The Importance of Virtual and Real-World Experience in Construction Management
This weekend, I watched the new movie Gran Turismo, the true story of UK gamer Jann Mardenborough turned professional race car driver. He was one of the top ten players in the world playing the Gran Turismo simulation video game that emulates the appearance and performance of racing vehicles that are raced virtually on multinational simulated courses. Jann Mardenborough proved he could take what he learned in the simulator, combine it with his passion and perseverance for the racing industry, and win races. What he learned along the way about the other factors required to be successful, including overcoming rejection and failure, is what ultimately keeps him in the racing business today, ten years from his dream start—although he started in one class and now has settled in the class that best suits him while also acting in the movie about his own life.
A few weeks ago, some of my employees and I were invited to tour a master plan project. The temperature that day was at least 90 degrees, and walking around a site and buildings for close to two hours in boots and safety gear, those who had never toured a site before got a dose of reality. Those of us who had not done it for a while got to see how conditioned and prepared those who work and manage these and other significant jobsites have to remain. My team could better relate to the number of steps our candidates shared that they log into their apps—the conditions and work challenges they face every day. Yet a tour is not even close to walking in their shoes. One of Jann Mardenborough’s realities of going from the simulator to the real world was conditioning around race gear and real-world conditions, including weather.
Just as in any career, including race car driving, there are many variations and levels of the sport. From Formula 1, IndyCar, NASCAR, and FIA Endurance’s four classes of race cars to off-road vehicles for the Dakar Rally and dragsters for straight-line acceleration races, there is a car for every driver and a race they trained and conditioned for competing in. I most likely even left a few out. Not only are there the drivers, but there is a team all the way down to the mechanics on the pit crew that keeps the car built up and running at top performance. A career in construction is much the same. You can be building master plan projects from high-rise and specialty buildings all the way down to managing renovation work on existing assets. Each project has a lead, yet without a team around them to complete the assignment, often similar to a race, they cannot succeed. Jann Mardenborough found out how challenging work relationships can be.
When Virtual Becomes Reality in the Construction Management Field
Anyone who has been in our industry for a time will tell you they might have learned about the industry in a classroom, from webinars, seminars, and videos, from reading books, studying plans, and maybe even through virtual reality walk-throughs, yet when they finally experience what is required by everyone hands-on in the field, under various conditions—coordinating manpower, materials, logistics, safety, and more—does the written, spoken, and virtual learning actually become a reality. Luckily, there are roles that balance office and field to the right mix for you. Yet those individuals who work in our industry and obtain real-world experiences develop the ability to predict possible challenges that the best of the virtual experts may never know. One saying I often use is, “The best project managers can be superintendents, and the best superintendents can be project managers, yet one prefers to kick the dirt more, and the other prefers to administer more.” Well-rounded construction managers who do what it takes—in the field or office—earn the prize at the end of the day, even if the whole team participates. It is just like a race team. Don’t believe me? Just ask someone who has worked with a superintendent who is supposed to be the lead yet doesn’t come out of the jobsite trailer or a project manager who hides behind a computer screen.
Virtual, according to Webster, means “almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition.” Reality means “a thing that is actually experienced or seen, especially when this is grim or problematic.”
Until my team walked a jobsite in extreme heat over uneven surfaces, rode in a buck hoist, climbed a ladder, and viewed interactions among management and trades in the field did they gain insight into reality. Yet without being hired for one of the positions they saw being performed and doing it for some time, they will never get fully beyond virtual to reality.
How do you build your mix of career, virtual and reality, to pick not only what race is best for you but also how you can move up within your expertise in the race of building your career?
1. Know What You Don’t Know
Verbal confirmations and computer- and paper-generated documents can be ambiguous. Anything you have not physically done before requires visual or written confirmation, and often, even the things you have done before do also, as there are no two projects and circumstances the same in construction management. An attitude and ability to ask and verify will build on your existing knowledge to open doors to the next level of your career.
2. Never Point Fingers at Another Person on the Project
Humans make mistakes, and artificial intelligence (AI) can make mistakes too (as we are finding out as they test AI more and more). Also, we all make choices—right and not so right—every day. If you discovered a bomb on your jobsite, then as much as you want to find out how it got there, I am sure you would first work to deactivate the bomb. The fact is, the bomb got onto your jobsite, and you can’t change that reality. You can focus on deactivating the bomb, and then, typically, the investigation takes place and uncovers the who, what, and when of the bomb on the jobsite. My bomb story is to make the point that the bomb was on your jobsite, so even if you point the finger at others, three come back at you. If you always manage to move forward—learning from your unfamiliarity with the situation—I assure you that in the future, you will have a better reality to protect from the unfortunate situation.
3. Recognize Relationships Are as Important as Construction Management Skills
The construction industry, just like racing, is a team sport. Your job, no matter where you fall on the company organizational chart or an individual project team, requires others’ expertise to be successful. If a minimum of three to five people would be unwilling to give you an unsolicited reference for no other reason than that you did the job you were hired to do and they respected you, then no matter how nice you think you are, relationships in the workplace are, at the end of the day, based on you being a top performer on the team.
Gran Turismo is an excellent movie, and I highly recommend it. Watching the trailer, you can see how Jann, at age 22, was given a chance of a lifetime. At 32, he is still committed to the career, just with a much better balance of virtual vs reality and relationships that will continue to support him with his career as it continues to evolve, all because he continues to do the hard work, which includes knowing what he doesn’t know and who he needs with every new adventure along the way.
To Balancing Your Virtual with Reality,