Today’s guest is Mickey Legault.
Here’s our job talk with a construction project manager.
Welcome to The Job Talk Podcast.
Where we talk with people who love their jobs.
Our guests open up about their challenges, surprises and secrets to success in their industries through conversation and we explore their careers, past work experiences, and the education that got them to where they are now.
I’m going to start your story back in when you were in high school.
And I want to know if what kind of a student you were.
And when you were in high school, did you know that one day you were eventually going to end up in the construction industry? No, not at all.
Back in high school, I was not a terrible student.
I was there.
I was proactive.
I did well in my classes I was actually achieving honors and most of them.
So I struggled a bit in English because I haven’t been formally days diagnosed with dyslexia.
But I do struggle in that area Had you told me I ended up in construction? Not a clue.
I probably would have told you I would have been a cop.
You graduate from high school.
What is your first step? Did you immediately jump into post-secondary or what happened after you left high school? No, I didn’t know what to do, so I took a couple of odd jobs that I thought would help me progress into what I wanted to become.
So through high school, I was working full time as a Swamper for delivery company, doing stuff for visions and Future Shop.
And then I moved into.
That led me to an opportunity doing security for Security Canada as a mobile supervisor, kind of pushing me towards that law enforcement thing.
At which point I got engaged, my wife married, and she kind of said, well, you know, what are you going to do to take your next step? So I got a lot of guidance from her and at that point, I had gone back to being a delivery driver, and I had actually we delivered to Canada Place, which led me into looking into a career for DND because they had their career station set up there.
So I went and applied with them thinking get into combat arms and then come out of that with some gun training and stuff like that, some real life experience. So yeah, and then kind of as I was leaving the dad, I had my first kid I would say, which we were kind of right in the Afghanistan war, and I didn’t quite think that was the place where I wanted to raise my family.
So I started working a little bit with the combat engineer that was attached to a unit and saw that he was doing carpentry around the building and stuff like that.
And I was lucky to get put into a position as to why he had stables in view, which was just kind of building maintenance and stuff like that.
So I didn’t I got to just kind of see how the back end of things of that, all that worked and it really sparked my interest.
So coming out of the military, I thought I wanted to be somewhere warm and dry.
And so I thought renovations was a good place to move into, which led me to an interview with Quadrant Construction.
So I’ll just I’ll just pause there for a second.
A DND you mentioned earlier is the Department of National Defense.
Oh, yes, yes. Yes.
And so you had a military career.
How many years did you serve.
The contracts before were a little different.
So I served three years as a armored soldier.
So I learned to drive, tank and do some fun things there.
What experiences did you have serving that you think you use in your job now? Was was there anything that you learned there that you think you apply now? Um, talking to some of our customers and stuff like that, I they definitely feel like there’s a professional a bunch of professionalism that comes off me you know, just, uh, I don’t know, I guess they just, they feel like I have it together, I guess.
And they say, you know, you speak with a lot of confidence.
You wait, you know, to kind of hear our side of things.
So the military definitely helped me grow up quite a bit, so.
And wow, it’s really easy to learn manners when there’s repercussions.
You probably learn a lot of discipline.
So, yeah, you know, I thank you for your service.
I’ll never say thank you for your service to a politician, but I do say that the people that that serve in the military.
OK, so you had a three year career in the military, I believe that’s when you started to get interested in maybe looking at the trades.
Let’s talk about your post-secondary and what you took to enter into the world of trades.
Well, there wasn’t much for me.
I know there’s some introductory courses into carpentry and stuff like that that you can take if you have an ambition to go into the trades that’ll kind of give you your first year of carpentry or millwork or cabinet making.
But for me, it was just kind of like I said, I got to spend a little bit of time with the combat engineer that was attached to our unit, and he was doing what sticks out in my mind.
He was doing wainscoting upstairs for kind of the where the officers of the unit got to hang out.
And it really sparked an interest there.
So after I left there, then I applied for my job at Quadrant Construction and I was granted to me.
I started as a laborer and then from there I was told, well, you know, our expectation is we’d like to make you a red tick or a red seal carpenters.
So you, you need to attend NAIT for two months for the next four years.
So that is my post-secondary training.
So I’ve got eight months of schooling directly related to carpentry through NAIT and, you know, our Red Seal Certification.
For our listeners.
NAIT is the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
How was your experience at NAIT? What are the courses like? Is there any stress involved are you writing exams as well, or is it all show me what you can do? Um, well, NAIT, I, it’s changed in a few years from talking to a apprentices, but when I went through, it was pretty much you get so many hours of shop time where you get to be on a lot of the stationary tools that you don’t necessarily get to touch while you’re on the job because, you know, a lot of the times you’re just using portable tools the classroom time was kind of similar to what you’d find in high school, right? You had a instructor in front of you, you’re going through you’ve got to get through certain criteria.
