. The topics are endless when it comes to Building Pennsylvania, the list keeps growing literally just like Pennsylvania. Yes, absolutely. Great. Well, thank you for giving us a few minutes of your time. I hope you enjoyed it and please don’t hesitate to contact us and stay safe. Thank you.

 

Private Sector Can Help Our Government

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Governor Wolf issued an Executive Order to shutdown all non-life sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania. The General Contractors Association of Pennsylvania (GCAP) was torn internally, with one faction thinking that this shutdown was necessary and another group that thought it was too excessive and businesses should still operate. Despite this conflict among our leadership and members, we had complete consensus that the health and safety of our workforce is our top priority.

Instead of advocating for construction to reopen, GCAP got to work on what we agreed on and in late March we published the Construction Industry’s COVID-19 Response Plan. It was a comprehensive safety plan with proper social distancing, PPE requirements, sanitizing, etc. I believe we were the only construction-related organization in Pennsylvania that did not lobby to reopen.  Because the health and safety of the worker was extremely important to us, I believe we gained the trust of Governor Wolf and that’s why I believe he used our safety plan to create his construction guidelines. (Governor Wolf’s press release.)

Heading into 2020 no one could have foreseen the conditions that we find our Commonwealth in. Unemployment went through the roof. Tax coffers are projecting shortages in the BILLIONS. Yes, it’s true, COVID-19 has steered us into uncharted times.

Citizens in this Commonwealth need public services now more than ever. From the nursing home residents to the young school kids looking for their next meal and to every age in between, Pennsylvanians are hurting. We cannot leave our neighbors stranded and simply chop out needed services in this year’s 2020/2021 budget negotiations when they resume after the short-term budget gets us through the fall elections.

However, what can happen is that a thorough review of all expenditures can make sure tax dollars are efficiently spent. Our Commonwealth is fortunate to have dedicated and intelligent legislators from both sides of the aisle involved in this review process. Additionally, much like Governor Wolf turned to the private sector in creating the Commonwealth’s safety guidelines, the legislature should continue to look to the private sector to incorporate proven best practices to improve the way our government operates. Each industry sector should join the process to help our Commonwealth.

When it comes to construction, Senate Bill 823 is a vehicle that can address construction procurement reform. This legislation, which has a diverse coalition and also has labor support, can save our Commonwealth 10% on public construction. Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that mandates an inefficient process known as the multiple prime delivery method (THE ONLY STATE IN THE COUNTRY – LET THAT SINK IN). Now is the ideal time to address inefficiencies in our procurement process on behalf of taxpayers.

Our Students Deserve Better – Support House Bill 163 & Senate Bill 823

Bravo to Governor Tom Wolf and to Sen. Vincent Hughes for raising awareness and wanting to address the dangerous lead and asbestos contamination in structures and water systems across Pennsylvania. Concerning the school buildings, our students deserve better than current conditions (if you have not seen the videos on Sen. Hughes’ website click here: https://www.senatorhughes.com/toxicschools/).

Wanting our children to be educated in 21st century schools is commendable; however, constructing and renovating the schools with a procurement law enacted in 1913 is foolish and wasteful. Over a hundred years ago, Pennsylvania legislature enacted the Separations Act. This Act mandates that public construction projects be delivered by multiple prime contractors. Every time you drive by a public construction project just think to yourself: this project has (at least) four companies in charge. This process often leads to delays, lawsuits, conflicts, etc., and it averages about 10% more than contracting methods that the rest of the country utilizes. Because of the inefficiencies of the multiple prime contracting method, Pennsylvania is the only state left to require such a cumbersome construction delivery process. 49 states join the federal government and the private sector in allowing choice in project delivery. It’s time for Pennsylvania to do so as well.

There are two pieces of legislation that can modernize the Separations Act: House Bill 163 and Senate Bill 823. These bills can allow for savings in public construction. Tax dollars do not grow on trees and with that in mind we should be stewards of tax dollars to assure construction projects are built efficiently. Additionally, it’s a big election year so we’ll likely hear a lot about education and jobs. Just think if the $1 billion that Governor Wolf is suggesting for public infrastructure comes to fruition and the Separations Act is modernized, we can spend it wisely resulting in more school projects, which results in more construction jobs.

Separations Act Legislation Advances in the PA House: Does Dan Jalboot know about this?

Pennsylvania is one step closer to making it easier to construct high-performance public buildings with the passage of House Bill 163 in the House State Government Committee.

With a passage vote of 15-10, this Separations Act legislation will now move to the Pennsylvania House Floor. Enacted in 1913 the Separations Act is a requirement that mandates the public sector must bid and award to at least four prime contractors for one project. The named primes in the Act are: General Trades, Plumbing, HVAC, and Electrical. When enacted over a century ago, there were payment concerns from Contractors to their Subcontractors, so the major Subcontractors were made Primes. Over the years the General Assembly has enacted many important pieces of legislation to ensure payment is made to all firms that provide construction services, rending the Separations Act needless.

