How to survive your first month working in construction

Updated Jun 2, 2014

shutterstock_62462134In a previous post, I described the attitudes and behavior newbies need to survive their first week on a construction site. Now let’s turn our attention to what folks new to the construction industry need to know to survive their first month.

Assuming you show up 15 minutes early every morning, come prepared, and work hard, the big question is what’s next? Plenty as it turns out.

1. First and foremost, earn your keep.

Your No. 1 job is to make money for the boss or the company. No business can pay you $100 a day if you’re only doing $80 worth of work. In fact, for them to pay you $100 a day, you’re going to have to provide $150, or more, of value. That extra $50 will be eaten up by taxes, benefits, regulations overhead and all the parasitical demands of the world we live in. And don’t cop an attitude because you think the boss is getting rich off you either. Most construction contractors, at best, eke out 2 to 5 percent profit off your labor. Business is a lot tougher than most newbies realize.

2. Always be looking for something to do or a way to do it better.

If nobody’s barking orders at you, grab a broom, stack lumber, haul trash. Newbies tend to be ignored because the experienced people don’t have the time or don’t want to take the time to instruct you. But don’t for a minute think you’re not being watched. Just keep moving, thinking, finding ways to be useful. They won’t ignore you for long. (Thanks to reader Dennis Lura for this one.)

3. Don’t get too chummy with other newbies, and respect your elders and supervisors.

Construction inevitably attracts some drifters, people who lie just enough to get the job.  These people rarely last long, but if you buddy up to them too much you may find yourself sharing a pink slip when they do get canned—and they will. The old bulls may be gruff and hard to please, but they know the ropes and they’re usually good judges of character. Follow rule No. 2 and they’ll start giving you better tasks and responsibility.

4. Learn everything you can.

If there’s a book about it, read it. If there are night courses at the community college, take them. Get on the internet, check out the forums and manufacturers’ websites. Total immersion. Think about tomorrow’s challenges as you drift off to sleep at night. Understand that a lot of what you learn off the job may differ from how your employers do things on the site. But even so, knowing that there is a different approach is going to help you wrap your head around the job in ways that will eventually be very beneficial.

Next time I’ll talk about the skills you need, the thinking you have to do and the steps you have to take if you want a career in construction. In the meantime, tell me what you think. What are your suggestions? Comment below or email me: