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Step 1: LISTEN — Career Toolbox Podcast

July 17, 2020

Two twenty-somethings with an amazing career trajectory in construction talk about their very different paths and their similar outlook for the future.

Whether you're just starting out of high school or college, the biggest piece of advice I could give is intern or take on a position where you're just an assistant, and you just get to listen, even if you don't even know what you wanna do exactly.

Just by listening and taking in that information, you'll come to a lot of conclusions.

—Bridget Slater

Welcome to ProTradeCraft's Career Toolbox. I'm Fernando Pages, and I'm here to help you turn your day job into a career. Today we have two guests on the Career Toolbox, and I'm hoping you will relate to them. Both in their 20s and both feel passionate about construction, and yet they follow two very different, but equally cool career paths.

Joining us on this Podcast, Bridget Slater, 23, lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with a degree in Construction Management. She's a realtor and Operations Manager for Luxus Design Build. She's passionate about the construction industry, because it's a lucrative industry that provides a future.

Addison is a young and extremely talented carpenter. I don't know his age, but testament to his considerable talent right out of high school, he caught the eye of the legendary builder and educator, Mike Guertin. If you read construction magazines or attend trade shows, you know Mike. He's the tall, thin, affable, bearded guy, teaching proper construction techniques. Today, Addison's work with Mike involves more than tool bags.

Although he wears them every day, his work also involves video cameras, and mics, scripts and movie sets, as Addison is becoming a media celebrity in his own right, and I think you'll hear that. Both of today's guests illustrate that when you do what you love with love, there are many roads to becoming a rock star.

Bridget and Addison, it's a pleasure to welcome you to the ProTradeCraft Career Tool Box.

01:58 BS: Hey, thanks for having us.

02:00 Addison: Yeah, I'm glad to be here.

02:01 FP: Both of you have hit it really quickly, like just out of the park looking over your resumes, if you will. Just really, really impressed with what you've done. But let's start with you, Addison. You have followed of a path that builders used to follow, with a trade school background and an apprenticeship, but with a twist.

You discovered the trades in high school, and I think a little bit because of your personality, that wasn't too keen on the bookwork and more keen on doing things. And then graduated to a superstar apprenticeship with Mike Guertin. He's not just a legendary contractor, but a dedicated instructor. So tell us a little bit about this relationship. How it began and what it's like for you to work with Mike?

02:48 Addison: Yeah, like you just mentioned. I wasn't so great at school. So I... One of my buddies who was in the program... He's a couple years older than me, he had suggested that I should go into the carpentry program, and I would really like the teachers and the structure of the class. So I took that program and my senior year of school, my teacher brought out a certain select of us to go out to Mike Guertin, which he was doing the fine home building at the time, and that was like a high-building practice area where... And if you really were dedicated, and you really wanted to be there... Not just skipping class, just to get out of class, you would go there and try to really lock in and learn. And I just really connected with Mike.

And right after I graduated, I used to message Mike on email, and I said, "Hey, I live down the street, I would love to come by and learn some more. I know you have plenty of work, so I'm definitely interested."

03:40 FP: That's terrific. So he gave you a job or you just come and volunteer? What... How did that work?

03:45 Addison: Well, in my whole senior year, we were working with Mike, and we would go every day, we would... I would do half the day at school, and the other half we would go to his house for about three hours every day, and he would just set up four or five of my classmates. We would be in little groups... Like three or four different groups. And the three of us students would tackle a project that he had set up for us. All the instructions, all the material. And like I said, I really liked it.

So I was working with a different company at the time, and I just wasn't really liking it. So I ended up leaving that job, and I asked Mike one day... Like a Saturday, I said, "Hey, do you have any work today? I would love to come by." And he just kinda set me up, and we figured out a little plan. He... And then he eventually hired me. He just let me stick around, and I ended it up being there every day. I just always engaged. Always wanting to be there.

