Mechanical and plumbing contractors have some of the most specialized and complex roles in all of the construction industry. On a project, these contractors are responsible for the heating and cooling systems, refrigeration, plumbing, medical gas, and hydronic piping. All of these components play a critical role in public health and safety and require a high degree of expertise with little room for error. As the Senior Vice President of New Construction at TDIndustries, a mechanical plumbing contractor, Randee Herrin notes,
“We take our job pretty serious with protecting the health of our clients and our customers.”
Randee has been working for TDIndustries for over two decades. The Texas-based contractor does a tremendous amount of work in healthcare, including currently the Memorial Hermann Pavilion project in Houston. Recently, we sat down with Randee to learn more about the complexities of working in the mechanical and plumbing sector and how technology plays a role to alleviate some of the common issues. Watch below:
In addition to the video, we’ve included an extended version of our interview with Randee, below, for this week’s “Behind the Build.” Read to learn how Randee started her 23-year career in construction and how she is championing for the next generation of women in the trades.
Can you describe your role and what you spend your time on?
As the Senior Vice President of New Construction, I consider myself the caretaker of our construction business in Houston. I think raising a construction family is just like raising your own family. You have to provide the training and tools that they need to make their lives easier. I’m there to remove all the hurdles that are in my team’s way so that they can go out and work as hard as they can, and be a success.
How did you get your start in the construction industry?
I was born into construction. My father was a general contractor. Although I saw what he did on a day to day basis, I wasn’t ever really involved with it. However, when I was applying to colleges, I started thinking about my career choices. I spent time checking out a few options and then found out that Texas A&M had a construction science program – it was just a fit. It was what I knew growing up, and I really enjoyed the program.
I started working for TDIndustries straight out of school. My first job was working as an assistant project manager, and I worked my way up through the organization to project manager, vice president and now a senior vice president.
I’ve been with TDIndustries for 23 years now, and I’ve stayed because it’s more of a family than a company.
It’s an employee-owned company based in servant leadership, so it’s a comfortable environment to grow in.
How do you think technology has changed the construction industry in the last few years?
Because it’s a passion of mine, I spend quite a bit of time working on innovation. Often, I’m testing and looking into new ideas and products. So far, the thing that I’ve seen that has had the most significant impact on our business has been technology for document control, particularly with PlanGrid.
TDIndustries started using PlanGrid in 2013, and it’s provided a platform for us to communicate and collaborate, in addition to being a repository for all of our documentation. Having access to this information is essential on projects, and it’s something that our industry struggles with. We have these massive projects – changes occur so frequently. Historically, keeping up with changes has been difficult. PlanGrid has helped us take the worry of outdated information off of our minds so we can focus on other important things.
How does PlanGrid improve safety on the jobsite?
PlanGrid serves as a communication platform that helps us maintain safer projects. If any issues need to be flagged, our team has access to communicate with other team members through PlanGrid. Keeping the whole team up to date on precautions and areas of concern improves safety through transparency. PlanGrid enables us to store our safety information and plans so that all of our crews can access that information easily.
What keeps you up at night?
One thing that keeps me up at night is the workforce shortage. Today, there’s not a huge line out the door of people who want to be plumbers and pipe fitters. Schools also haven’t been pushing the trades recently. So, how do we supply that workforce for the future?
We’re a merit shop contractor, so all of the tradesmen and tradeswomen on the jobs are employees of TDIndustries. I have 23 years of tenor, at TDIndustries and a lot of our people in our field have tenors just as long, if not longer. They’re a critical part of our business, and I spend a lot of my time thinking about how we train, retain and recruit more of them.
How do you make sure you recruit and retain talent?
This year, I started an initiative called TD’s Women in Trades. The idea is to recruit, retain and recognize more women in the industry. Before beginning the program, I started thinking about how our industry is struggling to find people – but we’re not doing anything different. You have to do something different to get a different result. We’ve done nothing different to recruit women into this industry and the trades. Why have we only been focused on recruiting 50% of our population?
With this initiative, we formed a strong partnership with The United Way of Houston’s THRIVE program. As a result, we were able to hire ten women that we put through our inaugural tradeswomen class. They’ve all graduated, and they’re out in the field right now – but it’s just the beginning.
Our workforce needs to look more like our population, and I’m looking forward to the future. I’m excited to see the superstar women we’re going to grow.
What advice would give to a woman looking to enter construction?
When we started the TD’s Women in Trades program, a lot of the women that we talked to said, “I didn’t know that I could do this. I didn’t know that I could work in the trades. I thought I had to have experience, but you’ve helped me understand that with determination I will learn and grow and that the first step to success is to show up.”
That’s all I was looking for. I was looking for women with some grit and tenacity. We can teach you the rest. Everybody’s got to start somewhere. Don’t be intimidated by a career in the trades because you don’t have any experience in it.
What’s the most challenging aspect of working as a mechanical and plumbing contractor?
The hardest part of being a mechanical and plumbing contractor is the diversity of the workforce. We’re craftsmen and craftswomen, plumbers, pipefitters and sheet metal workers.
We all need to have a high level of expertise and continued training. We need our field to be at the highest level possible because our product is hospitals and institutions that people use and rely on. We have to build systems that work, and failure is not an option. That’s why we do everything that we can to train our people in the best way.
If you had an extra two hours each week to get more work done, how would you spend that time?
If I had an extra couple of hours every day to get more done, I would spend more time with the people on our team. We’re asking them to do a tough job every day, and they need to be appreciated.