In this week’s “Behind the Build,” we speak with Randy Arnold, superintendent for Texas-based Millis Construction and Development, a medium size general contracting company. He discusses his first job with NASA in addition to what he thinks is in store for the future of the industry.
How did you get into construction?
I finished school with a Political Science degree, and it’s hard to get a job with that even after an internship. I went back to school and got an Associates for Construction Management and found it easier to get a job. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to do construction because all my life I’ve been building things here and there. I felt like the industry was right for me.
Now, I’ve been working construction for about six years. I’ve done some pretty cool projects that kind of kept my focus on construction. For instance, I’ve worked at Johnson Space Center building the Orion Laboratories.
What do you remember about your very first job?
Yes, I was very nervous to start. One of my first jobs was at NASA as a general contractor. I was really proud of the NASA job because it was building the Orion Laboratory. They built the Orion satellite in that laboratory. I thought that was pretty cool. But it’s a high profile government job, and you have aerospace engineers on site every day. As they know more than you, they always have their two cents they want to put towards construction methods. There are many challenges like just getting in and out of the facility and lining up your subcontractors is very difficult.
Once I completed that job, a lot of bigger companies started calling me. While it truly was a complicated and hard job just being at NASA, we got through it. Overall, it was a good job.
What do you spend the most time doing when you are at work at Millis Construction?
Usually, I’m checking my subcontractors’ work. Technology like PlanGrid helps with that. On an average day, typically I line everybody up, and we do a job safety analysis (JSA) in the morning. Primarily, as a superintendent, I’m working to make sure everyone is safe and the work is correct, as well as ordering materials and other tasks to keep the jobs moving.
What’s the best part about building?
When you first start a job, it’s pretty exciting because usually there’s nothing there, usually a whole bunch of trees and dirt. Then we take it from there and break ground, destroy everything and rebuild.
The process is fun, but my favorite part is definitely finishing the job and leaving.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my industry has to be finding good subcontractors. Right now, there is a lot of inexperience with a lot of trades. A lot of people from the late eighties, early nineties are getting into the industry now. They are fresh minds, but with fresh mistakes, if you will. The good thing is that they do have a strong initiative to learn. PlanGrid also helps with that. It’s easier to show somebody that’s younger plans on your phone and show them exactly how to do their job with technology they are already used to using.
What do you love about your team at Millis Construction?
What I love about my team is that they’re not scared to try new things. For instance, you can look at PlanGrid as one of those new things.
Before we had PlanGrid, we had probably about fifty pounds of plans that we had to deal with every day.
They are expensive and get outdated fast. So, when the company finally got PlanGrid, that was a big thing for all the superintendents. We didn’t have to lug around heavy sets of messy plans. That’s one thing I can say my team at Millis Construction is really good at–staying up to date with new technology.
What do you wish you had known when you got started?
There is a very human element to construction–it’s not black and white. It’s not like engineers and architects just draw up plans and we build them. There’s a lot of communication in between. When I first started, I was very timid about asking questions even though I felt some of the designs probably wouldn’t work. Instead, I would still try to build it. Now, I feel like I can work more intuitively with architects, engineers, PMs and so forth.
Is there anything you want to share with the next generation of builders?
I would tell the next generation of builders, don’t forget the old methods. On the same front, don’t let older workers neglect new methods either, because both works. You can learn from and work with both.
What can you do as an industry to attract more people?
For construction in general, a lot of people don’t want to do it because they feel like it’s hard and laborious. A lot of times you see construction workers out in situations like bad weather and extreme heat and cold. But at the same time, I don’t know if there’s a field that I would consider more rewarding. You build something from the ground up, and you take pride in your work. If you make a mistake keep your integrity. You correct that mistake, and you will feel right about it. It’s a very rewarding industry to be in.
Are there any common misconceptions about the industry?
Some people feel like there is not enough money in construction to pursue an education path construction management or basic engineering. I feel like that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The better you are at your skill, the more people will be willing to pay you. If more people knew about how well the pay is, they would be more excited about it and join construction firms.
What do you look for in others when they want to get into construction?
When new people come into the industry, what I first look for is humbleness because of the nature of the work. People in this industry need to be humble because a lot of times we work diligently on certain projects and mistakes still happen. You have to accept those mistakes and continue to move on. It’s not easy to take when an architect or engineer says, “this work is not right,” and you’ve been working on it for two or three days. All you can do is be humble to learn, and that will make you a better builder at the end of the day.
What do you think is in store for the future of the industry?
The future for construction is very vibrant. I feel like America as a whole is a building country. We are never stagnant. We are always doing something and innovating new methods of construction. I feel like this industry in the US is going to stay strong for a while.
The message that I would like to send to builders, in general, is to stay up with this technology because if you are stagnant, you will get left behind. These young guys that are just being schooled, their whole mind revolves around technology. Don’t be scared of it.