04:34 FP: That's terrific. Now, Bridget your path was a little different. Tell us a little bit about your introduction to the construction industry on how on earth you climbed the ladder so quickly?

04:45 BS: Well, I started out, probably when I was about age 7 to 13. I actually got to walk the job sites with my dad. He has his own ornamental iron business, so he was designing and building Porte Cocheres and gates and staircases and chandeliers, you name it, in these multi-million dollar homes. And how he got away with bringing a little kid on to the job site, I'm not sure. I guess OSHA just wasn't a thing.

But I got to walk the job sites with him sometimes, and I just absolutely loved it. I just fell in love with construction and the custom homes. And so I didn't really think about it too much though, until about my senior year of high school when I was like, "Okay, what am I gonna do with my life?" And I was bouncing back and forth between a few other fields, and I really liked project management, and that's such a broad occupation.

05:42 BS: So I was going back and forth between video productions and journalism, and then I was like, "You know what? I think I really like construction though. I think that's what I'm gonna do", because it just seemed the most practical. My dad was already in the field, so I was like, even though I don't particularly know what I wanna do in the field, I know he has connections and I can figure it out from there. So I was really lucky in that sense to be able to have a dad that I could work through. So I went to the community college right out of high school and did my two-year Associates Degree in Construction Management, and while I was going to school, I was working with my dad, and he didn't really know what to do with me, so he was like, "Just go to these meetings for me."

And it was a design-build firm he was doing work for, and they had weekly construction meetings for each of their projects. And he was doing three of their projects. So I went to those weekly meetings, and I sat there for two hours, and just picture a 40-foot construction trailer with 30 middle-aged men, and then this one tall blonde girl in the back.

06:52 BS: I was just there to represent my dad, and... But I learned so much while I was in those meetings. And so I eventually went up to the design build firm and I was like, "Hey, if you ever need an assistant or anything... I'm working with my dad right now, but I'm looking to branch out."

And about six months later, they called me, and I started as an assistant to the president of construction, which looking back, that was the best decision ever, because if you wanna start out in this field, number one thing, be an assistant. It's okay if you're just pushing papers. It's okay if you're just handing tools to the main guy. That's where you learn the most.

So yeah, I started that there, got to purchasing agent, then they made me a director of pre-construction of sorts, and then I just recently, hopped over to a new design build firm, and we're bringing that up out of the ground. Right now it's an architect turned builder. So. Now I'm a builder living in an architect's world. It's very different. [chuckle] But. Yeah.

07:58 FP: So you had a kind of apprenticeship, too like Addison? You began as a helper, and because you were interested in all, it was a good position. Now Addison, you have some family background in construction, too?

08:14 Addison: No. Actually, none of my family was really in construction. Just... My house was getting renovated when I was a small child. My family decided to do an addition at the time. So I kinda grew up with no roof... I had a big tarp on my roof, 'cause you went up a story. So. And then all my... I had a staircase getting put in, so I had all the stringers that were just raw. No steps on them. So I'd be crawling all over those as the child, in middle school thinking it was a gymnastics area, and that opened my eyes like, "Wow. These carpenters get to crawl all over the ladders, and all up and down. Kinda opened my eyes." You just kind of have a little fun in this field.

08:53 FP: Well, you actually grew up in a construction site?

08:56 Addison: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.

08:57 FP: Not as many young people today don't think of construction as something that's cool. They wanna become like programmers or something like that. But your work with Mike is not just nailing boards together. There are media aspects, live events, writing, podcasts. All of this stuff that takes you off the job site and puts you in another element; the professional world.

What strengths or weaknesses do you see in your fellow carpenters that can hold them back from graduating to a professional level or help them towards it?

09:25 Addison: Most kids are just shy. They feel like they're... Young. They don't... They're not gonna fit in in a way. A lot of kids in my class... Like I said, They seemed shy like they didn't wanna dive right in or they felt like they were doing it wrong the whole time. They felt they needed to follow someone.

