In our latest interview featuring members of the construction community, we go “Behind the Build” with Chase Corcorran, Project Superintendent for Webcor Builders. The Bay Area native discusses his 14-year career in construction including his role in iconic California projects and what he wishes he had learned when he first started in the industry.
What first got you into construction?
I think the first time I swung a hammer was with my church. We went down to Mexico every spring break in middle school and high school to help build homes. At a very young age, I realized it takes a lot of effort from multiple people, but you can get a lot done as a team. That was fascinating to me.
At the time, I never thought I could get into construction as a profession because I knew I wanted to go to college. I thought I would go into the business world or sales or marketing. But in high school, I learned about the different types of engineering and construction programs that are geared to get people into the built environment. Once I found that out, every school I applied to for college, I made sure they had an engineering or construction program. Eventually, I found myself working for a general contractor and here I am now 14 years later.
Why do you build or what do you love about construction?
What I love the most about construction is the characters; both the individuals you work with and for. There’s a lot of unique backgrounds and people from all different walks of life. There’s a lot of fresh perspectives both on the design and engineering side as well as from the craft and union side. All the time, I see people coming up with clever ways of achieving a result that hasn’t been done before.
Do you have an example of a challenge that your team has overcome?
I was working for Webcor building the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (SFGHT). It was our company’s first healthcare project and the first floor of the trauma center.
We arguably took on one of the most complicated structures both in the state and in the world, as California has an extremely stringent set of guidelines regulated by OSHPD.
Nonetheless, it’s a great project because at the end of the day you’re providing a building that will put air into someone’s lungs or provide traumatic care to those in need. Our entire team at Webcor was coming up against something every day that we’d never done before. Nonetheless, we were able to use our experience and go into the project with an open and curious mind and solve a lot of problems.
Is there a particular project that you’re most proud of?
I’m very proud to have been a part of the Cal Memorial Football Stadium. I grew up in the Bay area, going to Cal games. A lot of my extended family members and friends went to Cal.
Twenty-five years after my first time stepping in that football stadium, I had the chance to gut it, rebuild it and turn it into a state of the art facility.
I even got to take my grandfather, who played and coached football, to the opening day game. It was really cool to point out things that I’d worked on or problems that I’d solved. That was something I was proud to have been a part of and to share with my family.
What does your family think of you being in construction?
My family is very proud that I’m in construction. I think my parents are fascinated by the complexity of the projects that I work on. My brother and sister are always surprised at the level of responsibility we have in the sense that we’re providing structures either for the public or universities. There’s a lot of inherent trust in us to do our jobs correctly.
When most people drive over a bridge they don’t think, is this bridge going to collapse? Or at a hospital, people don’t think is this medical room going to function the way it needs to for an operation. A lot of thought and planning goes into construction and my family is both intrigued and proud of what I do.
Before you were a project superintendent, what do you wish you would have known when you got started?
In school, I wish I would have known more or paid attention to the psychology of the workplace. In the engineering route, everything is very technical, but as soon as you start in an entry-level or mid-management position, most of what you’re doing is no longer technical. The job is much more about managing teams and motivating people. I wish I had learned more about the softer side of education and how to read people and adjust your own approach and work style to get teams moving in the same direction.
It took a very long time to realize more often than not I’m just a sounding board. I’m not addressing the technical solutions as much as I’m making sure the individuals executing are satisfied and push towards the right resolution.
An example would be our electricians who understand power extremely well. Recently, our electrician came in complaining that an ironworker had moved a large portion of their inserts and conduit in the slab. The electrician came to me complaining. And all I did was ask back, “Well do you know where your conduit and your inserts need to be?”
“Well, yeah I know where they need to be.” So okay, “How can we address what happened, but just have you go work with the ironworker to get your conduit where it needs to be.” After a bit more venting, we cracked a few jokes and then electrician went back out, did what he needed to do and really nothing changed. So, most importantly I take a very supportive role.
What do you think people outside the industry don’t know about construction?
I always try and tell anyone in middle school and high school that the traditional blue-collar work is an incredible, honest living–with excellent wages. Right now, a lot of people say, “Go to college, go to college, go to college.” Most young students don’t realize that you can make good money and learn incredible skills and crafts that can benefit you outside of your work life that you don’t need a degree for. Many of these are just as challenging and rewarding of a job than you might get with a degree.
As a contractor, I’m nervous that fewer people are going into craft positions, fewer people are joining unions and fewer people are going to trade schools. On the horizon, there seems to be a shortage of individuals interested in entering these types of roles in construction. What gives me a little bit of hope is that I have many friends who went to college and are now going back to the trades. They realize it’s good pay, rewarding work and a great environment.