I attended the Building Envelope Contractors (BEC) Conference in Las Vegas this week. One thing I picked up was about the new turtle codes for glass. I’m told this has been all over the industry publications, but I’m having a hard time believing we have to now design glass for turtle safety. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re using glass to create electricity, protect occupants during storms and bomb blasts, etc. But I think I have now heard it all. It’s true that learning is a lifelong process.
This got to me to thinking about all I have learned over the years. Bill Swango hired me straight out of college and told me it would take five years to teach me everything I needed to learn about this business—to know what glass strength is; how annealed, heat-strengthened, and tempered glass respond in loads; and their relative strengths, along with all the thousands of things about aluminum, gaskets, sealants, fasteners, and other components that go into curtainwall. I had to learn about finishes, coatings on glass, compatibility and adhesion, building movements—all of it in those first formative years.
And then came the other side of the coin: it would take another five years to see if I could properly apply what I had learned the first five years before it could be determined if I was going to be a “keeper.” The “apprenticeship” was going to last ten years. And that’s why, in hindsight, I wasn’t going to be getting paid the same as the guys who had done their time. As young as I was, I thought I could do anything they could, and should be paid the same. Ah, the folly of youth. I was wrong, but I had to get older (which, by the way, also takes time) before I learned how wrong I was.
It has also occurred to me that the “apprenticeship” program is probably true of any profession. College can teach you how to think like a (fill your major in here), or you can learn it by jumping right into it as a glazier or ironworker. But the time has to be spent. There’s no way to go from kindergarten to graduation immediately, the time has to be put in. Some may be better/faster learners, but time must pass in some quantity before you can learn a subject in depth.
How do we pass this information on? If you’ve got a keeper in your organization, send them to BEC to interact with others in the profession and see how much knowledge and expertise is out there. Mentor someone in your organization.
Where do you draw your talent from? Here are a couple of ideas:
There are a lot of good college programs teaching project management and/or construction. Seek recruits from their ranks of graduates. Bringing them in after graduation, they can learn it without the “habits” of having already worked in the industry.
Speaking from personal experience, I learned in school I wasn’t going to be an architect, but completed my degree and sort of fell into something related. Fortunately, I’ve never regretted working in the glazing profession, and have not looked back once.
There have got to be people with that same background in the architectural schools who could be involved in the one construction trade that deals everyday with what they learned in school. Plus, the draw that the glazing biz pays better than architecture has to have at least some attraction, right?
And get involved in the trade. One of the technical issues we dealt with at BEC this week was to try to determine how clearance distances between glass and metal came about as listed in an industry standard. Some of this has been around longer than the “long-in-the-tooth” guys can remember. And there doesn’t appear to be anyone who sat down and put all their notes in a form that someone can use all these years later.
Because of the time taken to teach me the business, and for the joy and happiness being involved in it has brought me, I’m going to take this on as a passion, to take what I know and pass it on, somehow. I know I can do that participating in the technical committees, but there are probably other ways, too.
I learned about having passion for our work this week, too, at BEC. It hasn’t all been turtle codes and Vegas stucco. Plus, there was golf yesterday afternoon, and that doesn’t happen very often in Seattle this time of year …
In your own career, what actions do you take to keep learning, and to share your expertise with others?