Sitting here with the monthly column deadline hours away, my mind wanders to childhood, back in a simpler time, now in the distance fading away, remembering a time and place of please do this and please don't do that (I'm sure most of you can relate, most children hear those phrases from parents), wondering if I can create a column based on this idea, so here you go… enjoy reading my column about the times we are living in from the perspective of your friend, the mechanical contractor.
The blast furnace of The Great Recession continues to cook just not all fat and excess capacity out of the mechanical contracting industry, but also burn a lot of meat out of good companies so much to a hard char that they're unrecognizable, just anonymous piles of ash upon the once-noble hearth of our industry.
There used to be a lot of workable gray in our trade, areas of many and any shades of blended perspective that was always open to others' equally valid differing interpretations. The white hot cauldron of this new economic paradigm we're in has changed all that, alloying what once were many grays into a clearly distinct black and white, day and night, and pardon, do or don't. If you don't recognize what you need to "do" and equally become aware and accept what you "don't need to do,"you and your company won't survive until The Next Economic Expansion comes around.
You do need to keep reading CONTRACTOR and other trade and professional publications to stay up-to-date in the industry, even despite lowered market shares for the next generation of technologies and new methods of maximizing design/build efficiencies, such as BIM (it's coming along more slowly than hoped for). When the economy recovers you'll be left in the dust behind your competitors if you're not up-to-date.
With a good percentage of your peers continuing to drop out of the game, it's more important than ever to do what you have to do to keep what current licenses and certifications you have since the pool of those who possess them will be smaller at the start of the recovery than it was at the beginning of the bubble bursting. If you have a chance to earn any new ones, do so now while you can since all authority-body-issued credentials always become harder and harder to obtain over time, it's the nature of human instinct to try to limit competition and when the balloon does start rising any barriers to entry such as licenses will help you jump a rung or two on your next career ladder.
Don't forgo or forget your networks of colleagues and friends; if anything, attend to nurturing and expanding them. When times become hard and harder still, it's the one small favor of you helping a friend or business acquaintance that might plant a seed of a mighty favor returned in kind further down the road, though you should never help someone for the blatant selfishness kind of expectation of reward in kind later on. Rather, just by following The Golden Rule will make you feel better and more positive about yourself, in turn making you a more likeable person and that, maybe-hopefully, will enrich your life and career in and of itself in more ways than you now think possible.
Do as much as possible and practical, try to keep a little of your powder dry and stuck back for future possibilities. I know with this beyond screwed up economy it's so very hard to shepherd even a tiny bit of your personal savings and resources in the here and now for future potential possibilities. However, if you don't have enough cash on hand to say, pay for your own relocation expenses to a prospective new job (some companies that maybe hiring are reducing or eliminating such old familiar standard perks as a 90-day relocation package or family, i.e. housing assistance) you may be out of luck. If you don't have a nest egg for such times then it won't be possible for you to pull up stakes and start over somewhere else.
Don't believe the hype that the economy won't recover. It will, I promise you! Back during the height of "The Bubble" around 2001 or so I wrote a column about the coming bursting of that bubble for which I was heartily denounced as a heretic for even mentioning the possibility even though the math of the economics of the housing and construction boom was there for anyone to read and come to their own conclusions about.
Now I'm again speaking the non-approved opinion that while we perhaps will never see anything like The Bubble again in our respective lifetimes (I certainly hope not) once the current excess inventory of homes and commercial properties is finally absorbed then a more reliable, predictable and stable new housing and light commercial market will re-emerge and will stay on a steady course for at least a couple of decades after that.
Finally, do keep faith in yourself and your own professional talents and skill sets. The fact that you've been a professional project manager and/or senior-level estimator means you have a truly unique multidisciplinary combination of talents and perspectives that no one can ever take away from you, and employers will always if eventually want. People, companies, individual and collective destinies all seek their own levels and all come together for their mutual benefits over time, in time.
Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: [email protected].