We did have modules that we kind of walked through.
Safety is probably a good two weeks of every year.
We because it’s well, it’s super important in the trades, right? So yeah, you kind of want to keep your fingers toes in your life.
So yeah, they really drill it into you there.
Yeah, but my experiences was positive.
I had some fantastic construction instructors that were there, so they, they had lots of experience in the trade.
Some of them themselves had been project managers for a time, but some were just lead hands on construction sites or a few of them had been in the administration side of it for a while, but they all had input and value to what you were there learning.
What is the difference between a red seal journeyman carpenter and just a journeyman carpenter? The benefit of the red seal is I can practice carpentry throughout any province so basically the biggest difference, it just shows you have a firmer grasp on the building code is where they put a lot more pressure.
It’s it’s added on to your fourth year of carpentry and it’s just an extra test.
If you fail the test, you’re still a carpenter with an Alberta you’re just you don’t have the qualification to go anywhere else.
And the the biggest difference to me is that that I understand is it’s just on the building code itself, they put a little more emphasis than they they really want to make sure that you have a full grasp and understanding of that.
Can you write the test more than once or is it a 1 shot and you’re done? You do get multiple opportunities to do it.
So while you’re at school, they’ll give you the 2 hours.
If you fail again, you can go back in and challenge the exam again. So.
OK, let’s talk about at the company that you work for it’s Quadrant.
Could you talk a little bit about what you guys do and what the company is all about? And then we’ll we’ll talk about some of your experiences in the position that you’re you’re in. OK? Yeah.
So quadrant construction work as a general contractor, we do new builds infills where our bread and butter is mostly renovations.
So that’s where we that’s kind of what we’re best known for in image and where a lot of our previous customers have come from Maybe you can talk a little bit about the the stages, working your way up to project manager.
So I kind of did it the old school way, which is was nice.
You know, you start at the bottom and you work your way up.
So I was hired on as a laborer once.
They were happy that I was a good fit for the company, I was offered my apprenticeship for carpentry.
I went through my carpentry program learning from multiple journeyman persons on, you know, renovate or carpentry specific to renovations. So yeah, I’ve got a really well-rounded experience there.
I am luckier than most and I got to spend three years of my career on a new build for a customer.
It was a very large home it was a between the basement main floor and second floor and the garage.
It was a 15,000 square foot property.
So it was a very large, very beautiful home in the end.
And I spent three the three years there learning the ins and outs at a, I would say a higher level than a lot of people get to experience just because it’s a lot of finesse and a lot of care needs to be taken into when you get into some pretty high end finishes that you don’t normally see anywhere else.
It was a really great experience for me.
It really boosted my confidence feeling like I can do this.
And then from there I went and got my fourth year of carpentry finished off my ticket, and I feel like I was put in opportunities where I was allowed for growth.
I was left kind of more in charge of jobs dealing with the trades, again, not fully on the back side of things, but definitely learning the front end, which is probably, in my opinion, is pretty and more important than the back end.
And you can learn the back end stuff.
Somebody can teach you, you know, how to do invoicing how to properly schedule a job and this and that.
But that real front end experience, knowing how the job is being done, knowing how you need to coordinate your trades yeah.
And dealing with people, which is really the biggest part of project managing I find is just being able to you go to work you got to play nice with others because everybody’s going to have a different opinion on how to do stuff or what they want or what the customer needs or what the designer wants.
And you either have to step up and say, Yeah, we can deliver this, or you’ve got to pull everybody back down on three guys.
Kind of where we’re going with this is unreasonable.
Let’s maybe step back and redesign and work as a team to kind of see where we want to go.
I like that you’re learning from the ground up and I’m wondering if the people that were the owners or the management of the company that were watching your career, do they are you applying to become a project manager or do they just know that you’re they know you and they know your work ethic and what you’ve been doing? And then one day they come to you and say, Would you like to be project manager? Or do they say you’re now the project manager? Well, again, from my experience in particular, I was in that lead hand kind of position.
And then our quadrant construction was sold about six, seven years ago to our new owner, Jamie, fantastic gentleman.
And I’d been working with him for about a year or two as his lead hand.
Well, he was project managing and then when he decided to buy the company and move forward, that left a hole for project managers who he asked me if I would like to fill it.
So yeah, I jumped on the opportunity to kind of move up the ladder once again.
So yeah, and that’s great that you work for a company that allows you to grow, so you weren’t in a dead end situation.
What do you love about the work that you do? And I definitely love both.
