Ladder of Success

Deconstructing Construction, with Eric Lussier

October 09, 2019 Bailey @ BuffaloConsults
Ladder of Success
Deconstructing Construction, with Eric Lussier
Chapters
0:00
Intro
3:22
What's Good with Construction?
5:05
What's Broken in Construction?
9:33
What Should be Changed?
11:42
Abundant Employment Opportunities
15:16
Scheduling and Cost Issues
17:39
Individual Action Steps
21:54
Promotion Steps for Organizations
25:23
"Let's Fix Construction"
26:24
A Modern Leather Apron Society?
Ladder of Success
Deconstructing Construction, with Eric Lussier
Oct 09, 2019
Bailey @ BuffaloConsults

Construction seems to be filled with problems - how many depends on who you ask.  On paper, studies say 70% of projects exceed the schedule.  As a finish tradesman, Eric Lussier, co-founder of Let's Fix Construction sees firsthand problems with project scheduling on a routine basis.

He and I are going to skip that stat and focus on other issues he has seen in the industry.  We'll talk what's good with the construction industry and what could benefit from changes.  We discuss how promising employment and job security looks in the future of construction.  We break down stigmas that younger people may have about working in construction and trades, and then we cover how individuals and organizations can help better the industry.

Eric is also the Vermont Chapter President of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and Executor of Advancement at Precision Athletic Surfaces.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Construction seems to be filled with problems - how many depends on who you ask.  On paper, studies say 70% of projects exceed the schedule.  As a finish tradesman, Eric Lussier, co-founder of Let's Fix Construction sees firsthand problems with project scheduling on a routine basis.

He and I are going to skip that stat and focus on other issues he has seen in the industry.  We'll talk what's good with the construction industry and what could benefit from changes.  We discuss how promising employment and job security looks in the future of construction.  We break down stigmas that younger people may have about working in construction and trades, and then we cover how individuals and organizations can help better the industry.

Eric is also the Vermont Chapter President of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and Executor of Advancement at Precision Athletic Surfaces.

Bailey:

Well hey there, glad you're back again. This is Bailey. You can reach me through email B-A-I-L-E-Y at buffaloconsults.c om, o r just reach out to me on Twitter at buffaloconsults. My guest today is Eric Lussier and I'll let him introduce himself later, but in a nutshell he saw some disturbing trends in the construction industry, which led to him and a colleague working together to start the Let's Fix Construction website and blog, and we're goi ng to ju mp into this. We're going to discuss what those trends are, what is actually good about the industry because we don't want to sound too negative, and how we can improve. So, thanks for listening again. I hope you enjoy. With that, let's get the show rolling. So let me be lazy. I 'm g oing to l eave this part to you. Take care of the introduction; tell me a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Eric:

Well, my name is Eric Lussier and I stumbled into the construction industry in January of 2006, getting a job for an indoor sports flooring distributor and subcontractor. And ultimately that's as a gym flooring guy. And at the end of the day I thought it was really neat that I was getting to work on projects that involve physical fitness and activity and games. I grew up playing basketball and baseball and football and really enjoy watching all sorts of different sports. So I was in working on projects that installed gym flooring, and I was started off as an estimator and an a ss istant project manager, and worked in shipping and receiving, and we covered the whole Northeast United States. I worked on a lot of different great projects and actually moved down to Pennsylvania in '07 and took on the territory as a salesman, essentially traveling sales and marketing, doing that same thing for the same company, indoor sports flooring. And I had a rather large state growing up in Vermont I quickly learned how large some other States are, namely Pennsylvania. And you can't just drive east to west in two hours like you h ad i n most of Vermont. So I had a good four years down there, moved back up to Vermont, continued to the job in m ore of a s ales and marketing manager role and mo ved c ompanies about four years ago, but co ntinue t o do the same exact thing. With Precision Athletic Surfaces, we supply and install all sorts of different gymnasium and athletic and sports surfaces specializing in the synthetic industry, namely cus hion sh eet vinyl and poured urethanes and rubber surfaces. Don't really travel much into the wood maple flooring market, but have access to that as well. And that's really predominantly my day job or a s u b con t ractor. So we're not just out there getting proje cts spec ified, but we're out there actually installing We just wrapped up a 33,000 square footer yesterday as a matter of fact in the capita l regio n in Albany, New York. And it's pretty exciting. At the end of the day, what we're turning over to a facility to an owner is a beautiful athletic surface that kids get to play games on and grow up on. I should say kids, but not just kids. All users, whether it's an adult or an elderly g eneration. All users are usually playing and interacting and having fun and staying healthy on the surface that we're providing. So that's kind of my day j ob , so to speak.

