By Shari Held
During the recession of 2008, the construction industry took a hard hit. Skilled tradesmen who lost their jobs turned to other industries to find work. Many cautioned the next generation to earn college degrees as the panacea for an “unstable” construction industry.
At the same time, many high schools and middle schools cut industrial arts classes such as woodworking and electrical from the curriculum. A whole generation of students were never introduced to the construction trades. And that’s a shame. Conditions in the field have never been better, and skilled workers in the trades can make a very good living. In addition, there’s a large variety of trades such as carpenters, electricians, plumbers and masons to choose among — not to mention construction-specific jobs in sales, management and consulting. Currently, scores of opportunities are available to both men and women. The possibilities are virtually unlimited.
Here’s a look at how four Meyer Najem employees got started in the construction industry and what keeps them here year after year.
Dan Lawson, Senior Business Development Manager
Growing up, a career in the construction industry wasn’t even a blip on Dan Lawson’s career radar screen. After high school, he attended Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he earned his undergraduate degree in sociology. Then he hit a wall. What career would he pursue armed with a sociology degree?
In 1998, Lawson joined the Air Force, and Uncle Sam made that decision for him. After basic training, he received 13 weeks of training in construction technology and was assigned to a civil engineering squadron at Scott Air Force Base. The squadron was responsible for maintaining the infrastructure on the base. Lawson was made project manager in charge of the painting, roofing, asbestos abatement and roads.
“I never had any desire whatsoever for construction,” he says. “I went into the Air Force to learn a technical skill, and that’s what I was given. That’s how I got into construction.”
Sales is what Lawson discovered he really wanted to do. But after returning to civilian life in 2002, he found it was his construction project management experience that companies valued. Not to mention that a funny thing had happened over the years while he worked as a project manager at several construction companies.
“On the civilian side, I fell in love with construction,” Lawson says. “I fell in love with the whole process of it. When you’ve completed a project, you have something tangible that’s going to be there longer than you’ll be alive. To this day, my kids remember what building projects in downtown Indy I was part of.”
In 2014 Lawson came to Meyer Najem as a project manager, but quickly moved into business development—the sales side of construction, where long-term relationship-building is key. He did return to school to earn his MBA but notes that having a construction project management background also helps him in his current job.
Still, it was an “eye-opener” for Lawson to go from being involved in the back-end, the actual construction piece of a project, to being involved in the front-end of a project. Business development conversations can take two years or more before the contract is signed. A lot’s at stake for customers besides a multi-million dollar price tag. They have to live with the building for years to come. Lawson enjoys helping customers understand the process, the options and select solutions that meet their needs. When it all comes together, like it did with CEDIA’s global headquarters building, he feels great.
“Construction is a very inclusive industry,” Lawson says. “There are so many pieces and parts to it. But I love it. I love selling Meyer Najem.”
Traci Hardin, CIT, OSHA Outreach Trainer
Traci Hardin has been part of the construction industry ever since she entered the workforce in 1982.
“I came up through the industry, so to speak,” she says. “It’s been a great fit for me.”
At age 19 Hardin landed a secretarial job with a union contractor in Texas. She later parleyed that entry-level job into a secretarial position serving the construction manager and engineer for the Southwest Division office of AMC Theatres. AMC had just begun developing the multi-cinema theatre concept and she often visited jobsites with the construction manager.
Although it was a bit “intimidating” being a young woman working in a male-dominated field, she took advantage of every opportunity she received.
“Being a woman, especially back then but it’s still true today, if you don’t do that you’re going to get left behind,” she says. “Any young person coming into the industry today has to take some initiative for their own personal growth.”
Hardin sees no reason why women can’t become electricians, carpenters, project managers, safety consultants—even dump truck drivers. The same opportunities that exist for men are also open to women. “I don’t think women realize this about the construction industry,” she says.
After moving back to Indianapolis, she opted to stay in the construction industry. In 1992 she became Meyer Najem’s 25th employee. The company was only about five years old at the time.
Initially Hardin worked on the insurance side of the business—general liability, Worker’s Compensation, benefits. After becoming involved with the Coalition for Construction Safety she implemented Meyer Najem’s first substance abuse program. She kept on this career path, supplementing her on-the-job training with additional education. Today, safety, human resources and quality control are all under her umbrella. She interacts with project managers, superintendents and subcontractors as she visits Meyer Najem’s jobsites checking each for potential safety hazards.
