Web Exclusive: Magnificent Seven
December 12, 2008
It is not everyday a drywall hanger has a film crew following him as he lays out, cuts and hangs gypsum wallboard. On a normal work day, the professional drywall hanger is not bothered by a film crew or the large audience of experts that were there to judge, critique and observe. However, on Oct. 22, 2008 the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters held the Drywall Challenge at the Carpenter’s Training Center in Ontario, Calif. This state-of-the-art training facility is one of the best in the country and is used to train the union carpenters in framing, suspended ceilings and drywall hanging.
The seven contestants came from the contractors of the Western Wall and Ceiling Contractors Association that work in Southern California. The main floor of the training center was transformed into a first class competition center. Seven lanes were set up identically to each other to provide a fair and equal test. Each had 25-gauge framed walls with inside and outside corners, electrical outlets, plumbing supply lines and one commercial door. The competition lanes were designed to replicate real life partitions or offices, similar to what would be found on any commercial project. The area was roped off from the spectators to prevent interference or assistance. Digital clocks were posted at each station, lanes clearly numbered and the contestant’s names and company professionally displayed.
The rules were explained to the contestants and each contestant had an observer. The observer could only help load sheets of drywall onto the cart and make sure the contestant had power and the tools he needed to complete the installation. The observer was also there to verify there was no extra help for the contestant.
AND THEY'RE OFFThe horn sounded and the men went to work. Some may take this type of work for granted and not appreciate the finesse, skill, strength and talent these men exhibit, even in what would appear to be an inconsequential movement. The simple act of pulling the end strips of paper that bind the drywall sheets is a basic action, but watching these pros pull all the strips and tie them into a neat knot, all within a few seconds, demonstrated they have done this many times, they are pros and it is simply second nature to them. Similar to any professional athlete, repetition is the key, until it becomes second nature.
As the seven started cutting and fitting, the crowd made comments as to how differently each contestant proceeded. Some started at the left side, others at the right. Each contestant had his own way to make his production method work and he was allowed the total freedom to do it the way he felt it was best to speed up productivity.
However, running along with no regard for quality or safety was not going to fly. There was a panel of judges to walk the completed work and time could be added for errors such as corners not neatly cut, excessive gaps that did not meet industry standards, covered outlets or even excessive waste. The work had to pass quality expectations that would be expected on current job sites and these judges were experts in the field.
When the contest was well underway, people started commenting and prognosticating on who would win. A few of the contestants jumped out to an early lead and it seemed as though they would certainly walk away from the competition a winner. They all moved with precision, no running, just efficiency in motion.
However, the men setting the faster pace were cutting, fitting and tacking up the board. The walls were quickly covered in drywall. The slower guys were finishing off screws and cut-outs as they went. The winner was Pedro Resendiz from Anning Johnson Co.; he seemed to be way behind at first, but finished his work as he went. Before you think this is the best way to install board and you instruct your crews to work only this way, second place, Jorge Nunez of Raymond Interiors, hung the board first and came back to cut openings and finish the walls. What was Jorge’s time? Six seconds behind Pedro. Only six seconds, are you kidding me? Third was Ramon Talamontes of Standard Drywall, just a few seconds behind Jorge. All the times were impressive to say the least; the final place was only a few minutes behind first place. The lesson to learn is there are many ways to achieve quality and productivity. A journeyman who works a little differently or an apprentice who prefers another method, should be given a chance to demonstrate it. As long as they are not violating standards, codes or placing a disregard for safety, the means and methods are for each tradesman to work out for themselves. The trick is to always keep trying to improve your quality and production without a decrease in safety. Look for moves or methods that improve productivity.
THE YOUNG GUNSJust after the contest got underway, the Training Center Coordinator, Ed Ripley, thought it would be a good idea to bring in a class to watch these guys at work. The expression on these cub’s faces was priceless. They had no idea that this kind of production was possible. They stood in small groups and whispered to each other, they took mental notes of what these pros were doing. This is what mentoring is. The pros inspired the apprentices to be like them. This may have been some of the most valuable lesson time the apprentices ever got. Not a lot had to be said. The proof was in the pudding. I suspect a few of those apprentices were thinking, “someday that will be me.”
HOW MUCH DID THEY DO?Most contractors and journeymen want to know how many sheets and in how much time? Each contestant put up approximately 18 sheets of four by eight 5/8-inch gypsum wallboard, completed and ready for taping. The fastest time was 57 minutes and 51 seconds, second was 57 minutes and 57 seconds. Third was slightly over 58 minutes. The rest of the contestants followed in slightly over the 1-hour mark.
The contestants all worked efficiently, but with no running or a disregard for safety and quality. These were skilled journeymen that knew how to make their moves count and avoid wasted steps. Many tradesmen think they can step it up anytime they want to compete, but that is not true. The journeyman who puts his mind to better production everyday will beat out the wannabe braggart every time. He practices these moves over and over. This is the potential of skilled Union labor. They are out there, lots of them, and they want to work to regain the pride in their industry.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVENThese seven men are professionals and obviously proud of their craft. It was evident as they moved with a certainty and purpose that only comes from skill and the desire to learn to be the best. The only thing missing was their families to watch them in action. If a family member of one of the magnificent seven reads this, be proud, be very proud of him. These men are the backbone of the Union, the backbone of America.
Unlike Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, these men do not get accolades, applause or sign autographs for adoring fans. They work to provide a living for their families and to be the best they can be. The handshakes they received on Oct. 22 were heartfelt from men who watched with respect and admiration; their peers. American construction workers do not get the credit they deserve. On the morning of Oct. 22, a few did. The winner Pedro Resendiz, got a check for $1,000 and a plaque. There will be a perpetual trophy on display at the Center with Pedro’s name on it, with others to follow. Anning Johnson also got a plaque they can proudly display at their office.
If you are wondering what is in it for these guys after the day is over, I can tell you. These guys, like the other top performers out there, will have jobs when times get tough. They also become foremen, go on to be supervisors and some even contractors. Their dedication and commitment to their work and craft will pay off. Remember these names, you will hear them again.
Sidebar: The Magnificent Seven
- Pedro Resendiz, Anning Johnson Co.
- Jorge Nunez, Raymond Interiors
- Ramon Talamontes, Standard Drywall
- Carmichael Hinton, Martin Bros/Marcowall
- Ruben Soriano, Best Interiors
- Miguel Becerra, Performance Contracting
- Danny Porras, KHS&S