Bailey:

Well, let's start with the happy thoughts then. In your time in construction, what do you see that's good with that industry?

Eric:

What's good with this industry? The construction industry in general? Um....

Bailey:

In general.

Eric:

That's a good one. And you threw on some questions for me to look at and that one is probably one I w as the least prepared for even though you didn't set me up for it. In general, the plethora of work that's available out there, the broad range of careers that are available, t hat immediately comes to mind because when you look at a lot of industries out there, it's very narrow in the skills that are necessary. Meanwhile in construction, one of the things that we've been talking about the last couple of years is construction is so far beyond the har dhat an d the hammer and the carhartts. I think a lot of the younger generation think of construction in that mindset. Well, mea nwhile they really need to shed that image and really grasp the fact that construction is an extremely broad industry. And as we move more towards technology in construction, whether it's with BIM or AI or a modu l ar, what have you, the career possibilities within the construction industry are enormous right now. And that makes me really, really happy to feel that. I think the industry has got a very wide reach of people that can be employed within the industry itself.

Bailey:

Well now we can get into why did I ask that question? You also h ad the website and the blog and podcast I guess are all the same name Let's Fix Construction, and the name itself implies that something is broken. So how did you come to that realization, and from your experience, what are some of the things that are broken in construction?

Eric:

I came to the realization through my involvement with the Construction Specifications Institute, CSI. I've been a very active member for the last 10 years now and I'm actually current president on my second term of the Vermont chapter. And CSI is a very broad reaching organization of members that encompass all occupations within the construction industry. And really through my involvement with CSI and talking to people on th e national circuit, whether it's at the national trade show CONSTRUCT, or chapter meetings, or just through social media, I kind of re a lized th at the re wa s a lot of ill s wi thin the industry. Let me say that CSI is really how construction is supposed to be. CSI offers numerous certifications in the industry, and one of them was a certificate called the CDT, the Construction Document Technologist. Recently it's moved to a full blown certification, but about eight years ago when I was taking my CDT co urs e, one of the things that my instructor, Mitch Miller, informed myself as well as my class is if yo u want to pass the CDT certificate test, you really need to lose the train of thought of, well, I'm in construction and this is how we do it. You really need to realize that this is the CDT, this is CSI CDT, and this is construction how it's supposed to be. And he actually would say that the less con stru ction experience you had, the better off you would probably do with the test because you're not bringing in what's going on in the industry. So, through all of the years of talking to people about CSI and really about how construction does go on in the market, there was a realization that there is really not one ill within the industry that needs to be corrected. There's many, many, many, many ills that could all use course correction and construction is a very tried and traditional industry with many people that have been doin g it for their whole life, 20, 30, 40, 50 years and they've always done it a certain way. While as we're quick ly ap proaching 2020, we realize tha t there is not one thing in this world that is not changing at really the speed of light right now. Things are basically being, heck you can find a business, start a business, sell a business within the course of a month nowadays because of the way that people adapt change. So construction has always been very, very slow to change, whether it's within changing how you're using a tool on a job site to implementing technology on a job site. So, the whole idea behind Let's Fix Construction was.... my gosh. Just as I talked earlier about how encompassing the construction world is with employment opportunities, there is just as much that can be corrected within it because of how broad the industry is. So when we founded Let's Fix Construction in 2016, the idea was, you know, we just want to talk about the ills, and the ills are very, very many, and just offer a course correction or a suggestion or an adaptation. The idea of there are better ways to do things out there, there's probably better ways to fish nowadays and hunt nowadays. I don't really do either, but there are certainly other people out there doing things differently that are having more success. So just because I've always done it this way 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, doesn't mean that there's not somebody out there that's either done it for more or perhaps done it for a heck of a lot less that ar e do ing it efficiently and can do it, and off er their solution out there so that other people can adopt it too. Because face it, we're all quickly approaching retirement or burnout or what have you. There's no reason to go to the grave with some of our knowledge out there and not pass it on to other people, to the yo un ger generation, and show them that there's a better way to skin a cat. So that was kind of why we founded Let's Fix Construction. The idea is really just sharing knowledge and helping this wonderful industry that we work in and try to help, you know, 2020 and beyond with the future of construction.

