I have attended many career fairs selling engineering students on the merits of a career in construction. At one such fair, a student said to me “Construction? All you do is take stuff off a truck and put it up” after which they walked away. While the work of the Hole School of Construction has helped to change some of the negative attitudes, the stereotypes still persist.
I’ve worked in the construction industry for over 15 years, and I can say that is a constantly changing and challenging career, but also a highly rewarding career. Full disclosure: I am an engineer and don’t typically perform any tasks requiring manual labour (I don’t think anyone wants me to do any of that anyways), but I have the utmost respect for the skilled trades that execute the construction projects I’ve been a part of. Construction isn’t for everyone. Here’s how I explain construction to non-construction types (and the under-informed job seekers at career fairs).
People are familiar with Lego. Lego sets come in all shapes and sizes. Some of these sets have a few dozen pieces, some sets have hundreds of pieces. A construction project is kind of like a Lego set, and chances are if you liked Lego as a kid, you might have a future in construction.
Lego sets come with instructions. There may be a few different sets of instructions for one set, allowing you to make a few different projects. The instructions are very neatly laid out and easy to follow.
Similar to a Lego set, construction project does differ very slightly. Instead of a few dozen pieces and clear instructions, there can be millions of pieces and there are no instructions. There are drawings of what the completed project is supposed to look like, but no intermediate steps or drawings. This makes construction a bit tougher than “All you do is take stuff off a truck and put it up.”
There are more similarities, though. Like a Lego set missing a piece, if your construction project is missing a piece, you’re in trouble. On the flip side, if you have pieces left over when you’re done, you’re going to be rechecking everything to make sure you didn’t miss installing a piece.
There certainly are opportunities for engineers in construction. These opportunities may be helping develop the “instructions” for the project, or they may involve making sure the intermediate steps in the project are safe and stable, or they may involve designing new tools or devices so the instructions can be safely executed.
This is the first installment of the Boreal Blog with our thoughts on safety, engineering and construction. We welcome your feedback.