When they worked with our teacher, they would be like, "Okay." The second they got told like, "Okay, go over there, frame up this wall." People just felt like they couldn't do it, even though you just gotta have a little confidence, because it's...

We all sat behind the desk. We all listened... We all should have listened anyway. You just gotta practice. That's the whole... Like someone had said, "You gotta be an apprentice. You gotta learn. You gotta actually follow behind someone and just watch and you gotta keep doing it before you actually become a master." So I'm...

10:11 FP: Don't be afraid to try and to learn.

10:13 Addison: Exactly. A lot of people are just scared. They're scared to do something wrong. They're scared that they're not gonna be what people are looking for, and they're just afraid to put themselves out there.

10:22 FP: Bridget, in your experience on the job site, what traits, characteristics or behaviors do you see lacking in some... Or maybe many of the nail-back people that hold them back from developing a career, what advice would you give folks that wanna grow to be successful... Professional one day?

10:40 BS: Kind of like what Addison was saying about listening. I think whether you're just starting out of high school or out of college, in any field or industry, really, I think, especially nowadays with our generation, it's like people just wanna go straight into a position that has responsibility, because that equals the bigger salary. And it's like the biggest piece of advice I could give is, "Intern or take on a position where you're just an assistant, and you just get to listen." Because that is where... Even if you don't even know what you wanna do exactly, just by listening and taking in that information, you'll come to a lot of conclusions, and...

Especially just anyone in the construction industry, everyone has big egos and they think, "Oh, I know it all. I know at all." And it's, "No, you don't. How about you just listen to everyone else and be willing to work with everyone else, too." You get a lot done that way.

11:40 FP: Yeah, open to learning, like Addison said.

Now, Addison, you maybe kinda answered this question, but I've heard you speak about the physical or even athletic aspects of building versus office work, and how important it is to you, this real world, 3D aspect of building things that you're gonna look at the end of the day, in contrast with something much less tangible, like programming.

Tell me a little bit about that experience for you, what that means, that athleticism in that honest reality of the work?

12:13 Addison: Yeah. Like I had mentioned before. Even growing up, I was always seeing these guys coming in, carrying things up and down ladders to get up on my new floor that we were adding to my house, and I was just like, "Wow. It's a big gymnasium for all of us. It's a big jungle gym. It's like I get to play on a playground all the time, growing up."

And it definitely works you out. You go to work some days and it's pretty cold out, 'cause if you live in the East Coast, you get some snow some days, so you throw on a couple of jackets, a couple shirts, but during the middle of the day, you end up pulling all those layers off, you strip them all back, because you're carrying shingles, you're moving 2 x 4's over from the driveway to your cutting station.

You're always moving. You're always walking. A lot of people don't realize how much you actually... walk. They think that you're just sitting in one area, but you're always walking to the truck to get more nails, to get the lumber, to go upstairs to get this, plug in. It's a definite workout. A lot of people don't realize how much you actually move and how much you strain your body. It's not like you're just lifting weights at the gym, doing a repetitive movement. You're actually lifting things over your head, holding it there as you're trying to nail it in. It...

13:27 Addison: Definitely. It definitely strained some body parts that you're not usually working. So it definitely keeps you on your toes to kinda stay limber. You kinda don't wanna be out of shape. So then it's gonna affect your working ethic.

13:40 FP: Interesting. You describe it very much like a training program, almost. You get your 10,000 steps in every day.

13:48 Addison: Yeah, exactly. And it makes me feel great, though. I wake up and I'm happy to go to work. I'm outside every day. I mean, some days outside are cold, other days it might be raining. But then you get those beautiful, sunny days where it's just the right temperature, you're in a t-shirt. It's awesome being outside constantly. Constantly working with your hands. It's great.

14:09 FP: You talked, also, about the pride you feel when looking at something that you've constructed. It's standing there, and everybody can see it. Tell us about that?

