OE Construction Corp

Why Stormwater Management is Important in Construction

Doctors take an oath—the Hippocratic Oath—that states that they should do no harm. Construction companies should probably do the same! A major part of any project is working through the logistics for safety, both for personnel and equipment, as well as the site and the environment around it.

Changes in our climate are indicating that rainfall and rising water tables will change how the construction industry deals with stormwater and other environmental impacts, as part of their day to day reality.

What is stormwater management?

Imagine the earth without man-made objects on it. Rain and melting snow would all have their natural paths to runoff and rejoin larger bodies of water, without being blocked, rerouted, or otherwise altered.

Now add people, buildings, roads and the general infrastructure that comes with humankind. Suddenly, the natural pathways are disrupted: how much water can flow and where it can flow is altered.

With the aim of doing no harm, the construction industry needs to put emphasis on carefully considering how to manage stormwater as part of a larger, integrated solution, when excavating, building and forever changing the landscape.

Why is stormwater management important in construction?

As mentioned above, every change to the landscape, whether its roads, buildings or other constructs, interrupts the natural flow of runoff. If not properly managed, flooding can result.

Further, adding a lot of water-impervious surfaces—think paving paradise to put up a parking lot!—creates a runoff surface that takes pollutants into natural waterways in ever greater quantities.

Managing stormwater is essential for both the health and safety of people, as well as the environment.

Managing stormwater effectively

An effective stormwater management system will incorporate three factors:

  • Treatment of water quality
  • Control of runoff
  • Infiltration of runoff into groundwater

Developing communities around the country have historically depended on detention ponds to hold stormwater runoff and release it slowly, controlling it as it returns to a natural body of water.

However, the frequency and intensity of storms are a concern in our ever-changing climate, making many of these holding ponds insufficiently sized. Further, they weren’t designed to feed into the groundwater system, so the third factor noted above is effectively ignored.

Finding ways to control runoff more effectively has several benefits:

  • Lowers the possibility of localized flooding and resulting damage, following intense periods of storm activity.
  • Feeds into groundwater supplies, recharging these for use as the water supply of the community.
  • Reducing pollutants that are added to the water supply via groundwater, which affects all of us directly, as well as the ecosystem that supports us. Runoff can include bacteria from trash and animal waste, oil, gas, and grease from vehicles, toxic chemicals like pesticides and so much more.

This is the kind of action that needs to be taken at the beginning of any construction project, with the larger ecosystem/environment surrounding the project in mind. There are federal, state and local laws that govern how permits are acquired to excavate and build in order to minimize the human and environmental impact of stormwater.

So while it may seem like one more level of government to get through in a project, the importance of having a well-designed stormwater management plan in any construction project cannot be overstated. At OE Construction, we take safety seriously: for our people and for the environment.

OE Construction Corp

Should You Groom High Performing Employees for Promotion?

In a word: yes.

The days of promoting people based exclusively on seniority are over, in most every industry, though the practice lingers somewhat in construction and could be what prevents some companies from retaining staff.

After all, the idea of taking a job with a company as a young person and remaining with that same company, moving up the ranks until retirement, has more or less gone the way of the dodo bird. People will move and construction has some of the highest attrition rates of any industry. It’s hard to attract and train new people with potential and it’s even harder to keep the people you have. 

After all, construction is one industry where experience really counts, so you don’t want to lose your more senior personnel either. Frankly, you don’t want to lose anyone, right? So the goal is to figure out how to develop and promote high performers, actual and potential, regardless of age. 

Look for potential and develop it

Look at your teams and figure out who has the potential, if not yet the full knowledge or experience, to be the kind of team member you need at a higher level. Once you’ve figured out who those people are, do what you can to develop their skills. 

“If employees understand how they can advance and progress in their careers, then they are more likely to remain with their companies long term.” (Source)

Many people leave companies for a lot more reasons than just pay. Some of those reasons include a lack of opportunities to learn, grow and get promoted. While it might feel counterintuitive to spend a lot on training , when those people could just leave and another company could benefit from your efforts, you are far more likely to retain high quality staff if you offer them ways to grow in their jobs and a path for achieving this growth.

