Digital Builder Ep 50: Is Mentorship the Key to Unlocking Opportunities in Construction?

While a big part of the construction sector revolves around tools, technologies, and processes, it's crucial to remember the lifeblood of our industry is the people who work in it.

Empowering workers to drive the construction sector forward should be a top priority for all of us. This holds particularly true for the upcoming generation of workers. These individuals will shape the future of construction, which is why we need to pass the torch and ensure they're equipped with the knowledge, skills, and mentorship they need to thrive.

In this latest episode of Digital Builder, we discuss how construction pros today can invest in mentorship and relationships to lay the foundation for a stronger, more successful industry.

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You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

On this podcast episode 

We invited Alan Dillon, Senior Superintendent at Truebeck Construction, to join us in the Autodesk Gallery at 1 Market, San Francisco.

With over 40 years working in the industry, Alan knows firsthand the immense value of leadership, effective mentorship, and fostering successful relationships within the construction sector.

Check out the highlights from our conversation below.

Properly balancing technology and human contributions

A lot has changed in construction throughout Alan's career, with the most notable one being the rise of modern tools.

"I remember going to a World of Concrete convention around the year 2000, and that's when BIM was just starting. It began with the simple things; for example, how they were going to model a conduit or how the rebar was going to fit. And now there are so many different places where technology has gone."

But no matter how far technology takes us, Alan points out that construction is still very much a people-centered industry.

"We're still going to stand buildings, one piece of steel at a time. No matter how much you try to prefab or how well your BIM modeling is working, at the end of the day, it's still a tradesperson's hands that will touch and assemble the buildings to bring them across the finish line."

"That's what I love about construction," he adds.

Why collaboration and providing new opportunities are key to successful mentorships

As a construction industry veteran, Alan is big on mentorships; he embraces the opportunity to give back and pass on his expertise to the next generation.

"I've been given so many opportunities… It's my turn to pay it forward, so I give people opportunities. I stick with them and don't let them quit."

By "opportunities," he isn't just referring to offering people the chance to learn. It's also about allowing them to experience other leadership styles and working methods.

That's why Alan encourages his personnel to work for other superintendents or leaders after a few years of being a part of his team.

"And it's not because they failed. It's because they've worked with me for two or three years, and they know the 'Alan' style. The next step for them is to go out and experience how other superintendents do business."

He says that as a mentor, this practice also pushes him out of his comfort zone.

"Once I've moved those folks on, I'll have new people I'll start mentoring. So I'll also have to learn and adapt to the new team around me."

How successful construction projects are built from successful relationships

Alan also recognizes the importance of building relationships, and he understands that constantly staying in touch with other teams is critical to the success of projects. That's why he always encourages his engineers to talk to their subcontractors.

"I keep planting that in their minds. Every day I would say, 'Have you talked to all your subs today?'"

He continues, "That doesn't mean just putting an email out. It means getting them on the phone and talking to them. I remind them: 'Have you read our schedule? Are you looking months and months ahead?'"

"The same goes for my field guys. I ask, 'Hey, how many guys have you got on the job? Are they where we need them to be? Are they all following the schedule?'"

It's through these conversations and constant reminders that Alan cultivates cohesive and highly efficient teams. He's also able to foster connections that endure even after years of not working together.

"I still get guys who worked with me three years ago who'll call me to get a sanity check. And I enjoy that kind of relationship. It's not just a work relationship; it's a friendship."

Why curiosity and asking questions help leaders and team members grow, feel valued, and lead to new opportunities

When asked about the advice he would give to people (like project engineers) who want to level up their construction careers, Alan emphasizes the importance of dedication and having a no-quit attitude, particularly since construction can be a labor-intensive industry.

Beyond that, he underscores the significance of being receptive to the voices and insights of those around you.

"Listen to your mentors, as well as fellow project engineers who are in the same stage of their careers. We all have something."

He adds, "To have the engineers being able to communicate with each other is really helpful in advancing their careers."

New podcast episode every week 

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week. If you're looking for more insights into how the construction industry has changed over the last 40 years and what newcomers can do to stay ahead, catch our latest episode.

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Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.