Upgrade Yourself: Learning Throughout Every Stage of Your Career

Upgrade Yourself

Congratulations! Since you are reading this column, you are most likely employed as a professional in the electrical construction industry. If you’re a seasoned veteran, you already know a lot. If you’ve just gotten started, you probably thirst for knowledge. Either way, there is always more to know.

My wholesale years

Early in my career, I was inspired by my fiancee’s employer. She worked at the pharmacy he owned, among several other businesses. What surprised me is he was still attending classes at UCLA and was over 70 years old. He was partially responsible for my decision to go back to college. Another person who inspired me was a customer at the will-call counter in the wholesale house where I worked. He found out about my interest in electronics and talked me into registering for a class he was teaching. That was just the beginning of my continuing adult education.

Also, while working at the wholesale house, I attended a Sylvania lighting seminar. I learned a lot about the lighting technology of that time. Looking back, I am amazed that lighting technology did not change for many years. Now it’s all I can do to keep up with all the new fixtures and manufacturers.

From trainee to chief estimator

My initial training as an estimator was on the job. When I moved on to another position, my employer decided I needed more training and sent me to classes. It was there I learned many of the procedures I still use today. As I imagine many estimators do, I wanted to become a project manager. After clearly demonstrating that I wasn’t ready, I was also sent to other classes, which included change orders and claims management.

I believe the most important seminar I attended was about managing myself. It was a two-day event where I was forced to face my own weaknesses and learn how to fix them. It was embarrassing, as my faults were discussed in front of the entire class.

However, the class also contributed to the solutions to my problems. It turned out my biggest weakness was having knee-jerk reactions to any change in my schedule. I was given a lot of help in becoming more flexible, including a recommendation to use a scheduling system called Day-Timer. I continue to use a digital equivalent of that system today.

I still lose my temper every once in awhile when an addendum completely destroys my schedule. However, I eventually remember to take a few deep breaths and deal with the problem logically.

Continuing my education

As a consultant, I can’t depend on an employer to send me to classes, so I seek out learning opportunities for myself. It turns out there are many, and manufacturers are a good place to start.

For instance, I estimate a lot of projects in California, where a code called Title 24 requires the most advanced energy-saving technology available. Just like the National Electrical Code (NEC) , it changes every three years, and some of the changes are whoppers. When something new comes out, my first call is to the manufacturer of the required system. They are usually eager to educate you on how the new technology works.

Another place to pick up knowledge is online. There are a lot of seminars out there, including some free ones. I recently attended a seminar on grounding and was surprised by how much I didn’t know. The seminar reminded me of a lesson I first learned working at the wholesale house. An electrician asked me for a conduit fitting I had never heard of, so I told him there was no such thing. He left, returned 20 minutes later and put one on the counter. I try to remember that lesson every day—I can never know everything.

Back to school

Colleges are a good place to learn at any age. Many campuses even have construction programs and a few have electrical construction programs. These schools are also a good place to acquire knowledge related to contracting.

Computer skills and use of software, accounting, tax codes and safety procedures are just a few of the classes available at colleges, trade and adult schools. They also offer classes in an area every contractor needs to keep up on, the NEC . As the Code changes every three years, there is always something new to learn.

Finally, as I may have mentioned before, the pages of this magazine offer a wealth of information. I have been reading it cover to cover every month since the early 1980s. Of course, as an estimator, I always turned to the estimating column first.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com.

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