14:20 Addison: Yeah, I mean especially working with Mike. I mean he always... He always pushes my limits or what I think are my limits. And even in high school, he wanted me to do the stairs, all the treads in the risers in the pro home. Which I knew it was gonna be featured in a magazine. And that was one of my first projects he had me do for him, when I first started working with him. And it's a pretty tedious project, being a finish worker.

So I was really nervous that I was gonna screw something up, and maybe cut the stair a little too short. We just had enough lumber to do all the stairs, so. But I mean, he had confidence in me. He said, "Just take your time. I'm not in any rush." And when you stand back, I mean you're just like, "Wow, I really did that." It just blows your mind. I mean, you show people some of the projects that you do, and they're like, "What? You did that?" Like, "No, no way." They just... A lot of people don't realize... I mean, two, three, four guys sometimes, build a huge house that you live in every single day. And it just goes right over some people heads how much work and time that goes into doing all of that.

15:20 FP: Cool. Now, Bridget, you've plunged into every aspect of the industry. Management, real estate, contracting. What do you like best?

15:29 BS: Definitely the contracting. I mean, if you're looking for something to do the least amount of work with the biggest return, I would advise you to go into real estate. I'm not saying you don't do work, you still do work, but the biggest return. But satisfaction wise, I love the building industry. I love the contracting part of it.

Because, like Addison, I just get this amazing sense of satisfaction looking at something that we all came together and built, and it's so tangible. That's what I tell people when they're like, "Why construction?" I'm like, "It's so tangible. You can see and feel and touch your hard work, basically." But it's different for everyone. Now I'm in an architecture office where we're building, but I work with mostly architects when I'm in the office. And they get out of...

They get a satisfaction out of just having a complete set of plans, and they don't necessarily have to see it built. The rendering can do it for them. So I mean, it's different for everyone. I was actually... I went to an AIA Awards event with them, just as a side note.

16:35 BS: And they actually had a category for best designed projects not built. And I was like, "Wait, wait. But anyone can draw anything. Like why?" In my eyes, it has to be built. So I just thought that was funny. But yeah, it's the tangible part of it. The real estate? I really just got the real estate license to add to the contractors license that I have, because it all plays a role.

Usually, when clients come to us, they already have a lot and they haven't even spoken to a builder or an architect yet. And they're like, "Yeah, we got this great lot." Well, guess what? Real estate agents really don't know jack about construction or architecture. We go out to their lot and we're like, "Do you have a soils report? 'Cause there looks like there's a lot of caliche out here." And they end up realizing that, had they talked to someone with knowledge about the design build process, they probably would have gotten a different lot. So I really just wanted to get the real estate license to add to... To add to that. Not just go out and also sell homes.

17:44 BS: So yeah, every aspect is fine. I love working with people, and it's really about the communication for me. I'll be the first to tell you I've never swung a hammer in my life, but I think there's makers versus managers, right? So some people are really, really good at making, and some people are good at managing. One is not better than the other. I think to be a successful company, you need a good amount of both.

Personally, I just think as long as I have the willingness to learn what it takes to frame a house, not necessarily know how to frame a house, but I need to know what you're gonna need. How much time is it gonna take? What access do you need to the job site type of thing? For every trade, I think I can manage pretty well. So I know some people would disagree with me, but that's just my perspective on things.

18:35 FP: So the real estate license and some of that is kind of part of your education, if you will?

18:40 BS: Yeah, yeah. I had to go to school. Out here in Nevada, you have to do 90 hours of schooling. So I went to school for that. Same with the contractor's license. I had to study for a few months before I actually took the test and all of that. So I don't actually use my license full-time. I work for this design build firm.

But side projects and whatnot, that's why I have my own contractor's license. But me and my dad did that together. He's like, "I don't know how to take tests that well." I'm like, "Well, if there's one thing college taught me, it's how to take a test." [chuckle]

19:17 FP: That's a skill in itself, isn't it? Addison, as a maker... I like that description. Describe your typical workday, and how you feel about your tools?

