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We Learn From Our Clients

12/21/2012 | Construction Blog, Kaplin Stewart Blog

As lawyers, our clients look to us for answers. But we also learn from our clients. Winning strategies come from a combination of legal know-how and a clear understanding of the problems our clients face and the trends in the construction world. To this second point, the following is an article entitled “Out Educate, Out Build, Out Innovate” posted on the Metal Construction News website by one of Kaplin Stewart’s clients. It’s author, Gary Smith, is currently the president or Thomas Phoenix International and will be the president of the Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association in 2013.


“Out Educate, Out Build, Out Innovate” was the title of a recent National Education and Action Summit I attended organized by the U.S. Department of Labor. Its focus was to reflect on the important contributions of registered apprenticeship programs on the 75th anniversary of the signing of the National Apprenticeship Act. I was thrilled to participate in this important summit. Since I returned from Washington, D.C., I’ve been thinking about the title and how it applies to my company, Thomas Phoenix International.

With regards to “Out Build,” I would pit my Thomas Phoenix crews against any in the world. I know my men are superior: they are highly skilled, highly professional and committed to their trade. They are skilled craftsmen who know how to deliver complex pre-engineered buildings. The Thomas Phoenix team all subscribe to a code that Jim Owen, author of “Cowboy Ethics,” calls the “Code of the West:”

  •  Live each day with courage
  •  Take pride in your work
  •  Always finish what you start
  •  Do what has to be done
  •  Be tough but fair
  •  When you make a promise, keep it
  •  Ride for the brand
  •  Talk less, say more
  •  Remember that some things aren’t for sale
  •  Know where to draw the line

As I attend industry meetings, events and conferences, I come in contact with many other similarly skilled erectors. I am as proud of their accomplishments as I am of my crews’; together we instill pride in our trade.

“Out Innovate” is evident in every page of this magazine. Check out the new product offerings. Metal building manufacturers, insulation specialists, roofing and siding companies continue to develop new materials and systems that are truly revolutionary. I always look forward to wandering the hall at METALCON; it is always a thrill to see what new products and inventions are coming our way. I continue to be awed by the power of the metal building industry’s ingenuity. The Thomas Phoenix teams enjoy learning how to install and use these cutting-edge new systems.

“Out Educate” continues to be a challenge for me. I am committed to training and education. I believe passionately in apprenticeship. I chair the Apprenticeship Committee for the Metal Buildings Institute. I have personally developed several course modules for use in our apprenticeship program. However, I sometimes feel I am fighting with one arm tied behind my back. There are not enough quality training programs available. Technical schools, if they still exist, have changed their focus. I had to cobble together the 296 hours of “related instruction” for our apprenticeship program from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, this lack of readily available training and education is a key contributor to the lack of skilled workers our industry so desperately needs.

John Ratzenberger (yeah, the guy from Cheers) wrote in a recent article for

“America faces a crisis of epic proportions. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts that by 2012, there will be a shortfall of nearly 3 million skilled worker positions in America. The average age of skilled workers in many trades is 54-56 years old, and as this veteran group retires, there are not enough trained workers to replace them. Today’s shortage sharply reduces the growth of U.S. gross domestic product-certainly not a help in the current economy.

“Truth is high-profile athletes and entertainers are nonessential. If all the celebrities like me disappeared overnight, it would be sad, but the world would continue with little disruption. But if plumbers, electricians, welders, carpenters, lathe operators, truck drivers and other ‘essentials’ disappeared, our country would grind to a halt.

“Michelangelo couldn’t have gone to work until someone built that ceiling.”

I salute all in the trades for having the skill and knowledge to build that ceiling and encourage companies to consider apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is the time-tested system of passing critical skills from one generation to the next. It is the premier model for training and educating a workforce. It is a highly structured, in-depth vehicle for developing highly skilled workers to your specifications. It is industry driven. It is the insurance a business needs now more than ever to ensure you have an ongoing stream of talent. It will maximize productivity, reduce turnover, increase the level of safety while reducing workers compensation costs and foster loyalty and dependability in your employees.

This is an open plea to all companies that erect pre-engineered buildings. Our industry needs you to take an active leadership role in the training and development of your crews. In doing so, you will play a pivotal role in the future of this great country and ensure we continue to provide ceilings worthy of the next Michelangelo. Don’t know how to get started? Just drop me a line.