I started out building golf courses when I was sixteen. Then I did private estate management in California. Eventually. HVAC and plumbing. I finally fell into industrial construction as a pipefitter, and I'm really happy with it. I make a ton of money, get a lot of exercise, and work with great people.
But the industry done lost its mind.
Now, I've only been in it for eight years, but even that is long enough to see massive changes being made to the way we do things. Changes that are going to get a lot of people killed someday. I'm mainly talking about credentials, and the hiring process. Safety is another issue for another column, but it's also a factor.
When I got my NCCER certification seven years ago, it was a big deal. I earned top pay. got priority hiring, and per diem. Now so many people have cheated to get certified, it's become meaningless. To get hired on now, I have to do a skills assessment test. My cert counts for almost nothing.
I'm not opposed to skill assessment, don't get me wrong. But it's just what I expect a helper to know how to do. The same thing occurs as with the NCCER: people find out from others what the test consists of, and learn just enough to pass it. That's not helping make new hands that know what they're doing.
The industry as a whole gives very little consideration to retention. Every time I see a good foreman leave a job he's been on, for a dollar an hour more, or because he's tired of the nonsense, I cringe. That's a half-million bucks worth of site-specific knowledge walking off of the site.
The pay scales are getting all out of whack. I'm making $29 as a plus. In Baytown, one company is paying top helpers $28, and top fitters $31... They're trying to build plants with helpers, now. That's dangerous. A good pipefitter knows how to get things done without cheating. This is vital to building a plant that will operate safely. Inexperienced fitters will get in a bind, and cut corners, rendering the pipe at risk to rupture at a later date.
Likewise, I know of a QC who is getting "on the job training"...to become a QC. She's not a pipefitter. She's paid as a QC, to learn to become a QC. That is something that can really only be learned well after a few years in the field. God only knows what sort of stuff she is missing. I've caught 25-year veteran QCs missing things.
The current safety person we're dealing with...creates hazards. Instead of helping with safety, they create unsafe conditions by worrying about trivial issues, and ignoring big, life-threatening ones. Unlike a decent safety person who helps out, this one is creating a hostile atmosphere of fear. That's not good for anyone, obviously.
Ordinarily, I say that we work each piping iso three times before were done. On the last job I was on, it was more like SEVEN. And then we were seven months past schedule. Then there was an emergency shutdown a month after it started up.
This is not the place to cut corners with personnel. But these companies are, and they're getting away with it in the short term. In the long-term? There will be terrible tragedies. Mark my words.