19:27 Addison: I mean, it all depends. I mean, that's what I really like about it, is the diversity of the job. I mean, it's not like I'm showing up to the same building at the same office every day. But like how... Right now, I'm actually working on a deck with Mike. He had built this deck a while ago, and it's kind of a little remodel. Redoing the gutter system, and we're redoing all the decking on it. And the railing system, we're putting a cable railing on it. And we've been doing that for maybe like this last month.

But months before that, I was all inside. Remodeling a bathroom, inside of a nice clean basement, all new construction in the last home that he just built. We were just taking down some drywall and redoing some plumbing.

So I got to do a little more background in that. Which, I mean, not every company gets to play with plumbing, maybe. And if you work for a full-time contractor that just has you strictly doing framing, per se.

20:22 Addison: So I kinda get a little bit of variety in my job, which is awesome. I get to... You do some framing one day, then you're outside for the whole next month doing decks, or even doing actual property work.

I mean, Mike has me doing some of his property work, going around mulching, chain dog, cutting down some trees that might be too close to the house, because he had one fall on the house, and it crushed with the hip of a roof that we just got done re-roofing. So I mean, like I say, it's endless. Sometimes you think everything is perfect, you just did a job, and then Mother Nature comes over and creates a whole another project for you at a job that you thought was already done.

21:03 FP: That's becoming more and more common place, isn't it? What about you Bridget? Now, you use some tools too, why don't you tell us about your workday and the toolbox you employ?

21:14 BS: So my tools are probably a little different. One tool that I have found the most useful that I use every single day is a program called CoConstruct. So my main role within the company is to create budgets during the design process, and so that way when we get to... It's in the...

The plans are in the building department. I can sit down with the client and say, "Look, this is the budget we've been creating collaboratively for the last few weeks, and here's the construction contract. Sign this. Let's go." I'm so glad that the technology is finally starting to hit the construction industry, because everything about it, we've been doing the same thing the same way for the last... How many every years?

But now, technology is starting to infiltrate the industry, and it's coming out in ways of project management... In project management softwares. And so CoConstruct is great because it's really built for design build firms, and I build all my budgets in there, my construction schedules, I can talk to the clients through there, I can allow them to see certain things, allow my team members to see certain things.

So I'm on that all the time. I say, that would be my number one tool that I use throughout the day.

22:33 FP: Your number one tool is a computer program. I'm familiar with it, by the way. I've used CoConstruct for... I used it for a number of years. Now, for both of you, and feel free to talk over one another, in parting words, and in any order that whoever feels inspired to speak can speak up, what would you say to listeners of your age about the construction industry? Would you recommend that they get into it and why?

23:00 BS: You can go ahead Addison. [chuckle]

[laughter]

23:01 Addison: I would just mainly say the industry is always changing. I mean, guys that are in the industry now are getting older, and they're looking for help, they're looking for people to give their knowledge that they've been carrying... And I mean, especially someone like Mike, they're so open to talking to people over social media and just getting new ideas from others, and I mean, that's what I love. I

love just getting as much information as I can from him, and he's so interested in all the new products that are coming out, which that's what I'm talking about. This trade is not... It's not getting old, it's not repetitive.

You're always faced with new challenges, new projects, new products all the time, and it's definitely something that is fun to get into. It's keeping you on your toes, it keeps you healthy, you're always learning, and guys are always looking for help, and I just feel like there's not enough younger people interested, like you had said.

23:58 FP: That's the pain.

24:00 Addison: Excellent. I mean, especially if you're dedicated to the job. I mean, you saw me. I was out in Vegas for almost a whole month. I was doing a trade show with Mike, and then another company asked if I wanted to work with them, since I was already out there, so I went and did another trade show, and I mean, they paid for the hotel, my flights, your food, and you just hang out in Vegas, somewhere you're not normally living, and you guys are just working hang out with all people that are interested in all the same things as you, so you have really good conversations like this one.

So I mean, it's just... It's endless. I just wish more of my buddies were actually into it. I wish more people younger were into it. It seems like a dying trade kind of.