Remember too that training and development isn’t just for the younger set. More senior personnel could be getting bored in their work, without new challenges and opportunities and a path to promotion. If you want to hold on to your high performers, regardless of age, you need to make sure they are given the responsibilities and challenges that suit their abilities.

How can you develop potential, beyond training programs?

There are myriad ways to develop high performing staff so that they can grow and reach potentials that will allow you to promote them. 

“Offering competitive pay is important – perhaps even a given in today’s tight labor market – but beyond that, employers need to start thinking about how they present opportunity in a strategic and compelling way to their workforces. Training is important and has its place, but if it’s not offered as part of a comprehensive career development program, then training is simply a way of paying attention to human “doings” rather than considering employees as human “beings.” (Source)

The key is to have a process for doing so. You want to avoid spending resources on people who aren’t high performing or interested in promotion, which is valid: some people enjoy what they do and would prefer to stay put! You also want to avoid spending resources without having a way of evaluating whether or not they are effective. In other words, are you getting a good return on investment? Any process that doesn’t allow you to assess that isn’t going to be effective, in the long run.

However you establish your career path / growth development process, it’s a good idea to include benchmark evaluations of skills that align with corporate objectives. For example, safety—and having as close to a perfect safety rating as possible— is a major corporate objective at OE Construction. So evaluating someone to groom them to a management role might include more than looking at their specific hard skill set; we would need to look at their way of thinking, their ability to initiate and deal with change and so on.

How can you evaluate skills that your employees don’t always use / display in their day to day work?

One evaluative method could be to bring the high potential employee in and ask them to work on a problem that the company is currently having in the area of safety that they might be able to lend perspective on. They can be tasked with researching and developing a solution to the problem, which they will then recommend to you. This gives you a chance to really assess their ability to think, learn, adapt and assess, all important qualities as one moves up the ranks of any organization.

Another option is to send them to an industry conference on your behalf, with the requirement that they provide you with a detailed report on what was achieved / learned at the event. These are all important views into the way an employee thinks and performs when given something to do that is outside of their normal zone of operation. It will provide tremendous insight as to whether or not they are the high performers you want to groom for growth.

In an industry that finds it increasingly difficult to staff positions, in addition to the fact that baby boomers are retiring, leaving holes in the upper ranks, it’s important to identify those individuals who might be able to rise to the occasion!

OE Construction Corp

Tough But Fair: Having Difficult Conversations with a Construction Team Member

Imagine this scenario: you’ve got a good team out in the field on a new project but one of the workers isn’t pulling their weight. They’re always late and constantly play a game of ‘was I supposed to do that? I thought so and so was doing it!’ If you’ve managed people for long enough, you’ve likely come across this person. They think they’re kicking it. You, and others on the team, don’t.

Now, it’s coming to the annual reviews at year end and you’ve got to deliver the news to this person that they aren’t in fact ‘kicking it’ and they won’t be eligible for a bonus.

Fun, right? Not really. One of the most difficult things a manager has to do, whether they’re leading a company or a team of field personnel, is to have difficult conversations with a team member. It’s a skill that you have to develop, in a management context, because most of us don’t come ready made with this ability. 

So how can you have this conversation and still have a positive outcome?

Make sure there isn’t a larger issue that the employee is dealing with

Often, when an employee is chronically late or has some other attitude related issue, there could be a deeper problem in the works. It could be something happening in their personal life that they haven’t been wanting or have been fearful to share. Open the door to let them communicate with you if there is more to the issue than you’re aware of. It might not be something you can help with, but it’s best to know what’s really going on if you want to find a solution.

Remember that managing is your job

Managing doesn’t just mean giving orders to others and waiting for them to perform: it’s a give and take relationship with each team member. You are responsible to the project, to your company, to yourself, to other team members and to that employee who isn’t up to snuff. If they are underperforming, it’s on you to get to the bottom of it.

