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 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.

 

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.