Bailey:

So I want to throw a side question in here. When you mentioned the f uture of construction, what would you like to see changed from what exists to what could be in the future?

Eric:

Right now it's a matter of what don't I want to see changed. I want to see adaptation from the younger generation t o accepting it as a career. I want to see guidance counselors suggest construction and it s b road possibilities within it as a potential career and not just college, college, college. I'm sick and tired of reading about, you know, I can't afford my bills and I don't have any college debt. I can't imagine as I have a first grader and a third grader that live under my roof, how much college education is going to be in 9 years and 11 years for them and think about them turning out after four years of being monumentally in debt. I want guidance counselors to be able to suggest to the younger generation that, "Hey, have you looked at this? Have you looked at this internship that you could go and get paid on and get a job one year out of school, or have you look at t his trade school that has this grant available to help you out on?" You know, that's the number one thing I really want to see out of all of this is the adoption by the younger generation of the futures of construction. Because we're talking about massive unemployment or employment possibilities I s hould be saying within construction over the next 5 years. You know, millions of jobs are going to be available over the next 10 so it's time to start talking to the younger generation out there about the future possibilities is we're never going to need to stop building, stop renovating, stop improving our structures that are out there. Heck, up here in the Northeast, especially where I am in Vermont, we just keep sti cking ba ndaids on gunshot wounds up here and bu ildings and it' s ju st a matter of time before some of these are going to crumble within each other and it's time to start looking forward to the future of buildings, and more so who's going to be building them?

Bailey:

I'm glad you brought up the guidance counselor part, because I don't think in my time in high school I ever had a guidance counselor even suggest construction as a real possibility so to speak. It was always, there seems to be kind of a stigma around the industry of construction is what you do when you screw up at something else and can't make it in a real job. And there was actually an article I saw the other day that mentioned a stigma that comes with working in c onstruction an d w hy that's making it harder to attract a younger generation. So maybe maybe there'll be change in that maybe let's hope there'll be changing that because we're, what are the numbers say ing? W e're already looking at, how many million more jobs than wor kers right now?

Eric:

Absolutely. We're at full employment in many industries, construction being one of them. And October is actually Career In Construction month. And I think it's great th at t here's actually a, essentially a theme that bats out there and it's at least being talked about. And of course it's not nearly enough and that's one of the things that we try to do. You know, no matter where we're speaking in the nation or who we're talking to is trying to let the future generation of all generations really know about the potential that's within construction business. As I got a son that will be looking at the future and 9 years time from my e xperience alone, I'll be at least telling them that, "Hey, maybe you should be looking at this, that and the other because it's not all computer science degrees and economic majors out there that are needed." You know, who's going to be ou r future plumbers? Who's going t o be o ur future electricians? Who's going to be our future carpenters. I mean, all of those are going to be ne e de d tenfold a s our p opulation spirals out of control in this world. And there's not one house that doesn't need constant improvements, as I learned when I bought my first house, essentially six years ago. It's a constant need of improvement in needing tr adesmen o ut there to help us get what we need.