Perhaps you had an earlier engagement with that person that went well from your point of view, but not from theirs. Perhaps they’ve been feeling like you don’t trust them and so they’ve started sitting back and waiting rather than getting the job done proactively. If they appear to be unmotivated, it’s not fair for you to assume that they’re a ‘bad employee’ and react to them accordingly. You have to assume that there is something you can do to help motivate them return to the fold, so to speak.

Speak the truth

An important reality in managing is to make sure that your team trusts you. Trust is vital to good, open communication that is both given and taken with respect. If your team doesn’t trust you, they won’t respect you. Ruling from a place of fear will only get you so far: it’s essential to always be truthful with your team. 

With trust and respect comes expectations. You should have high expectations for your team, and they should know what those expectations are. Creating a culture of achievement within your team will motivate the good employees to do more and will help the ones who are struggling to see a path for their own improvement. Setting expectations and assigning people with responsibilities based on their abilities will motivate them to achieve. Lack of clarity and mistrust of your team will only breed contempt between you and them and among the team itself.

Having these conversations with everyone on a regular basis ensures that they know exactly where they stand and what they can do to improve.

Don’t let problems fester

Year end reviews shouldn’t be the first time that the employee is hearing that there are issues with their performance. There should have been ongoing communication and reminders about how they’re doing, both positive and negative.

Leaving the ‘bad news’ until it’s become a problem that will be difficult to resolve positively isn’t good for anyone: not you as the manager, not the employee, and not the rest of the team who are watching how this will go down.

Always remember that adding a little positive feedback can certainly help the negative go down better. 


OE Construction Corp

Simulator Training is the Way to Go

In the construction industry, a lot of companies are choosing to train new employees on the job. While that usually involves shadowing a more experienced employee for a while, there is no replacement for sitting at the controls of a piece of heavy and equipment and actually doing the work. 

Or is there?

Whether for the training of new equipment operators, or to help existing operators advance their skills, equipment simulators are giving a lot of people a training and career path in the earthwork and underground utility construction industry. 

Experience in the field takes a while to acquire, but simulators move training along faster, bridging any gaps in the skills of employees more efficiently.

Thanks to a recent CAT equipment simulator demonstration and hands even, OE Construction got a first hand look at the ways in which simulator training could be leveraged to help deal with the number one issue the entire construction industry is facing: hiring and retaining qualified employees.

What is equipment simulation training?

If you haven’t already participated in this, an equipment simulator is basically a special machine that is setup with software and equipment controls to emulate actual 

CAT Simulators OE 10

equipment operation, all kinds of equipment and models such as dozers, excavators, loaders, haul trucks, motor graders, scrapers, and so on. 

The system is setup to allow an equipment operator to explore the machine controls and options, to practice using the equipment controls to operate the equipment in all kinds of virtual scenarios, to master the machine operation from beginner to advanced operation techniques, to even work with the simulation in virtual 3-D mode to emulate real life situations and job site conditions.

What are the benefits of equipment simulation training?

Employee screening — since finding people who are already trained in specific pieces of equipment isn’t always possible, using the simulators as a screening technique for hiring is ideal. Testing potential employees in the simulators to see how they react, their level of coordination and to verify the skills they claim to have, but without putting actual machines or other employees at risk, is a great way to find the right staff.

Improved safety and less risk during training — each piece of equipment is monumentally expensive, to say nothing of the importance of safety for both the operator and the people working in the field with them. Leveraging simulator training is a great opportunity to experience real life situations with zero risk to projects, existing equipment and personnel. 

Each person, whether new to the company or someone who needs to upgrade their skills, can be trained more efficiently, with less risk and and lower costs, such as those that are associated with equipment damage or project delays caused by accidents.

Improved safety on the job site — even an experienced operator can face some new challenges in the field, be they related to weather or other circumstances. These can be simulated safely, giving the employee a chance to really hone their skills before attempting them in the field. Overall, this contributes to a much higher level of safety.

