Construction is a historic trade with several and ever-changing disciplines. Prior to 1980, the industry was focused on the worker in the field. Since that time, we have shifted more focus to project management, enhanced products and specialized consultants. When I was young, most of the experts were people who were journeymen that came from the field. Today, most managers and consultants have little to no field experience related to actual installation. I find many consultants look down upon the craft worker, while at the same time expounding on their experience in the field. Most had a summer job on the site and use that as field experience. This is not the same as being a journeyman.
Those who have prolonged time in the field know what it is really like. The work is typically physically taxing, requiring specific training and skills that develop over time (even the physical challenges are overcome as you train your body). It can be rewarding to work with people you have a common bond with. Construction banter goes with the career. To the bystander, it may seem like they dislike each other with all the insults and snarky remarks; though at times, they can speak an odd form of a compliment. Construction workers tend to make poignant jokes about other workers they like and respect. This makes no sense to people outside the trades. Some insults are ill-intentioned and some are a form of bonding. This juxtaposition is also what makes hazing so hard to identify and police. Consider many disciplines are tedious and monotonous. Banter can make the day pass and can be a form of team building.
What Sets Construction Workers Apart
A few years back, there was a university survey of various professions. One section dealt with contentment of a career choice. The survey reached a wide range of professions. The results were clear: many Americans were not content with their career and duties. Even with higher pay, workers had a hard time feeling satisfied in their work. To the surprise of the university study group, construction workers came out on top with career contentment. These workers felt the most satisfaction in what they did for a living.
While it was surprising to academics, it is actually pretty simple and logical. Construction workers build things. They make stuff; they can stand back at the end of the day and see what they did with their own hands. Even homeowners who decide to tackle a new deck, patio cover or room addition by designing it themselves and constructing it know this feeling. Office or managerial positions typically do not have this opportunity to see what they did at the end of the day. Most sit and wonder where the day went and what they really got accomplished. Tangible evidence can be hard to find and even when there is a written report, successful bid or finished project, it is generally by a group effort.
While a building may seem the same, the field construction worker can typically point to their part of the overall project. This also explains why many construction workers fail to make the transition to sales or other white-collar positions. They struggle with the sense of accomplishment they got from field work and try to feel the same from meeting sales goals or establishing new contacts. While the sales number should be an equivalent to physically building things, it is not. Most workers in the field are not wired that way and the office provides little to no training tailored to this group.
Rise Up the Ranks
Another reason many construction workers cannot make the transition to white-collar positions is their own fault. They often believe the salespeople or managers just sit around, go to lunch and make the big bucks. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the work is not physical, office work can be exhausting, futile and overly frustrating. (Getting doors slammed in your face, told your idea was bad or being blamed for scheduling issues that are beyond your control, etc.)
The truth is, we need a few more field guys to be elevated. Upper management of many firms would be better served to bring a few workers up from the field. They have a unique perspective, and it gives more hope to others in the field, as well. While they can be hard to replace, they are often the best person to seek out new talent for crews. My advice would be to train them before throwing them into the deep end of the pool. Explain your expectations and understand that they will likely struggle with the transition and that is OK. Also understand the field crew do not like to ask questions; they want to project that they know the answer. This is what can get them in trouble as they move to an office. They must learn to ask and be patient. The only dumb question is the one they fail to ask.