Old School Trifecta

Old-fashioned work ethic in the building professions can still be found–and it is appreciated more than ever.

Perhaps Richard Parker, a self-described “Repairman of Mechanical and Simple Electronic Items,” said it best: “To me, if a person is old school, they are old fashioned enough that they don’t fit in with new school society, they work hard and don’t complain, they handle business and live honorably. If something is old school, it is of a style or design from times past.” 

Old School Trifecta

Much has changed in the shelter industries since I last built for clients in 2005. Soaring prices for materials and services, a steeply declining and aging workforce, unprecedented supply chain disruptions, and the seemingly exponential increase in natural and manmade disasters of all kinds have combined to remove whatever certainty building professionals traditionally relied upon.

When we add in the recent pandemic, a perpetual economic rollercoaster ride and the endless political turmoil that permeates every aspect of daily life, it’s a wonder anybody can feel optimistic about achieving reasonable stability in our industries, let alone realizing success.

What troubles me the most is the erosion of professional courtesy and integrity that I’ve witnessed over the past couple of decades. I’m not sure how much the challenges I listed above have contributed to the situation (although there must be some cumulative effect from them), or how much communication technology in the current forms has fostered the breakdown, but I’m certain that it’s not just my imagination or some delusional image of “the good old days.”

One thing specifically troubling is the lack of response that has become such a common occurrence. There was a time when you could expect people to get back to you if they said they would. Not anymore. Somewhere along the way, it became a norm to simply put people off and then not follow up as promised.

On occasions when I’ve been asked how success in the building industry is possible, I have had a simple reply: Do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you will do it. It seems easy enough, but in this era of voice mail, call screening and mailboxes that are full, we seem to have cultivated a culture of wiggle room. 

Now, having said all that, I was recently amazed when I encountered three building professionals who share the ethic that I hold so dear.  

First, I had the very good fortune of finding a concrete contractor who exhibits a commitment to customer service that I haven’t experienced in years. He goes out of his way to keep me informed and works hard to find ways to ensure a dependable schedule and quality work.

Then, after more than two years of struggling to secure the services of a qualified installer for pumps on two water wells, a young man was recommended by an equipment supplier and he turned out to be the kind of serious, skilled, reliable professional that I thought had become extinct. It was refreshing to know that I could depend on someone’s word, not just hope things would work out.

Finally, in need of an extra concrete finisher to help with some complicated flat work, I reached out to a semi-retired gentleman who had worked with my wife and me a few years back to see if he was willing to join in. At first, he was a little reluctant, but when I explained that we needed the level of skills that he had exhibited last time, he said sure, he would be happy to help out.

We agreed on the day and time, and I offered to make sure he had my number in case something came up. He replied that it wasn’t necessary because, as he put it, “I’m like you. When I say I’ll be there, I will.” I can’t express how humbling and gratifying it was to hear him say that.

It feels good to know there is still some “old school” out there.