Work is just that people aspect, again, like dealing with people kind of making sure it’s kind of all coming together the way it’s supposed to.
What I hear from a lot of clients is, you know, I, I can see it on paper, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like, even with 3D renderings and stuff.
And then when they finally get into their home at the last time, they’re like, Wow, this is OK.
This is more than I imagined.
That’s a pretty satisfying feeling.
It’s not that I’m necessarily the guy and the tools, but I know I was there helping facilitate it.
So it’s a different kind of gratification than it was for me eight years ago where it was like, Hey, I did build that.
And that is part of the part you’re really proud of.
But now I get to go, Wow, OK, I brought all these people together to make sure it happened.
So do you have a project that stands out as one of your favorites? Do you think if you if you were to put a portfolio together, is there one that kind of you feel the best about.
As a project manager or as a carpenter? Let’s do that as a two part question as a carpenter and then as a project manager.
As a carpenter.
I would definitely say that first one, I was involved with that, that extremely large house was just really satisfying as a favourite project.
It was I got to see every facet of construction and unfortunately I got to see some things go wrong as well. So.
You know, you learn from it. You learn from it.
So, yeah, but the end result of that house was just mind blowing.
When we, you know, we think back to all the man hours that went into it was just unreal.
And then as stuff I’ve currently done as a project manager I felt really good about one I worked on last year, year before.
So the leaders are all blending together because of COVID.
It was just a super fantastic project.
You really got to bring it down to the bare bones.
And we really changed that space.
That home owner in particular, he was not a micromanager.
He was extremely involved in the project, which was fascinating to me.
I know that will bother some people, but I, I really enjoyed it because he was there, he was in depth, he was super engaged.
He always wanted to know what was happening and I was able to walk him through the job and kind of lead him through where he wanted to be and he got to see…
It was a great experience for him.
I know he walked away from that job, quite pleased with how everything went.
He was he was really happy what he called with the end of the job, white glove service so he really felt like he was well taken care of.
So that’s that’s something you should be proud of.
What are some of your challenges in your work? And you know what we might touch on? I actually at the end of it, I’m hoping maybe you can talk about the supply chain.
Is that a major challenge for these days? Yeah, that COVID is definitely putting a new learning curve on the job for sure. So things you took granted before you’re definitely thinking about now.
As soon as you’re handed the job, you’re going, OK, I’ve got to get on ordering material so I can even see when we can start.
So yeah, it’s definitely and you still get caught with surprises that you’re not expecting sorry. What? Me the first part here.
So we’ll go with that with the first part of the question. And the supply chain problem isn’t going to be forever.
Eventually it’ll hopefully like.
So maybe it would be better to talk about in your day to day work, what, what are some of the challenges that you come up against.
You’ve got to be very clear on your timelines with particular trades saying, Yeah, I definitely need you in here at this time of opening the window.
You’re always keeping an open line of communication with these guys saying, OK, I’m three weeks out from when I need you here.
Can you still make it? Yeah, two weeks later or the next week.
They are your two weeks out from when I need you here.
Are you still going to make it the next week? Yeah.
Are you still going to make it? And then you’re at his typical answers like, Well, I’m going to be three days late.
So now you’re rearranging your schedule to kind of accommodate it, but if you’re on them, you can get ahead of it.
As opposed to getting caught with the surprise.
So the challenge is just definitely making sure the people are committing to their timelines.
And then, yeah, occasionally, like you kind of get into the difficulty with material, you know, stuff you take for granted that should be at the store.
You go to pick up and I don’t have any.
And you call the next door, I don’t have any and you call the next door.
We haven’t had any for months.
Wow. And we’re ordering it I’ve been told it’s been on a one particular molding.
I was looking for just something to stick to the wall for a customer.
He’s like, We ordered it in January I still don’t know where it is.
He’s like, It comes out of Cuba or Chile and it’s still on a C train somewhere.
Or C-Can somewhere. Somewhere so these these are all headaches for you.
I can imagine.
I can see the frustration on both you and your client, but what can you do in situations like that? Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to have that conversation with the customer right off the go. And say, you’re going to have to be flexible on some things.
I will do everything in my power to preorder what I can get, but there will be come a time where I come to you and say, I just can’t get it.
So it’s either we sacrifice time timeline on your job and we wait, and if it’s holding up other trades before we get this done, it is what it is because you really want this product or, you know, we pivot, we pick a similar product that’s available to us, and it might change some of the design intent, but we can move forward with it.
Do you have a preference between working on a residential or a commercial job? My bread and butter has been residential so I find it definitely a little easier.
I really did enjoy my commercial experience experience though, so I would be more than happy to do another project going forward.