“Simulators can recreate the feel and experience of load shifting, unsafe lifts and other hazards, so that trainees learn to respect the machine before they ever get into the operator’s seat. Trainers can also condition operators to respond to the unexpected by injecting equipment faults or inclement weather into the simulation. This is knowledge that is difficult to teach in a real machine, and it results in operators who are better prepared than they were without simulation, particularly when they have the opportunity to repeatedly practice specialized or difficult maneuvers in a safe, controlled environment.” Source

CAT Simulators OE 2

This kind of improvement becomes measurable, as there is a direct correlation between experience / knowledge / skill and safety.

Feedback and retention — using simulators allows those being trained to get immediate feedback on their work. With high quality communication and feedback comes retention: if people feel qualified to do their jobs, and supported in learning more in their work environment, they’re more likely to stay with a company than those who are left to ‘sink or swim’. 

Stay tuned as OE evaluates this technology in our own company; we’re hoping to share some pretty exciting developments in the operation of heavy equipment!

CAT Simulators OE 12

OE Construction Corp

Dealing With Conflict on the Job Site

When different people with their own unique personalities get together to get a job done, there is always the possibility of conflict. In an office environment, the single biggest cause of conflict is misunderstanding. Communication through mediums like email have led more than a few people to misconstrue comments by others and the lack of immediate feedback makes it possible for an easily resolvable disagreement to escalate.

On the job site, conflict can take on a whole other level of seriousness. Part of the problem is the number of different stakeholders involved in any one project. From clients and owners to architects and engineers and down the funnel to contractor and subcontractors, everyone has a different perspective on the project, and likely differing opinions on how to get it done.

Here are a few ways that conflict crops up in construction:

  • Poor project planning leading to financial difficulties or a general instability in the project timeline.
  • Difficulties vis-a-vis the public or others who are not directly related to the project.
  • Client initiated scope changes midway through the project, resulting in re-work or other perils.
  • Lack of communication and information flow so that the team in the field does not have all the information that the head office does.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it encompasses the large majority of conflicts in the field. 

Understanding conflict on the job site

The key to understanding and resolving conflict in most any situation, including on work sites, is to understand perspective.

Each person sees an issue, problem or overall project from the context of their own experience and background. Those variations can result in people seeing the same issue / problem very differently. That can result in a conversation, a disagreement, or even full on conflict. 

man holding glasses perspective

Perspective is the key to resolving conflict: 

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Let’s say there is a conflict between an engineer and a contractor that relates to an essential step in an excavation project. Both individuals are coming at the problem from their own unique set of experiences and both may have positions with merit in terms of how to proceed. Resolving the disconnect requires both of them to see things from the point of view of the other person. 

This can get complicated in highly specialized work environments, where one person may feel that they have the credentials that would simply overrule the other person’s opinion. It’s rare, however, that pulling rank resolves problems effectively, and it could even result in overlooking an important factor that might have improved the project. 

Dealing with conflict on the job site

First and most important: don’t ignore a problem. Acting like an ostrich and burying your head in the sand isn’t going to make a conflict go away. If anything, it’s likely to get worse.

Instead, it’s important to move forward in a positive way, to save time and money and keep the project on track.

construction equipment dig deep.jpg

Dig deep on the problem. Often, a conflict looks like one thing on the surface, but when

you dig a little, it turns out to be something else altogether. Getting to the root of the issue will make it easier to deal with it full on.

This requires active listening and really attempting to understand the perspective of the other person, in order to come to a resolution. If you don’t at least understand the other person’s point of view—whether or not you agree with it—you haven’t dug deep enough.

Don’t get emotional. Believing in your point of view passionately is one thing. Escalating into a shouting match that doesn’t move the needle in terms of resolving anything? Not ideal!

It’s more than likely that a position taken by one person isn’t personal: it’s their perspective. Operating with mutual respect and avoiding engaging in the blame game can go a long way to helping both sides understand one another.

When you look at the reasons for conflict listed at the beginning of this post, and you dig a little deeper, you can see how much each of them revolves around communication. Clear communication in the first place can help avoid so many conflict situations and ensures that everyone understands what the expectations are and where they fit into the whole project. When conflicts do arise, working collaboratively to find a solution is far more effective, efficient and could lead to improvements in the way you do things every single day!