This week, we go Behind the Build with the Director of Operations – Senior Living + Healthcare at Edwards Construction Services. Ian Nichols, based in Ocala, Florida, shares how being there for his family led him to find his current job as well as some valuable lessons he’s learned from working on significant projects in the area including one of America’s largest retirement communities. Read Ian’s story, below.
What does Edwards Construction Services specialize in?
Edwards Construction Services is based in Ocala, but we have offices both Orlando and Charlotte. Around 90% of our company’s work primarily serves three market segments; industrial/manufacturing, amenities/hospitality and senior living/healthcare. Particularly in Ocala, we have a significant senior demographic, so historically a significant portion of our work has been focused on serving them. However, we do have clients outside of these sectors, and we’re able to assist them because we offer a diverse range of services.
How did you end up at Edwards?
What got me to Edwards was family. When my wife ended up getting pregnant, I started to look for job opportunities closer to our home–babysitters are expensive after all.
After I met with the team at Edwards, it seemed like a great fit–it’s a family-owned company, and it was family that brought me to them in the first place. Steve Edwards, our CEO, treats employees in a way that is mindful of their personal lives and families. The career opportunity was just what I was looking for, and it provides an excellent work-life balance at the end of the day.
How have you grown as a project manager?
As a project manager, what I do is probably not too much different than most project managers at construction management firms. I would budget, run contracts and oversee the overall success of the project. My job also involves making sure documents are distributed to the right people. That’s where technology like PlanGrid comes into play. I was first introduced to PlanGrid in college, and Edwards originally started using it for items like punch lists.
However, we started to maximize our use of PlanGrid on a large assisted living project. We decided to get tablets for everyone on-site and went in fully on using the software to manage documents and changes on this project. It took off–our superintendent loved it as there were no bulky plans to carry on-site, and information took seconds to access. The whole project team was working off of one single set of drawings, and it was so easy to use. After this project, we decided we had to roll it out to our entire company.
What’s your favorite PlanGrid feature?
It just makes things so much easier as far as resolving issues and questions and getting approvals. It’s great to be able to do everything directly from the field when it’s on my mind instead of waiting and forgetting later.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
On a personal level, what gets me excited to start my day is my family and my son. I want to make sure he has things that I didn’t have and that I teach him things I didn’t learn. I don’t think that’s different from most people, but it’s something that I take quite seriously. I try to invest every day into him, or anybody I come across.
At work, I think along this same vein. Right now, I’m passionate about teaching others who might be newer in their construction careers.
I genuinely believe that Edwards is a bit different than many other construction companies out there and it’s because of the people working there.
What advice would you give to the next generation of project managers?
Learn everything that you can so you can get to the point where you can teach others everything you know.
What do you love most about the construction industry?
What I love most about the construction industry is that the projects will (likely) outlive you. If you spent a year or two on a project, you can always go back and see it, like a monument. Most industries are not like that. For instance, for someone working in the stock market, 10 years down the road, they can’t go back and see something tangible.
If you had to choose one project you are most proud of, which would it be?
It would be the project where we first started using PlanGrid–in Oxford, Florida, a project called Trinity Springs for Cassia, an Augustana/Elim Affiliation. Even though I was one of the youngest Project Managers in the company, they entrusted me to work on one of the largest projects Edwards has ever done.
I’m grateful they took a chance on me.
From a cost and profitability perspective, it was a really good project. We finished on time and on budget. But from a more personal standpoint, this was a meaningful project to me. It was built by a nonprofit Christian organization and thinking about all the lives that will be changed and helped there is a great feeling.
What are your biggest concerns for the future of the construction industry?
I am concerned about the labor and workforce in general. There are many people not even considering a career in construction. Particularly, we do not have many professionals coming into the skilled trades. As time goes on, I am concerned that we’re going to find ourselves in a permanent labor shortage.
How do you think companies can encourage more young people to enter the construction industry?
I believe it starts with education and re-education. For instance, there’s a local plumbing company in Ocala that seems to be taking the right approach. They are going to high schools and speaking to students about considering a career in plumbing. When these students hear “hey, you could make $60,000 a year as a plumber,” their ears start to perk up.