Night and Day

After undergoing yet another whiz quiz, 18 hours of company and site-specific training and donning at least five types of security badges, I started work with a new crew. It’s a completely different world. My new site is one of the largest in the region: so large that the trades workers have created their own temporary city. Our parking lot is larger (and dustier) than a CostCo parking lot. The capacity of our lunch and break area is just under 2,000 people. My first morning was surreal because I had to find my foreman amongst a bustle of identically colored hard hats and orange vests. It was like a social easter egg hunt. People were pretty helpful when I explained it was my very first morning on site, and now – a couple weeks into this new gig – I trade small talk with the now-familiar faces who helped me that first morning.

We stretch and warm up as a giant group every morning. Our temporary break area is so big, the only way for everybody to hear crucial announcements is via the audio/visual system – which includes a stage, microphone and no less than eight projection screens. My other shop never encouraged or participated in these “stretch and flex” kinds of exercises. In fact, on one site, all the other trades would be outside in a big circle getting warmed up for the day while my old shop deliberately went into the break trailer and talked or waited. I asked if it would build camaraderie if we jumped out and joined the carpenters, welders and machine operators in taking care of our bodies – and was dismissed with eye rolls and groans. I don’t understand how anybody working in such a physically intense trade could pass up an opportunity to be kind to their body.

This new site requires us to write down our tasks for the day, along with any hazards possible. It’s a combination Pre-Task Plan and Job Hazard Analysis. We use checklists and we walk through our work area to assess conditions and access points. By the time I reached the actual place where work was being done, I couldn’t believe we had a choice of three different lifts to work from and a crew of seven. My prior shop would have most likely used two people and some eight or ten foot ladders.

The pace can be slower at this new site because of the forms, checklists or extra womanpower requirements. Some days are frustrating because there is no tangible product to point out: it was all preparation and research. We work 10 hour days (6:00am – 4:30pm) and frequently have 50 or 60 hour weeks. Other electricians grumble about the “non-real world” requirements of this site. Those who complain are either unable to work there because of background checks and the security clearances required, or they’re complaining while receiving 10-20 hours per week of time-and-a-half pay.

For me, I stay focused on the fact that I am out there as an apprentice to learn and to have practical, hands-on training (which I am receiving). Frankly, I am happy to be at the same site – and with a crew of smart characters for more than a couple weeks. My last contractor bounced me around to different sites and I never got to stay for more than three weeks. At the time, being at so many sites served its purpose. Now, however, I’m relishing the contrasts and I’m pleased that this leap of change has worked out just fine. Despite the dire warnings of my former construction manager, I am (not yet) being “ruined” as an apprentice. I’m seeing methods and materials at this site that I would never see anywhere else – and I’m loving it.

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