Pennsylvania is the only state left in the country that abides by a multiple prime delivery system and after the recent HB163 vote we’re one step closer to ending that unwanted title. It’s exciting news for Pennsylvania’s construction industry as we can now work towards educating the public sector on all the many great advancements of the industry on topics like: Construction Management At Risk, Design Build, Design Assist, Lean Construction, to name a few. Through legislation enactment, different delivery options can be considered by the public that offer different entry points for the construction team which allows for collaboration to commence at various phases of the construction project.

When it comes to the Separations Act, my journey began in 2005. I was hired by a construction trade association and my boss at the time asked me if I had any government affairs experience. I said: “No but I’m willing to learn and work on whatever.” He returned with a stack of file folders that was around eight inches thick, dropped them on my desk, and said: “here’s some info on our top issue, the Separations Act. Study this stuff and keep in mind there’s a lot more info in our file cabinets: letters, studies, articles, you name it so read up on this stuff I’m giving you and grab more when you’re ready.”

I remember studying this information and thinking to myself: no one in the world builds multiple prime and I highly doubt an entire private sector would use a method that costs more so why does our state keep a law on the books that results in taxpayers overpaying for public construction due to an archaic law? This should be easy to repeal – I think people want government to spend less which means potentially we all could pay less in taxes. People want to pay less taxes, right? This was my ‘welcome to politics’ moment. Just because an issue may appear obvious, don’t fool yourself into thinking it can easily be changed. That thought was in 2005 and today, fourteen years later, a vote finally happened on the Separations Act.

Over the past years working on this issue, I’ve been fortunate to meet so many great construction professionals – both for and against a modernization of the Act. I could probably make this a series and discuss so many people that care about their construction industry, and who knows maybe I will revisit this topic and focus on a different person as this issue moves through the legislature. But today I’d like to focus on an architect who addressed this issue like no one else back in my early days of learning about the Separations Act. And honestly no one since has addressed the issue quite like him.

While I was learning about the Separations Act, my old work first suggested we form a coalition. We had so many public owner organizations that wanted this law changed as well as other contractor, engineer and architect organizations. I remember that AIA Pennsylvania was interested in joining the coalition, but first its executive director Caroline Boyce wanted to talk. We spoke, great conversation, super person, and she suggested I reach out to a Philadelphia architect named Dan Jalboot.

Up until I spoke with Dan, all of the feedback from everyone was something along the lines of Pennsylvania can save money if we repeal this Act. I called Dan and he told me that the Separations Act impedes green construction in our state – THIS WAS IN 2005, BEFORE IT WAS HIP TO BE ON THE GREEN BANDWAGON. Dan would say that yes, our state can save money by repealing the Act, but more importantly we can improve the chances of constructing environmentally-friendly buildings if we did not have to abide by a multiple prime delivery system. We should want our children to receive education in green buildings – it will bring out the best in them.

Dan sent me a few articles, stuff that was over my head back then. This helped to educate me. We had a few public hearings in those days and there were a lot of blank stares from legislators when he spoke, since green construction was not the norm back in mid 2000s like it is today. He would say stuff like: we need to look at the lifecycle of a building and stop looking only at construction costs; a building should be thought of as a single being with all systems working together and we can’t do that when an architect has to break a project into four pieces that must be meshed back together by strangers; construction needs collaboration from pre-construction through project closeout to truly benefit the environment, end users, and occupants. He would say how it’s very difficult to achieve collaboration in the multiple prime world since the architect is getting zero input from the builders when the design is being finalized and the public sector could benefit so much more if constructors could add their expertise during the design phase. (I just wish I would have hung on to his written testimonies that accompanied the hearings when he spoke. I’m just going off of memory and I’m sure he would sound so much better if I wrote it in his own exact words.)

A few years ago the U.S. Green Building Council rolled out its updated certification – LEEDv4. I saw that pre-construction meetings from the design and construction teams is now encouraged and points are achieved when it happens. This is what Dan was preaching about a decade earlier and a decade later it is still difficult to achieve in the Pennsylvania public construction market due to the Separations Act. Now that the Separations Act issue is moving in the General Assembly, and a vote on this issue was actually held for the first time in decades, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts and let Dan Jalboot know I thought about him today. Not sure if he’ll see this article, but with today’s vote I think our state is moving in the right direction to improve the quality of public buildings that are constructed.

 

NOTE: If you’d like to stay informed about the modernization effects of the Separations Act, please let me know. Jon@KeystoneContractors.com.

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.

IMG_1687
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.