The Big Leagues: Training and Development on Small Jobs

June 15, 2017 | Kieways 2017 Q2

A pitcher taking the mound for his first big league appearance.

A golfer teeing it up for her first professional tournament.

A quarterback under center for his first Sunday game.

For construction professionals, managing your first project is kind of like that. At Kiewit, it’s a significant milestone in an employee’s career which almost always takes place on a small job.

Brian Fetters joined Kiewit in 1998 as a full-time staff employee after working as a carpenter on several of the company’s projects. In 2008, he was assigned to be a project manager for the first time, a role on a small job that exposed him to nearly every aspect of building work.

“On our larger projects, you’re typically responsible for one very specific task,” he said. “On small jobs, it’s different. Because you have a much smaller staff, you’re involved in just about every part of the job in the field and the office —from owner’s meetings to permitting and scheduling every type of work being built.”

Today, Fetters is a sponsor with Kiewit. In addition to coordinating pursuits for new work, he oversees about five current projects, many of them small and with first-time managers overseeing the day-to-day operations.

One of those managers is Scott Nelson who joined Kiewit in 2006 after completing a mechanical engineering degree at the University of California, San Diego. Nelson was assigned to his first role as a project manager in 2015.

Even though their careers began differently, Nelson and Fetters described the experience of managing small projects in much the same way.

“I was able to work with a lot of different people, including clients, inspectors and union contacts,” Nelson said. “By dealing with all of this on a small project, I was able to learn more about different parts of the business and get experience needed to progress in my career.”

Just as one star athlete doesn’t make a championship team, project managers are assigned with both staff and craft employees who complement their skills. It’s an opportunity for everyone on the team to develop their abilities, not just the project manager.

“We pair people up so they can learn from each other,” said Ron Glynn, who is also a sponsor for Kiewit in Southern California. “If our project manager has a strong electrical and mechanical background, but needs more experience in civil and structures work, we’ll put them with a superintendent that’s really experienced in civil and structures and would benefit from learning more about mechanical and electrical.”

Similar to an athlete’s coach, Kiewit’s project managers can turn to their sponsors for advice. Fetters and Glynn visit their projects regularly to stay engaged in the job’s progress, and in that time work with managers, helping them develop in their roles.

“Ron made sure the right mentors and leaders were around me on my way to help me develop,” said Luis Curiel, a first-time manager who reports to Glynn. “He’s reassured my decisions and given advice when I needed it. He’s also helped me gain more confidence in my ability to take on more responsibility and take charge.”

The support doesn’t end at the sponsor. Kiewit’s small job teams can tap into the knowledge and experience of the entire organization.

“Kiewit’s resources really help us out on these smaller jobs,” Fetters said. “There’s always someone there to be a sounding board and to provide resources when we need them.”

Like the pitcher, the golfer or the quarterback, Glynn and Fetters say those assigned to lead projects have earned the right to be there. Fetters described them as “A+ players,” Glynn called them “superstars.”

“When we choose a project manager, we’re not just choosing someone because they need the experience. You have to earn the right to run a job,” Glynn said. “We pick people that are real leaders and that the company has their eyes on as someone that can step up. They’ve got the weight of the whole company supporting them and we know they’ll run these jobs successfully.”


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