CDI Services Master Trainer, Gary Carville is one of the most esteemed National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) instructors in the Houston region. As an OSHA lead training expert liaison and on contract with the Houston Area Urban League, his knowledge spans beyond three decades in the field of construction. He has been in the business long enough to anticipate industry trends impacting cyclical changes and understands the difficulties that come with growing a youth-filled workforce. He loves what he does and enjoys motivating both students and trainers from coast to coast.
I had the chance to speak with Gary about his career, construction safety, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of the construction industry workforce.
Q: Gary, it is such a wonderful opportunity to finally speak with you and learn more about your work as an influencer in the field of construction during this unprecedented time. What inspired you to become an instructor?
A: I entered the workforce when OSHA went into effect back in the 1970s. At the time, my initial experience with construction began with working on two assigned projects. One required me to sit in a Bosun’s chair. They grabbed me from grouting the inside of a nine-story tilt-wall building and proceeded to explain that I also needed to grout the exterior seams as well. I had a total of five minutes of training. It was pouring down rain with high winds and lightning. After 20 minutes, I was able to make it to ground level and quit that job.
Days later, I was hired to run a rock crusher for road crews. I walked up a set of wooden steps to get into a 40-foot long semitractor-trailer where we kept our tools. The steps were there when I went in but gone when I came out with my hands full of tools. I took one step and fell face first. I snapped my wrist and suffered a compound fracture where the bone was sticking out of the bottom of my wrist. Apparently, an equipment operator who happened to be the only person on-site moved the stairs. I had to drive myself to the nearest medical clinic.
Q: What modest beginnings for sure.
A: Yes, (laughing) that was my introduction to construction.
Q: Your experience would have been an incentive for most to leave the field, but understanding the importance of safety, how did the experience affect your professional pedigree in construction?
A: Let me say, throughout all my time as a manager with other companies and then owing my own company for 18 years, I made it a priority to develop safety programs within those organizations because safety was important to me from my earlier experience in construction. It was a big part of what I did for other businesses as well as for my own. Ten years later, I began instructing, training and consulting work full time.
Q: As a master trainer how many students have you trained and in what areas of construction? Do you feel you were somewhat of a vanguard in this area?
A: An unofficial calculation may be a thousand. Initially, I trained hundreds of people in utility construction underground excavation. Eventually, I began doing commercial interior demolition work for Spaw Maxwell and local general contractors like Turner Construction and D.E. Harvey. Residing in Houston with all the high-rise office buildings, there was a huge market. So, through partnerships with project developers, the need for someone to gut office spaces and take them back to slab conditions for new interior construction was in demand. I then opened a section of our company to handle that type of work. This is where I segued into additional areas of safe work practices such as Respiratory Protection, Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) and Hazardous Waste Removal. It was intensive and relied heavily on safety.
Q: Now that you have shifted from in-person intensive training to this new paradigm of virtual training, what do you feel has changed as far as your approach?
A: It has really been a challenge. In early 2020 I began using the virtual platform for a full year. With COVID-19 conditions, we opened in 2021 by conducting some in-person training enforcing provisions of social distancing and wearing masks for the required Performance Verification which cannot be done virtually.
The impact was profound. It was extremely difficult to maintain heightened levels of positivity with the learning process limited to on-screen training. I was grateful we could do it interactively on platforms, like Zoom, where we could see each other face-to-face and everyone could ask questions. What I have learned over the years is mixing a variety of teaching techniques is the best way to match the variety of learning styles adult learners have. I tried to use a variety of methods. Visually, I inserted practical experiences then increased the number of videos normally used for trainees to see different tools being used by someone else.
When the opportunity to communicate is limited to just screen time, the aspect of hands-on training is severely limited. A vast majority of young people today learn so much more when they can put their hands on tools and can take the concept and put it to use. We were not able to get enough of that in 2020. The effects on training were tremendous. At this point, I am so glad to get back to in-person training where I can bring all my toys back into the classroom and give the trainees an opportunity to have a practical experience with what I am trying to teach them in their hands.