“It’s been a pretty diverse career,“ she says. “I love being involved in multiple aspects of projects.”
Another thing Hardin loves about her career in construction is experiencing the difference a building project, like the BlueSky Technology building in Noblesville, can make to a community.
“Seeing the revitalization and development around it—it really enhanced the overall area,” Hardin says. “There’s a lot of pride in that.”
Steve Hamrick, Senior Superintendent
When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Steve Hamrick was ready with a quick response. “A carpenter,” he always said. His grandfather was a carpenter, so it ran in the family. At age 16 he got his first real taste at construction by helping remodel an old house into apartments. Then, he participated in the vocational program at Lawrence North High School. “That was when I really knew I wanted to make a career in construction,” Hamrick says.
He’s been in the industry for 40 years now—12 years as a carpenter and 28 years as a superintendent. For the last 18 years he’s been with Meyer Najem.
“I wouldn’t have changed any of it for the world,” he says. “It all turned out good.”
Many facets of construction appeal to Hamrick—getting to work outside versus being cooped up in an office, moving from job to job, keeping up with the ever-changing new materials and installation methods required for each job, and staying current with technologies. He’s welcomed the use of iPads in the field and looks forward to working more with Building Information Modeling software.
“Learning new things keeps the job fresh,” he says. “Each job has its own characteristics, so it never gets stale.”
As senior superintendent, Hamrick oversees many facets of onsite construction, including managing the schedule and the manpower, confirming that installations are done correctly, keeping an eye on quality control and ensuring the jobsite is safe for everyone.
He also enjoys the people part of it—meeting clients and subcontractors he’s never worked with before and reconnecting with people he hasn’t worked with in years. Then, there’s the recognition for a job well done. Over the years he’s received several ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) Awards of Excellence for projects ranging from Hamilton East Public Libraries to Noblesville City Hall. But it’s the heartfelt thank-yous he receives for things like getting occupancy approvals weeks ahead of schedule or the many thank-you cards given to him from second-graders at Cumberland Road Elementary School that make his job all worthwhile.
“This is what it’s all about,” he says.
Bryan Thomas, Assistant Project Manager
A career in construction was a natural for Bryan Thomas. His father and uncles all worked in the industry. “I was always around someone who was doing something with a hammer,” he says.
As a teen, Thomas spent summers doing odd jobs, from helping with a home renovation project to demolition. While he enjoyed working with his hands, he wanted to do more. “I wanted to be part of the bigger process of construction,” he says, “the management or design aspects of it. Going into the construction management program at IUPUI was how I could see myself doing that.”
Meanwhile he took every construction-related job he could find to learn more about the business. While attending IUPUI, he was a full-time laborer, working alongside pipe layers at a local tunneling company. In 2014, just months after graduation, he came onboard at Meyer Najem as an assistant project manager.
Since then he’s worked on about 10 projects, ranging from $500,000 to $20 million. As he gains more on-the-job experience, he anticipates handling multiple projects at a time—and he’s looking forward to it. “When you’re hands-on in the field, you always learn a lot more than you can through seeing pictures, reading a book or listening to someone explain how to do something,” he says.
Day-to-day, it’s handling the nitty-gritty details, coordinating all the moving parts of a project and problem-solving to bring a job to completion that appeal to Thomas. Recently he used those skills when serving as on-site management for the Colts Complex project. “I was able to be onsite with the steel erectors and my superintendents and bust out the tape measure to figure out a solution with the engineer,” he says. “That’s not something you can easily do over the phone or through email.”
Overall, what he likes most about being in construction is seeing a project go from dirt to a standing building he can see and feel. “It gives me such a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “It’s like nothing else!”
Thomas’ advice to others who might be considering going into the construction industry: “Go for it,” he says. “You learn something new all the time, and every project has its surprises. If you like every day to be different, construction is definitely the career to be in.”
Shari Held specializes in articles about the construction and manufacturing industries. Her articles have been published in numerous media venues. For more information, see her website at shariheld.com or view her LinkedIn profile at linkedin.com/in/shariheld. Shari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.