In this edition of “Behind the Build” spotlight, we go behind the scenes with Liz Hartmann, Vice President of Field Operations for W. Bradley Electric, Inc (WBE). As a specialty contractor in the San Francisco Bay Area, the company specializes in full-service electrical contracting. Having been a part of the construction industry for over 12 years, Liz shares her journey from marketing to field operations as well as how her teams use technology to improve project communications.
How did you get started in the construction industry?
I’ve been in the construction industry for 12 years now. I came out of college into the industry and I knew actually the owners of the company at the time and started in marketing. I fell in love with construction.
I’m a former Division I college athlete, and so when I came to construction, I found many similarities between the two. First, construction is a fun industry to be in. You get to see projects built all the time, every day. It’s also a competitive environment where you’re bidding against people to win projects. You’re seeing how quickly things can get done and trying to do the best you can to succeed. Finally, the teamwork aspect drew me to construction from the beginning. It requires a fully collaborative effort to get a finished product.
What do you think can improve communications during construction?
In terms of communication, the more openness that you have in construction, the better. Especially as projects grow more complicated and timelines get stricter. You just have to be as open as possible when problem-solving. I think that’s one of my favorite things about WBE and our field in general.
We’re able to solve a problem for a client before they even realize that it’s there. To work together, and using apps like PlanGrid, is a huge benefit for our company because everybody’s on one platform and can see when those problems arise.
How did you start working with PlanGrid at WBE?
We started using PlanGrid about five or six years ago. At the time, we had general contractors invite us into the program. At that time, we probably had about 20% implementation using the program, but we knew how easy it was to use. Now, we have almost 100% implementation with PlanGrid because of the ease of use and the collaboration factors
Instead of having these giant plans that you’re carrying around, it’s now all at your fingertips and you can interact quickly with others on the project so easily. It’s such a simple platform for the field to take on quickly and to learn quickly.
One of the great features of PlanGrid is that if you see an issue that arises on a set of plans, you can take a picture right away, send it back to your office, or upload it to the master, and the office can see it instantly and reach out to the GC. All of that saves us a ton of time.
How do you think technology has changed construction in the last few years?
The biggest change in technology in construction has been the iPad. With WBE using PlanGrid and iPads, our subcontractors don’t go anywhere without their devices. That’s been a huge game-changer for the entire industry.
As the VP of Field Operations, what does your typical day look like?
As the VP of Field Operations, I spend the majority of my time figuring out how to man jobs and how to make sure things are working in an efficient manner. I also spend a lot of my time in the field and working with field staff. Whether my team has a question about PlanGrid or how to get more workers on a project, I’m here to help them in any way that I can.
Any thoughts on the state of the labor market right now?
Our labor market in the Bay Area is booming. We feel strongly in the capabilities of the crews that we have and the strength of our team. We love the construction industry, so we love when more people want to get into it and we are always looking for new talent to join our company.
At the same time, we love the team that we have and continue to look for anything that we can do to help make their jobs better so they can make our company as efficient as possible. At WBE, we have a great atmosphere that is very family-oriented. We have fun.
We consider ourselves one big family and team. Once we bring in new employees and they come on board, they’re a part of a family, and we treat everybody that way.
What would you tell someone first starting if they’re for a similar career path?
If someone is looking for a similar career path, I would say to take on anything that you can if you love the industry and you love the company that you’re working for. For instance, I started out in marketing, and I was asked to continue on and just to take on more responsibilities, which I gladly did.
I’m one of those people who shows up on Monday excited to go to work every day, and that’s what you really want to look for in the industry.
I always just tell people to be open and to continue to do as much as you can. Learn as much as you can in every facet of the industry.
Any specific examples where technology has been a game changer for a project?
At the end of a work day or work week, what makes you feel like you’ve done your job well?
If the field’s happy and our clients are happy, then I’ve done my job well. If I go home at the end of a work week, and everything is running in an efficient manner and our foremen are headed home to their families, then I feel like it’s been a good work week.