Q: You were able to read the performance paradigms closely to make the shift quickly. Is there a decrease or increase in demand now?
A: I have more work and training scheduled on the books for 2022 compared to what I completed in 2021. This is not factoring in new business. There is growth and a consistent need out there.
I also think there is a crisis in the American workforce, particularly the baby boomers who have made up the bulk of our workforce for many years are leaving the workplace. The younger generations are more drawn to digital work and view construction as manual labor which is a misconception to a greater degree. Now, people are beginning to catch on. There are more intellectual and digital opportunities in construction than people know. So, there is a greater demand to get trained and credentialed. It is an advantage in construction today. Utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in coordination with on-the-job experience will dominate the training for technicians in construction in the years ahead.
Q: Are you saying the digital demand will replace hands-on?
A: Not totally, but the improvements with this technology where utilization of headsets and virtual controls can be used to experience being in an excavator will attract the younger generation and will have a tremendous effect on where we are today. It is also in line with their online lifestyle and will provide an enhanced learning experience without the need for on-screen training.
Q: I would compare simulated construction to simulated driving practices. The driver can use their techniques learned on-screen and can veer out the lanes at times, but when faced with applied knowledge on the road the reality can put vulnerabilities to the test. I would think the need to prevent potential consequences makes training more intensive.
A: Certainly. There is no comparison between running a simulated machine on-screen and operating a dump truck on the job. It would make crashing sounds but compared to running the truck on a job site - there is no comparison. In a simulation the fear factor and significance of safety, which is important to grasp during on-screen learning, do not exist. There is no real consequence.
Liken the experience of using a simulator to a circular saw. It is nowhere near comparable to putting a power tool in one’s hand to drive home the concept of safety. The training I do is hands-on with hand and power tools because a circular saw rotating at 6000 RPMs in the hands of someone who has never used one before is a powerful reality. When trainees are holding that saw with the blade spinning, they can seriously injure someone.
Q: How do you transfer and enforce the importance of safety under these circumstances?
A: It is a challenging situation to transfer to the classroom, but I use a combination of the tools and actual events illustrating where fatalities occur with a particular machine. We do a step-by-step analysis of what, where and why these incidents happen. During a simulation I stress the importance of equipment, a breakdown of how the equipment is handled, what happens in real life when tools are not used properly and how lives are lost.
Q: It emphasizes the need to extend safety measures beyond personal accountability. How do you measure its effectiveness and what kind of feedback do you receive in response?
A: Students are shocked, especially teaching trainees for days through the OSHA-30 Training or the NCCER Core curriculum. If these tools are not used properly, fatalities happen. It helps to develop respect toward tools and equipment they are learning how to use.
Q: Finally, in your role as a Master Trainer, where do you envision NCCER safety training over the next 5 or 10 years? What does the future hold for OSHA training across the board?
A: I believe there will be an increase in the use of simulation and virtual tools to reach a wider audience. It’s possible to get every single person needed to fill this workforce. It is a tremendous scope, but NCCER is beginning to open doors with more simulated training opportunities. As mentioned, it will attract youth who can merge their technical capabilities to a great extent with preliminary instruction before they get to the workplace. So, when they sit inside the machines, it is not completely foreign to them. They will have some sense of what it will be like from the position of simulated training.
The capacity of technology is getting much better every year. In comparison to what it was years ago - it is like night and day. Some life-like simulations are truly realistic, and we forget we are in a machine. The need to develop a certified, trained and qualified workforce is indispensable. We are starting to see improvements in government where requirements to repair our infrastructure are in demand, but we don’t have a qualified workforce to do it. I believe companies like NCCER will be at the forefront of bringing about the workforce that we need so desperately.
Gary can be contacted at Gary@CDIsafetyservices.com