Practical Education

It seems that every time I learn something, I also realize how little I really know. 

Take yesterday for an example. My job as a project coordinator is to coordinate all aspects and phases of my designated construction projects, and that rarely affords me the opportunity of leaving my desk to spend time in the field. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I am either on my computer or telephone working with experts in different fields to get the job done. In some areas, my conceptual knowledge exceeds my practical expertise so I recently worked out a schedule with my boss to allow me to get in the field 2 or 3 times a month and get my hands dirty – literally. 

Yesterday was the beginning and started off with a travel time miscalculation. I gave myself 1.5 hours to get to the job-site but thanks to LA traffic, that commute dragged on more than 3 hours. Upon arrival, I did the usual job-site walk through, taking photographs, talking to the engineer, and planning the remaining work. 

The work order for the day was to cut open the force main for the pump station in order to tie in our temporary line. To do that, we shut down the pump station, drained the line, and then our crew went in cutting out a section of the force main and inserting the 18″ dia. tie-in. Up until then, I was the observer as usual. But as the pipe fittings were being being bolted up, I went down and helped with tightening up the bolts. Because the water level in the excavation sometimes reached the upper levels of the crew’s rubber boots, I became the “water boy”, helping to dewater with a 5-gallon bucket. I know – it was nothing extraordinary but I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

There is something satisfying of actually doing something you’ve only done on paper and directed your crews to do multiple times. Of course, my crew was amused as I attempted to learn all their hand signals for grabbing tools, checking measurements, or moving equipment, but I think that they enjoyed watching the “office boss” (as they like to call me) actually getting dirty.

After my experiences yesterday, I better understand the limitations of my current knowledge. 

Yes, I know how to budget projects, negotiate contracts, build and follow CPM schedules, and manage multiple projects, but there are still details in all those things that I don’t understand fully. But that is only the management side. When it comes to the field side, or practical areas, my knowledge has a lot of room to grow. I’ve tied rebar, built forms and falsework, finished concrete, and done some equipment operation, but there are still a lot of things to actually do

Until I can do them and experience them first hand, I won’t be satisfied. To me, practical education is both appealing and rewarding.

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