Final Word: Bad boss/good boss

Before I got into journalism I worked a lot of odd jobs in construction. As much as I liked it, the people I worked for were often disagreeable. A lot of the bosses and supervisors were disorganized and barely competent. When things bottled up or broke down, tempers flared. Guys on the low end of the totem pole, like me, were always first when it came to pink slips or verbal abuse. Old school days, old school ways.

Then again, there were some great laughs like the staggeringly drunk slumlord who put me on a crew to tar a roof. He used his girlfriend’s pink Cadillac to tow a nasty-looking hot tar machine to the jobsite and proceeded to set it on fire. We didn’t get much done that day, but the memories are priceless – especially that of the drunk and his girlfriend flailing at each other as he tried to unhitch the burning tar machine from the Cadillac.

One day I lucked into a crew that was different. The boss, Bob, knew on Monday where the job needed to be on Friday, and he kept everybody hustling with encouragement instead of threats. When Bob saw that I had learned some bad habits he took the time to explain his way of doing things and how everything connected. If you screwed up once, he’d get the biggest laugh out of it. If you made the same mistake twice – well, you just didn’t make mistakes twice. This on-the-job-training slowed down production some, but Bob never lost his cool. By the end my first month we were back up to speed and taking on more laborers with me doing the training. Not to brag, but we rocked. Nobody could touch us for speed or quality.

That’s why to this day I cringe whenever I hear a contractor say: “I hired this guy who said he knew how to run a backhoe, but I had to fire him a week later ’cause he didn’t know squat.”

Think about it. If the guy didn’t know squat, do you think it might be because nobody ever took the time to show him squat? Do you think, perhaps, his parents, teachers and previous employers had failed to live up to their end of the social compact?

Amazingly, despite the fact that construction accounts for 7.7 million jobs and nine percent of our gross domestic product ($1.2 trillion), the United States has failed to create enough skilled workers for our industry. If you’re really looking for a solution, you could try taking on the government, the schools and the associations – or take a look in the mirror. If you are a boss or a supervisor you are the solution.

If the people applying for your jobs don’t have the skills, hire for character and train for skills. If you’re running the company and don’t have the time to train, put it on your supervisors or next in command. If you don’t know how to train, sign up for some “train the trainer” programs offered by the construction associations. If you don’t have the patience for training, you don’t need to be a boss.

Your company will succeed or fail based almost entirely on the quality of the people you hire and how well you manage them. For entry level jobs in construction, training is the first step in management. It’s what good bosses do.