Suffolk Construction's 'reverse mentors' spur tech ideas on the jobsite
Experienced field workers and construction managers know well that there are many aspects of the job that simply can’t be learned in a classroom. Effectively coordinating schedules, managing subcontractors and reporting on project progress, for example, takes time and grade.
But seasoned construction professionals don’t always have a background in the technologies that are increasingly being used throughout the industry. In this case, young people coming out of construction programs at colleges and universities where they have studied BIM, 3D scanning, drones and other digital tools have unique experience to offer even their most senior colleagues.
Suffolk Construction is empowering a group of young workers on its Ritz Carlton Residences project, a 52-story luxury condominium in Sunny Isles, Florida, to experiment and innovate through what it calls “reverse mentor” relationships.
Jerry Snell, a general superintendent on the project, has years of experience under his belt. He shares his expertise while mentoring recent graduates in Suffolk’s Career Start program through hands-on role rotations, leadership training and more.
Jonathan Meyer-Senior is among the recent graduates and is in his second year as assistant project manager at the company. He and a few peers have been given an opportunity to cut their teeth at management by sharing their knowledge and passion for technology with seasoned team members like Snell.
“[Suffolk] is pushing me and other younger guys on the team to implement technology” on the job, Meyer-Senior told Construction Dive, “and to show the rest of our team how we can use it to be able to build more efficiently and effectively.”
Snell said that reverse mentoring has been a win-win for the company. “The young people bring their education, and you take that and combine it with my experience — it just makes a good team,” he said.
Snell, Meyer-Senior and others involved on the Ritz Carlton project came up with the idea organically, but it became a more structured program through management buy-in and their encouragement of the young professionals’ enthusiasm for the technology capabilities on the project.
Suffolk expanded its BIM models for the project in order to provide its subcontractors with a higher level of detail than the initial drawings provided. In addition, workers began to use 3D scanners heavily to flag any discrepancies between the model and the reality onsite, to prevent construction errors before it’s too late.
For example, Suffolk provided scans of the first four floors of the tower to an HVAC subcontractor. That sub, in turn, was able to refine his shop drawings for diffusers to better fit the angles of the tower’s distinctive curving shape.
Meyer-Senior and his team have worked closely with subcontractors, who may only have a high school education, to provide them training on these technologies. While Meyer-Senior spreads excitement among the subs for the potential of coordinated BIM models among other tools, Snell is providing him guidance on how to effectively manage them. Plus, according to Meyer-Senior, subs are now coming up with their own ideas for how the use of technology could be expanded.
The two men had high hopes for the program from the start, but the results of experimental technology rollouts have exceeded their expectations. They hope the reverse mentoring program will result in an embrace of technology not just on their project or in their South Florida market, but across the company.
“I think there’s a lot more potential that Suffolk is pushing us to find and discover,” Meyer-Senior said.