Over the past century, construction has been slow to adopt technology, in part because of the perception that the old ways worked. The question follows, if it worked before, why do we need to change? Not to start a battle between the generations, but this tends to apply more to the baby boomer generation. The other side of this equation is technology. The younger generations now coming up through the employment ranks have basically been born with a phone in our hand, though I do remember the oh-so-sweet day when I got my first cell phone in high school – never mind the fact that I shared it with my sister. Technology amplifies the variety already inherent in the industry.

But what does that variety actually translate to? The HVAC trade involves diversity in projects, people, trades, and industries. For career seekers interested in variety, this field has it. The uniqueness of each project keeps the job interesting, and every day is different.

In HVAC, like other trades, teamwork and good corporate culture are important in producing a profitable job. In the spirit of being open and forthcoming, rather than “boss” the team, the successful manager becomes part of the team to solve challenges alongside everyone else. The successful project makes everyone on the team look good.

What does that team look like? In episode 32 of the Bridging the Gap Podcast, I spoke with Angie Simon, CEO of Western Allied Mechanical and the first woman to be president of SMACNA, the sheet metal and air conditioning national association. She’s also been a trend setter in Bay Area construction and hosts her own “Let’s Talk Shop” podcast. Angie feels that women, especially, are a largely untapped resource for the trades workforce. Her career is an example of what’s possible and encourages women to consider construction. Although it’s gotten the reputation as a “dirty” job, thanks to technology improvements the job prospects have upgraded. It is time to update the perception of the industry as well.

SMACNA is doing their part by targeting a message to middle- and high-school counselors about introducing students to the enhanced opportunities of construction careers. They don’t necessarily have to go to college and end up in debt to find an amazing career. Angie feels parents and counselors need to be educated that the trades are now a good opportunity for earning a decent wage, and she plans to visit schools to encourage this dialog moving forward.

Routine is the greatest enemy of innovation. It is something that Angie believes as well as I do. If we allow ourselves to get stuck in the same thinking that we always have, then advancement can never take root. It is only through challenging disruptions to the way we do things and/or think about things that we can truly grow and flourish.

As a result of COVID, companies in the construction industry are learning that lesson once more and proving just how resilient and well equipped they are to shift gears quickly. Protective equipment, for instance, has been a part of the industry for a long time. Interpersonal culture means a lot in the trades, so all of the impacts of social distancing on that are yet to be seen.

For the construction industry, what good can come out of this disruption?

People have banded together to come up with safety protocols.
Companies became more flexible to accommodate work schedules for parents with kids at home.
Employees are more open to adopting technology, and it’s being adopted faster.
There is more sharing and talking about issues.
What does the future hold?

Construction of more buildings for residential, commercial offices, sciences, and biotech.
Technology may reduce the number of jobs that need to be filled as the aging workforce retires.
Bridging the Gap Podcast, episode 32 with guest Angie Simon of Western Allied Mechanical and SMACNA.
The disruption we’ve experienced has knocked the routine for a loop. This is a good time for innovation. Listen to episode 32 of the Bridging the Gap Podcast for the full conversation with Angie and myself.


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