Experience in the Trades -  a Rare Commodity and a Personal Opportunity -  August, 2007
TeamWork How many of you know people in the 25-35 year old age group who have never picked up a hammer, can't fix a leaky faucet or replace a blown fuse?

Costs a fortune anymore to employ someone who does. Too much demand and not enough supply.

I think this is the result of a generational shift away from the trades and into the world of a service oriented  white collar economy.

Computers didn't frame your house, didn't strike an arc, didn't pour a foundation.  Someone in the trades did.  

The economy and your pocketbook is suffering as a result.

You have older, experienced craftsmen who are looking to retirement in the not too distant future and you have fewer and fewer green, inexperienced people coming in.  There aren't too many people in that middle ground.

This is reality and it is a national detriment.

On any project, on any day and in any part of globe the consequences of this shift are manifesting themselves in myriad ways.........

1. The plant has miles and miles of piping which requires among other things, hydro testing to prove integrity and flushing to prove cleanliness. 

2. Construction requests the Commissioning Group assist in supervising flushes to prove cleanliness so as to have a better chance of getting it right the first time.

The Commissioning Group does not normally do this type of work but due to a general lack of experience in the field, they agree to assist.
Rework eats into the bottom line. The most expensive work is rework.

3. Construction has hundreds of hydro tests to perform and they are falling behind. It is hard to find enough experienced craft to keep up with a very aggressive schedule.

4. What happens when schedule is slipping and critical dates are not met? 

You get called to the table to explain why you can't maintain schedule and you basically have two choices:

     a. Be honest, explain the reality of the situation and let the chips fall where they may or:

     b. Try to shift the blame to someone else.
There are plenty of examples of both out in the world but option B makes for more interesting reading. Option B in this instance uses a bit more creativity than one typically encounters in this line of work.

We will call the individual called to the carpet "HydroGuy". HydroGuy is a mid-level engineer who is in a position a bit above his pay grade because there is no one more experienced to fill the slot.

5. HydroGuy gets called to account for slippage in schedule and does some quick thinking. He says the reason his hydro schedule is falling behind is because the Commissioning Group has not provided their required  flush schedule to Construction. He has hundreds of hydro tests to perform and doesn't know which ones the Commissioning Group needs first.  

Of course, he has never contacted the Commissioning Group and doesn't even know where on the site they are located.  

The Commissioning group  in turn has no idea any of these conversations are going on.  Their primary interest is getting sections of the plant turned over that they can check out  and thus justify their existance at site.

I probably need to digress and provide a simple analogy so this makes sense:

Consider an automobile's cooling system - you have an engine, a radiator, hoses connecting the engine to the radiator and a pump for the cooling medium (antifreeze).

The Construction Group puts the pieces together.

The Hydrotest Group ensures hoses, gaskets and other connections don't leak. Each hose and piece of equipment is tested for leaks individually and then once again as a group.

The Commissioning group is given the keys to the car.  They start the motor, make sure the cooling system works as it should and then hand the keys to the owner with a guarantee he is getting what he paid for.

6. Construction knows HydroGuy's answer is absolute BS and that flush schedules have nothing to do with hydros and has even less to do with the Commissioning Group but they admire the sheer audacity of the explanation and have enough problems of their own. This shifts the blame away from them and onto the Commissioning Group.  What a neat parlor trick!

7. The Commissioning Group gets tasked with figuring out which hydro tests support which flushes and then are further tasked with pegging dates to the end result.

Enter the Scheduler

8.  The Scheduler says why not build a flush schedule based on expected system completion dates instead of the more nebulous hydro dates.

9.  They say that is not what management wants.

10.  The Scheduler says, Ok - then provide the expected hydro completion dates.

He gets a hard copy of a spreadsheet where the last column says 'Hydro Completion Date.' 

Not exactly what he is looking for.

 The Scheduler goes over to Hydro guy's office and explain what he wants - Scheduled Completion Date.

13.  HydroGuy says he can't furnish that because everything comes out of a computer program he is unfamiliar with.  He can provide percent completion but no dates.

The miracles of High Tech - can't even provide a simple schedule.

The Scheduler says, You've got to be kidding. The company is big on charting progress and he can't believe there is not an Excel spreadsheet out there somewhere.

15. HydroGuy says that if there is one, he hasn't seen it.

The Scheduler goes back to office and explains that creating a flush schedule from hydro dates which don't exist is not possible.

17. The office says the dates the Scheduler needs are on the spreadsheet they gave him.

The Scheduler says - show him.

19. The office says - see that last column - the one that says Hydro Completion Date?'.  That is the date.

The Scheduler says - then why in the world is the column not named 'Scheduled Completion Date'?

21. The office says they didn't build it, someone else did.

The Scheduler says - how about sending him an electronic copy, something he can work with, which they do.

23. The electronic copy has virtually everything, including charts for progress and moreover, it is even current.  Someone has done a nice    job.  He can hack something together based on this but he is curious and walks over to HydroGuy's office and asks him why he did  not provide this spreadsheet int the first place?

24. HydroGuy says - What Spreadsheet? - that must be something his boss does.

25. While all this is going on, the hydro test schedule falls further behind.  HydroGuy gets called on the carpet again and Construction wants to know why the schedule is still falling.

Since shifting the blame worked so well the last time, why not try it again.  This time HydroGuy says the reason his schedule is still slipping is because the Commissioning Group is making his crews repeat flushes too many times and it is impacting his schedule.

Construction considers the explanation for a brief moment and says they can fix that. The Commissioning Group is ordered off supervising construction flushes and told to concentrate on their own schedules.

Now what was the reason for the Commissioning Group's involvement in the first place?  To help ensure flushes are performed correctly the first time, which also lessens the time and cost involved with their own work.

27. As a result of these decisions:

     a. The Commissioning Group now has no control over the quality of piping cleanliness they receive, which will  doubtlessly mean                more work and more money. 
     b. HydroGuy's schedule continues to slip because the underlying problem was never rectified.

     c. The entire job falls further behind and costs increase exponentially.

     d. Experienced individuals who care about their reputations look for other job opportunities  because they see root causes not being          addressed and do not want to be associated with a losing project.

     e. The ever increasing ratio of inexperienced craft to the experienced significantly impacts quality and schedule.      
The Owner looks at all this comes to the conclusion that they must examine everything with a fine toothed comb. They figure they had better bring in more people on their side to help ensure they are in fact getting what they paid for, which adds to their bottom line as well. 

The Owner would like to see the job completed under budget and on time but if that doesn't happen and schedule impacts the owner's ability use the end product, there are  liquidated damages.
If the project is scheduled by contract to complete on day X and it doesn't, the Constructor is obligated to pay the Owner damages and the cost can be considerable.         

Consider the above example as about 10% of an entire job. If the other 90% is in a similar position in terms of inexperienced craft, schedule and blame and they still manage to complete the job on time...........imagine what they could do if they were firing on all cylinders.  

So if that kid of yours likes playing with power tools or heavy equipment instead of computers, considers striking an arc an orgasmic experience and thinks erector sets are just a stepping stone; there is a wealth of opportunity out there and once he gets some experience under his belt, a six figure income is not a pipe dream. He  would be doing himself and the country at large a lot of good in pursuing a career in the trades.

And I am not excluding girls here either - there are a lot of women in the trades anymore and they do just as well as  guys.  

We need more of them.

I'm not kidding, folks.  If your kid exhibits blue collar tendancies, bless him and tell him to go for it.