It was a different experience.
The trades in residential versus commercial are a little different right? The expectations are a little different.
They want to come in, do their job, get out of there.
You know, they’re pretty bang bang.
They’re usually larger trades that have lots of guys under them.
They have one foreman and the people that are coming in, they’ve got a set of plans and they want to follow that set of plans and they’re going to make it happen and they’re fantastic at it.
But if something changes in that, you know, there was a change that got missed on those plans.
Residential is a lot easier to catch.
The building’s so big, there’s so much square footage it it it can be a challenge to make sure that that change got disseminated to all the right hands.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you accepted the position of project manager that you know now after doing it for a few.
Years and I guess the fiscal side of things, you know, looking at numbers and getting engaged with that, like, you know, renovations are expensive, people are expensive, trades are expensive, labor is expensive.
You know, there’s there’s a lot of justification to it.
You know, everybody wants to make a good wage.
Everybody wants to make a working wage.
And if you own your own business, you want to make, you know, good profit for your company.
Nobody wants to work for free.
What kind of advice could you give somebody that wants to climb the ranks in a construction company to end up at a project manager position.
Anybody that wants to get into this position, I think, A, you got to make sure you’re in the right company, right? There has to be the opportunity to for growth.
Otherwise it’s not going to happen.
Some companies are just looking for, you know, people to do the labor.
And that’s kind of it.
Be exceptional, though.
You take pride in your work.
You know, if you want to climb that ladder shine, understand things.
Project management, definitely for sure.
There’s a far greater understanding of what your trades are doing.
So I was always interested in everything I was doing and I had the opportunity and was encouraged to go talk to that plumber, learn what he’s doing, why is he doing it? How can you anticipate helping him next time he needs to do it, see what the electrician’s doing, why is he doing it that way? Right.
Just kind of being engaged and learning not just what you’re doing, but what the people around you are doing and what it takes to get those jobs done is probably your first step if you can anticipate knowing exactly what the drywall is going to need after you’re done because you’re framing, then you’ve already kind of anticipated that if you know, you know, you’ve got to get a plumbing stack up a wall and it’s coming in as the carpenter on site, you should be able to anticipate that and make it work and make it easier for your your trades you’re supporting.
That’s something the first thing somebody’s going to notice is, hey, he’s not just thinking about what he’s doing.
He’s thinking three steps ahead.
Right? And that’s basically project management.
You’re not thinking about what’s in front of you.
You’re thinking thinking about the next three steps.
Has there been any surprises to you over your career or that stand out? Surprises that every time we open a wall, it’s a surprise the biggest thing I can say in in the renovation world, there’s surprises.
There should definitely be more regulation to trades.
I think people should have trade certifications for sure if they’re doing anything.
And I think those trade certifications for some of the sub trade should be more rigorous.
I think for electricians and plumbers and sheet metal workers, that they should have to take a structural course in the building.
I don’t know how many times I’ve opened up, you know, stuff that was renovated in the eighties and nineties or even the early 2000s where they’ve cut rates through structural members.
And you did not realize you were probably only standing on an inch of floor when it should have been ten.
So I guess that’s, that’s always a surprise to me and I always floored every time we do a renovation on just how much of the structure some time can be missing.
I know my sister did a renovation in her house and it’s out East and Ontario where houses are a little bit older than in western Canada and she she found some old news clippings in the in the wall from 100 years ago.
Have you ever found anything interesting behind a wall? Has her as a hot tub ever showing up under a floor? No. Although some of my neighbors might get a surprise when they go to sell because I’ve there was a pool guy behind me he’s totally floored it in with just crushed gravel.
And I’m pretty sure that the new owners don’t have a clue that there was ever something there.
I’ve actually we worked on a house from 19 or eight in the last couple of years.
We were doing a renovation on and I was crawling through their attic and found a letter to the bank explaining to why he was unable to process his payments for the last couple of times because he had got, oh, I can’t room smallpox or dysentery or something, just something awful that was going around or polio and they were asking him how much cattle he had and you know, what are you able to use as collateral and stuff like this.
But it was all just, you know, odd handwritten stuff.
It’s always fun to find things in the walls and stuff like that.
Actually, that that project we were working on, again, their son actually decided to put a time capsule in between some of the cabinets.
So the next time somebody goes to renovate that and hopefully 30 or 40 years, they’ll get a nice surprise right? So well, I think a career in the trades can lead you to important work and good positions and positions that you can be proud of.
So Mickey, I think you gave us a lot of good information today, and I just want want to thank you for for joining us on the podcast today.
Yeah, it was a pleasure.
Moyes around if there’s a part two.
Yeah, no problem.
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