The students at Michael Shrode’s Construction Technology class at Wadena-Deer Creek High School learn how to build houses. A recent field trip to Minneapolis and the KA Block site provided a chance to view large-scale construction, and career insight from some of the people who make it happen.
Before the tour the eight students, juniors and seniors, got an overview and personal narratives from three KA professionals who each shared some of their own journeys from students to career construction professionals.
Construction Executive Chad Rettke was on the KA team that built the Wadena District’s middle/high school facility, and was the school’s first point of contact to arrange the site visit. He told the students that people come to construction through a variety of paths. He started college on the path to an architecture career; then switched to construction management.
As project manager for the new KA office headquarters on the KA Block, Ryan Klick is on the jobsite every day, a support system for the construction crews and conduit between architecture and construction. “I’m here to keep everything flowing smoothly, whether it’s money, materials, or schedule, to keep the big machine moving,” Klick explained; “and to make sure the superintendent is getting everything he needs.”
Terry Coleman is the project superintendent on the KA headquarters building. One of KA’s leading proponents of technology innovation, Coleman asserted that college isn’t the only path to a rewarding career in construction. He told the class he has made his entire 23-year career in construction, starting as a laborer and building his skills through apprenticeship.
In the field “You get to work with all sorts of people,” Coleman said. “The foremen are always super brilliant guys who didn’t want to work in an office.”
The nature of construction attracts and inspires industry professionals. Klick said, “Construction’s exciting for me, it’s constantly changing, new goals are being met, and you drive through town, you get to see the landmarks you’ve built.”
Yet the critical shortage of construction professionals is concerning, as the flow of new professionals entering the industry isn’t keeping pace with retirements. “We’d love to convince you to go into construction,” Coleman said. “In the next ten years, we lose 20 percent of the work force.”
Coleman prepared the students for the massive scale of what they were about to see, a full-block, mixed-use development of a scale and complexity seldom seen in Minneapolis. The entire block site was prepared by excavating down 26 feet below ground; concrete pours of between 200-250 yards/day; precast panels weighing 25,000 pounds each; and a 200,000 lb. crane supported on the deck by shoring. Next door to the five-story KA headquarters building, the 17-story H.Q. apartments are also under construction, using flying forms to pour a floor every eight days at the time of the tour. Other components of the block under construction are Finnegans microbrewery/event center and offices; and the 8-story Elliot Park Hotel. Union labor is being implemented on all the construction on the site, Coleman added. The entire project is developed by Kraus-Anderson.
All that density of construction (including two tower cranes on the site) makes for a very high-energy environment.
“It’s like residential construction on steroids,” said Klick. “There’s a lot of pressure to get it done quickly. The trades have to be ready to get in there, get the studs up, to sheetrock in a week. We try to compress the work flow by getting everybody together and making commitments.”
The amount of compression can vary depending on the project schedule and goals.
“This is an average job in that we’re putting about $2 million a month of construction into this project,” Klick said. On the higher end I’ve been on jobs that were placing $10-$15 million a month in construction, and some on the lower end may place $500,000 a month.”
With large amounts of money on the line, “We try to develop our subcontractors and get them into our ecosystem,” working together for a shared goal, said Klick. “We work a lot better when there’s mutual respect for each other.”
“Our industry is very integrated now, the mechanical/electrical is very design build, with a lot of blurred responsibilities, added Rettke. “The tools and technology change, but the basics of what we need to do is to work collaboratively with our partners to make us successful.”
PlanGrid, iAuditor and other technologies, Lean processes and other innovations are facilitating that success, improving metrics from quality to safety to productivity to worker satisfaction. At the root of it all, the profession is still all about people.
“It’s about bringing everybody to the table, find out what they need, and keep them happy,” agreed Coleman.
At the end of the day, the students got an insightful tour not just of construction technology, but an insider’s look at some great role models for aspiring construction professionals.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Shrode. “The kids and I also found the perspectives from each of your different positions on the project added immense value to the experience.”