Bailey:

And just, let's see, today is October 4th. Just to stay relevant, the unemployment numbers came out this morning. I don't know if you saw that report yet we're at t he lowest unemployment in 50 years and still looking for people to fill jobs. So just in my local area, and this is pr obably the same in your area, every, seems like every contractor is looking for, no matter what the ir tr a de is , the y're tr ying to hire more people. And when we finish this up, I'm going down to hang ar pro ject at T in ker Air Force Base that's got, last I saw, 8 different trades working on it and they're all trying to hire. So when it comes to job security, there is job security to spare in this industry right now.

Eric:

Not only is it fair, but the future is extremely bright as well as the financial means within this industry. And income possibilities are enormous. And I s aid without a lot of debt being incurred upfront, if you go into it the right way and not find it accidentally like myself and like many other people did, you ki nda w ent out and gr abbed t he four year degree perhaps and stumbled into construction on an accident. I didn't quite go about it that way but I certainly stumbled into construction by accident and I joke I can't get out no matter how hard I try. There is lots and lots of potential within this industry and it just needs to be talked about more and more to the younger generation.

Bailey:

I want to go a little bit different topic right now. The, and I've, I'm getting this out of reading some of your blog posts on your website, but I keep seeing the 70% and 73% statistics are thrown out there about project schedule overruns, budget overruns. I think two of the podcast guests I've had so far both spouted off that those were normal in their areas. Up in Vermont where you're from, do you see projects doing that on a routine basis, going overnschedule and over budget and causing a lot of headaches for the owners?

Eric:

I can tell you as a finish tradesmen, and that's what we are by putting in a floor, we're division 9, we are the last person on a job. And as I quickly a pproach my 15th year, I can't tell you the last time I was involved on a project that hit on schedule. The worst part about bidding a project before a shovel goes in the ground is you are susceptible to every single thing that could potentially go wrong. And that doesn't include the weather, which is the worst thing, especially up here in the Northeast. So schedules, forget about it. They're not ever hit and every time someone gives you one, someone can g ive me a schedule three weeks out and I know that most likely there's a 99% chance of it not being hit. So schedules, forget about it. Everyone can have an idea of what they want to be, but chances are they're not going to hit it. And a lot of that in the budget overruns go into the spiraling costs of materials with tariffs and labor issues, that's all going to tie in. So right now budgeting is as difficult as it's ever been, if not worse. We're hearing of, you know, contractors basically locking in prices and offering a lock in of prices of about a week to maybe a month because their suppliers are not able to lock in their prices any longer than that. So costs are goi ng to co ntinue to spiral out of control and our budgets are going to continue to get worse, especially when we talk about going back to the same issue, this labor shortage. If you' re not able to get a labo rer on a job, not to mention a specialty contractor, how are you able to turn over a project in a t imely fashion? So buckle up and s ay it's not going to get any better before it gets worse unfortunately. And those budgets and th ose schedules are only going to go more awry.

Bailey:

Well, other than, say, promoting construction and promoting the trades to the younger generation of workers that's coming towards being involved in the industry, where do we start? What's something else we can do to improve things as they are right now?

Eric:

Oh wow. Um...

Bailey:

Yeah. See you signed up for this.

Eric:

That's the case. I mean, I don't even know where to start addressing, you know, some of the things. You know, project delivery and the education around it is a huge starting factor and that's why the CSI CDT program is the ultimate, u h , 1 01. We kind of call it, even though it goes much more in depth on knowledge than a 101 program on the way a project comes to light. And the CDT is the ultimate project delivery education out there. And it's the idea of getting to know how a project is conceived, how it's delivered, how it's designed, how it's bid, how it's a little bit of how it's operated, and how it's commissioned, into how it's demolished and all goes through. And not only that, but all of them, your players and how they take part within that. So, becoming very knowledgeable about the entire project is such a great way to start. And we s aid before, I was about four or five years in to flooring before I started getting trained i n, in the CDT. And as I was going through my certificate program and testing, and it m ade me realize, and I say this over and over again, that I used to walk in on a project and all I d o wa s l ook at the slab or look at the floor. It co u ld be cause that's what I did. And then you go through the CDT program and you learn about the way your floor interacts with everything inside the facility and how the building is constructed and how it's operated. So you go into a project with much more of a wide angle vision and it just makes you look around. So talking about how construction is not just your trade, but how it interacts with other systems and ot her trades interacts overall is such a huge way to go about informing yourself and other people on how we can all make these projects and make these buildings better. And that's a huge way to really start because as I learned, especially when it comes to construction drawings and documentation, which is such a huge backbone of CSI, is there's not a lot of education on that part from architects when they go to school,. Like they're basically getting very little training in regards to technical writing that you're getting with CSI i n the CDT p rogram. So by having that curriculum out there and having people talk about it and promoting it and educating themselves within it, they are getting a much more broad education within the industry and that's a huge way to really start the ball rolling. I think there's a lot of great certification programs out there and a lot of great education out there and how lo oking at those opportunities and not just that four year degree like we talked about in a traditional college because it really opens up the eyes and opens up the mind to the real potential that's out there. And with our changing futures that say every week it's something new; every month it's something new. It's just a matter of time before somebody discovers a technology or what have you that is really gonna monu mentally change or shift someone's philosophy or someone's company or someone's future, and help this industry kind of move forward on things. So I get to ramble into the point where sometimes I even forget what the initial question was you know, addressed, but that was what kind of hit me right off the bat as I was trying to think of how to best answer that.

Bailey:

Currently I'm sitting on the chair for the marketing committee for American Institute of Constructors, and AIC's big thing is promoting professional development. So give me some help here. From a messaging standpoint, what do you see that organizations like AI C a nd others can do to bring about positive change in the industry?

Eric:

Promote, promote, promote. And promote outside of membership is really the number one thing. And I think CSI has got a h umongous issue with that as well. A lot of people are really good at talking to their workmate, their tea mmate, t heir job site ma t e ab out certain things, but we're not really good at talking to the public about it. And whether that's addressing a town hall conversation or talking to my son's third grade classroom, it's talking to more and more people about the industry, the future of the industry, what is offered within the industry, whether that's education or career advancement or subsidies, what have you. But it's basically getting out from underneath your comfort zone and underneath your umbrella and talking to the public about the potential that's out there. And I always see that as one of the number one faults really is as an active, very active CSI member is I'm not doing a good enough job of talking to basically firms and companies and what have you, that d on't have a CSI member on staff about the potentials and th e o fferings of our industry, of our organization. And that's what I think a lot of organizations can do. You know, what's out there for an offering that can tell you that, you know, until recently I was, until you and I had kind of met, I was completely unaware of your organization as I'm sure a of people were not fam iliar with CSI. Because I always say that abou t 15 years ago or so, a television show kind of came out and that comp lete ly made askew what the public's percepti on was of CSI to the point where we joke about this all the time, but it's really true. Can't you tell y ou the number of times I've been in a hotel elevator wearing my CSI shirt and someone turns to me and goes, "Oh, are you here investigating a crime?" And we sometimes just go with it. We'd be like, "Yeah, there was really bad blood splatter in room 211." And they'll believe us because all it takes is a television show to kind of change someone's perception of things. So, uh...

Bailey:

I would be getting kicked out of hotels, by the way, if that happened, I'd be the guy leaving chalk outlines on the hallway floors.

Eric:

So that's yeah, it's, and I just read a great, great article about it actually about how horrible we are in construction with acronyms. And it was mainly about business names and acronyms, but within construction. And I recently reviewed a s pecification that had nine pages of references of different acronyms and abbreviations th at o n just this one job. And I loo k at it from afar and thi nk, th at's 100% right. I mean the number of acronyms and abbreviations on any one job site that we deal with are monumental. So I think the p eop le that do see C SI a nd why wouldn't they think of Crime Scene Investigators, even though for any, anybody that's active in construction 65 years deep is, you know, CSI is the Construction Specifications Institute.

Bailey:

Well before we wrap this up, I want to give you the opportunity here to be as shameless as you possibly can. Tell me about t he L et's Fix Construction website and what can be found on that.

