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From Contractor to Consultant: Lessons Learned

The things I learned in my first few years out of college have served me well, providing personal and career growth. I started my career with a job opportunity working for an industrial contractor. The company, much like other large-scale firms, moved employees around like shipping commodities. Truly an eye-opening experience for this southern Idaho boy, and it was an exciting and challenging experience being thousands of miles away from home.

Constructability Planning Is No Joke

My first large-scale project brought me to Cayuga, Indiana. I’m sure 99 percent of the people reading this blog post have never heard of this town before. I’m not sure if it was much of a town, but it did house one of the largest coal-fired steam generators (power plants) in the state of Indiana.

The design-build project was the replacement of the existing electrostatic precipitators (picture a large air filter). The existing precipitators had to remain online during construction. The new 60-foot-tall precipitators were built near the existing units and moved into place. Each section of the existing precipitators were taken offline and deconstructed. The new precipitators were then jacked up and rolled into place by large movable hydraulic conveyors.

I was fortunate enough to dedicate four months of my life in developing an installation plan for the precipitators. It was a massive task requiring hours of discussion with subcontractors, material suppliers, foreman, superintendents, and engineers. The plan had to be vetted and agreed to by the design engineer, the owner’s engineer, and the owner. Constructability planning is no joke with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment.

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Time is Money

My second large-scale project sent me to Cordele, Georgia. Again, I’m sure most of you have never heard of the place. You might see the running theme here. It became clear to me that no one likes to build large plants near metropolitan areas. This project was the construction of a second board line and dryer system for an orientated strand board (OSB or engineered lumber) plant. At the time, the second line made this plant the largest producer of OSB in the world.

This was my first experience with a client where time was literally money. Little negotiation effort was required for any change orders on the project. Adherence to the project schedule was of the utmost importance. This required a thorough review of any submittals or requests for information (RFI’s) on our end to expedite the review process by the owner’s engineer. There was no time for rejected submittals or lengthy coordination on RFI’s.

Work continued to take me to remote locations those first few years. There’s no substitute for real life experience on a construction project to teach you the value and necessity for good quality design. My main take-away from my days working as a contractor are the importance of document control, scheduling, and constructability. It’s also essential to keep active and open lines of communications with all stakeholders. The perspective I gained as a contractor has helped me navigate the complex waters of design-bid-build (D-B-B) projects.

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