24:44 FP: Well, not if... And not with your energy, it won't be.

24:47 Addison: Yeah, as much as I preach it, it's sad to say, even my buddies hate to hear it. They all talk like they would love to do it, but at the end of the day, no one wants to go out and work in the snow, or in the rain. No one wants to go out and work the long hours, but if you really are willing to go out and learn some stuff, and be challenged every day, it's perfect. It's not going to Wendy's making the same burger over and over and over, it's... You get challenged. It's something fun.

25:17 FP: What about you Bridget? You don't spend much time in the snow, do you?

25:19 BS: Oh, no. I wouldn't... No. If I even... No, I can do only 20 degrees, but I can't do snow. But I guess what I would say is everything is a supply and demand. So right now, there might seem like a lot of demand for programmers and whatnot, but construction's not running out, construction's not gonna stop. We're never gonna stop building things.

And with all the political stuff going on and whatnot, I think eventually we're gonna need people, the physical hands-on type of people to be out there constructing the homes or whatnot. That's gonna be in demand. And I think there's a pre-conceived notion that you enter the construction industry and you peak out at $15 an hour or whatever, but it's like the construction industry is so broad, there's so much in it, and it's like one of those industries where it's very tight-knit within your community. So even if you start somewhere, you're not gonna end there.

You just get to know people and you get to know the different aspects of the industry, and then you just start moving around and finding what works for you, but...

26:30 Addison: Exactly.

26:31 BS: Exactly. So it's not just one thing, it's a multitude of things and there's so much about it. And like Addison was saying, the new products... I mean, there's just so much potential coming for construction that I think it's a shame, I only know two people my age that are in construction. One is an electrician. And the other is... What is he doing? I think he's doing mechanical.

But it's like, man, there's nobody. It is a shame, 'cause you look around and you see so many people complaining about how they don't get satisfaction out of their jobs. And yet, they're not willing to try something new.

And it's not pushed by the schools. It's not pushed by the schools, because we're still being force-fed this idea that you have to go to college right after high school. And a lot of times the construction industry, you don't need to go to college in order to become successful, so, therefore, it's not being pushed as much. And I think that's a problem. I'm glad that Addison, you went to a trade school because we don't have any trade schools here in Vegas when it comes to construction.

And that's one of my goals in life is to start a trade school because it's so important and we don't have one out here yet so yeah, so young people should definitely go into the construction industry, it's super lucrative.

27:58 FP: Glad to hear you said... I was very glad to hear you say you can start here but you're not stuck there. And you can find your way into design, you can find your way into project management you can find your way into project management. You can find your way into... You wanna work indoors all the time and you become an electrician or you wanna...

There's so many options that I was really, really glad to hear you guys speak to that. I came into this interview today feeling like it's a dying industry. And I leave the interview feeling very hopeful. I kinda get that feeling from both of you like the opportunity to do this is great. And on top of it like Bridget said, Man, it's pretty darn lucrative right from the start.

28:38 BS: Oh man you don't even wanna know how much we're paying our stucco guys they're like 25 bucks an hour to put chicken wire on the side of the house like in Vegas is booming, so...

28:48 Addison: Great and it's endless, it is endless. Like you had said even if it is... Even if you do start out at $15 an hour, you don't have to stay at that company forever. You work somewhere, you get an idea of what you kind of like more.

You could be an electrician, you could be a plumber, you can be a carpenter and just do finish work. So you're still just inside but working with wood, and the price all varies everywhere you go, it's endless. So endless.

29:16 FP: Well, thank you so much. Unfortunately, this podcast is not endless, but I appreciate so much both of your participation. I really, really, really enjoyed it. You're both very eloquent, very smart, and inspiring.

29:27 BS: Thank you.

29:28 Addison: Yeah, thank you for having us.

Career Toolbox is a production of SGC Horizon Media Network. I'm your host Fernando Pages and the show is produced by Dan Morrison.

 

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