Eric:

Sure. Well, it all really goes back to how it was, why it was founded and Let's Fix Construction was a blog that was generated to help promote the construction industry and to show and tell people how to better do things. Cause there's a lot of griping that goes on in the industry and a lot of, "We've always done it this way," but there's not a lot of forward thinking and positive websites that are out there to show you that there's maybe a better way to skin that cat. So that's kin da ho w Let's Fix Construction was founded and it's, we're up to about 50 contributors now from across the industry spectrum, from specifiers to contractors to specialty contractors to engineers that are basically addressing the ir sm all piece of the pie and how they make a better pie crust is how it all comes down to it. And it's a public forum that we run for free. It's completely u nsponsored. There's no advertising on it at all other than maybe the conference that we want to go to or we go to in t h at C SI's CONSTRUCT conference. It happens to be next week in National Harbor, Maryland, but it's completely unbiased and uns ponsored. S o it's 50 people up to that write that we put out thei r con tent for free to promote it, to show people that there's better pie crust recipes out there and we are always looking for contributors and tell people to go and check out letsfixconstruction.com for a little bit of what we're doing. And that kind of morphed further into first, presentations and that was the fact that there wasn't a lot of people out there, let's say talking about specifications or offering a collaborative environment where we can talk about better ways to do things and t he L et' s Fix Construction workshop was born because of that. And we basically put a bunch of people in a room at tables, put them on teams, give them an industry issue and have them do a 10 minute brainstorming session as to how to move that into the future. And then we go about and talk aloud about what our findings were and what our suggestions are and we get everybody to talk to each other and talk to strangers at the table that they had don e, n ot n ecessarily a teammate with or a workmate with. And we found s ome a great collaboration and feedback based out of those. And we've done some other workshops that we've gon e out there and done more, done a co uple of dozen across the nation over the last couple of years. And then the l ast year we found that our o wn p odcast as well that we haven't had to do nearly as many episodes as we'd wante d to because we're 3000 miles away. Cherise Lakeside and myself as cofounders of Let's Fix Construction. So between the 3000 miles a nd t he three hours time frame d iffe r ence, it's always a little bit difficult to get on the mic and, but we did find tha t y ou can find that at let'sfixconstruction.com and all your major podcast players, but we want to get more gu ests in what have you on that too because it's kind of the future of construction is not only video but voice as well on how we co ns ume content so we know t he value of that. So it's a very broad medium. Let'sfixconstruction.com has turned into but it's very encompassing as well and say there' s r eally not anybody with a good article or good knowledge that we've turned away by any means. What we have found t ha t the only people we're turning a way a re the SEO see ker s and those are the people tha t are out there literally just trying to get backlinks on th e blog po st p rom oted on a website cause then they get paid when at the end of the day we don't get paid at all for what we do. We take personal vacation time when we go out and talk about Let's Fix Construction or industry ills and we run out of pockets to run the website and do what we do. So we promote and publish a new post every Tuesday morning, call it New Post Tuesday, and usually over the 52 weeks a year, we're putting up at least 48 new p ie ces out there across the industry spectrum. So we always tell people that if you've got some knowledge to share, a better way to skin that cat, what have you, and even if you don't think you're a writer, put it down, sit down. We're not editors, but we're good at offering suggestions if need be. And we're more than happy to have that medium out there and to allow you to share your knowledge before it's too late. And that's a little bit about Let's Fix Construction.

Bailey:

And I've spent a lot of time on that one the last, last few days getting ready for this. So there's a lot, you can start reading and spend the day on it. So anybody that wants to check it out, I'd highly recommend it. With that, we'll call it a, yeah we'll call it a day so we can get our Friday taken care of and get it over with and get in to the weekend. Eric, thank you so much for your time. This has b een great.

Eric:

Bailey, thank you so much for having me on. I wish you great luck on the podcast moving forward and it's been an absolute pleasure being a guest.

Bailey:

Let's do this again some time .

Intro
What's Good with Construction?
What's Broken in Construction?
What Should be Changed?
Abundant Employment Opportunities
Scheduling and Cost Issues
Individual Action Steps
Promotion Steps for Organizations
"Let's Fix Construction"
A Modern Leather Apron Society?