Companies are discovering that the most motivated and successful workers are those who have company resources in place to support professional achievement. A number of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) members offer company-sponsored training opportunities, which work in conjunction with the ABC apprenticeship and craft training programs. They recognize the need for specialized career development programs - and encourage employees to participate by providing incentives for successful completion.
Helix University - a program which introduces future Helix Electric managers to the complex world of supervision and project management - has been operating successfully for many years. BergAcademy is a progressive training program offered to Bergelectric employees to keep them current in knowledge and skills necessary to be an electrician. Similarly, to complement the apprenticeship, management and safety training that Western Summit Contractors' employees receive at ABC, the company has launched a "Foreman Academy," which to date has graduated more than 80 of its employees from this specialized training.
These companies and others have found that in order to stay competitive, employee career development must remain a top priority.
"At Western Summit Contractors, we realize that continuous learning and skills training are necessities for employees, not options," said Kevin Kurz, West Coast division manager.
Kurz should know - he began working with the company in 1982 as an entry-level field engineer and now heads the company's entire western division.
"The development of our Foreman Academy is a testament to the commitment of senior-level management in providing the tools, training, opportunities and support our employees need for career development," Kurz said.
Getting an early start in building and contracting is not the only factor in achieving a successful career. Learning your trade from master craftspeople is also the key to success.
At age 22, Brian Jordan had his first hands-on experience with medium voltage projects while working as an apprentice electrician. For the next 12 years, Jordan worked in the field, honing his skills and learning everything he could about the trade.
In 1988, Jordan was hired by then 2-year-old Helix Electric as a superintendent and within three months, found himself running a $4 million medium voltage distribution project for the U.S. Navy's Anti-Submarine Training Center. Jordan's skill in completing the project successfully put Helix Electric "on the map" for medium voltage distribution work with the military, which is still one of Helix Electric's top customers.
Jordan continued to be promoted within the organization - from superintendent on the project site to project manager in the office, eventually earning a promotion as a vice president. Then, in 2002, at the same time he was celebrating the successful completion of a $38.5 million underground conversion project for Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, Jordan received the highest recognition - he was promoted to executive vice president of Helix Electric.
Reaching success from the ground up
Succeeding in the building and contracting business can sometimes be a daunting challenge. With so much to learn within various fields, some might ask, what does it take to be a success?
Many builders and contractors in the region began their now successful careers by enrolling in apprenticeship programs and extended study programs offered through San Diego's Associated Builders and Contractors.
Andrew Pina began his career with Pacific Rim Mechanical as a plumber apprentice, but oddly enough, Pina has not worked a single day as a plumber since the company hired him in 1988.
When the plumbing project Pina was hired to work on was put on hold, the company offered him an interim job as an apprentice in the company's sheet metal shop. After just six weeks, Pacific Rim Mechanical saw the emerging talent in their young apprentice and offered Pina a permanent position. Upon completing his apprenticeship and on-the-job training, Pina was promoted to the sheet metal shop's foreman position.
Today, Pina still works at Pacific Rim Mechanical, and after several promotions holds the position of safety director.
Another Pacific Rim success story is that of ABC Apprenticeship Training trustee, Brian Turner. Turner joined Pacific Rim Mechanical in May of 1993 as a journeyman insulator. One year later, he was promoted to insulation superintendent.
After developing an in-house insulation department and then acquiring his C2 contractor's license, Turner was promoted to general superintendent, where he continues to be responsible for all field manpower -- including sheet metal installers, plumbers, pipefitters, insulators and commissioning personnel. He also manages tool and shop employees, and handles employee training and growth programs.
The company quickly realized Turner's potential and talent for managing and motivating others and paid him the highest compliment; in 2003, Turner was offered the opportunity to become one of eight partners of Pacific Rim Mechanical.
Another ABC Apprenticeship Training Trustee has achieved phenomenal success in his career. A young Tim Umbarger returned home from a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969 and took a "temporary" job working for a homebuilder in San Diego. The job lasted eight years.
Umbarger realized he enjoyed the work, and decided to enroll in an ABC carpentry course taught by Stan Roberts. Umbarger impressed his instructor to the point that he was offered a job with Roberts' new company, Good & Roberts, a general contracting firm.
During his early years at Good & Roberts, Umbarger occasionally acted as a substitute carpentry teacher for Roberts and spent his spare time learning everything he could about general contracting and carpentry. After completing a series of ABC courses in project management in the late 1980s, Umbarger was promoted to project manager, then vice president of operations.
In 1997, Umbarger - the first employee hired by Good & Roberts - was promoted to president of the firm, following in the footsteps of his employers and mentors.
From father to son
Paul B. Rowan started Paul's Electric in 1973. He exposed his three sons, Paul Jr., Troy and Mark, to the trade early on, where they each held part time jobs during their summer breaks and spare time.
"My dad had us in tool belts and in the field as early as he could," Mark said. "He taught us everything we needed to know to be electricians. We started as apprentices, and worked hard to learn the trade. He wanted no less than the best from his own kids."
As teens, none of the Rowan brothers had planned to follow in their father's footsteps or go in the construction business. All three attended college; Mark and Troy received criminal law degrees, while Paul Jr. sought a degree in business.
Shortly after graduation, Paul Jr. was drafted to play semi-pro ball for the Milwaukee Brewers while Mark and Troy were hoping to join the FBI. Life was good, however, tuition loans still needed to be paid and all three sons were seriously in need of jobs.
Troy headed back to the mountains to do help his dad on a project. Right around the same time, Paul Jr. and Mark followed a developer to San Diego completing electrical installations on high-end custom homes in Fairbanks Ranch. Paul Jr. was playing semi-pro ball and running a start-up electrical business part-time, while Mark worked in the field full-time.
As it sometimes turns out, all three sons soon came to realize that they were doing exactly what they enjoyed most. Paul Jr. is now president of Rowan Electric in San Diego; brother Mark serves as vice president of the company and Troy runs the family business with his dad in Mammoth Mountains.
Currently, Rowan Electric employs about 60 field, supervisory and management staff and specializes in medical and office tenant improvements, multi-family and new construction tilt-ups.
"Our goal is to be a reputable mid-size 'do it all' electrical contractor - a company whose owners are accessible and maintain a hands-on attitude, yet is still capable of completing large scale jobs," Mark said. "We strive for excellence in workmanship and craftsmanship - a philosophy we inherited from our father, and one which is passed along to all company employees."
Many businesses throughout the region rely on the programs and services offered through ABC to help train their workforce and grow their businesses. In turn, ABC relies on its industry partners to develop opportunities for growth, and cultivate a training culture that will sustain future generations of contractors and builders.
These merit shop heroes stand as excellent examples of how the right attitude and a little hard work can and will pay off. Achieving the American dream is not only possible; it's a reality in the construction industry. There's plenty of room at the top, for those who strive to reach it.