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Welcome, Mr. President

The 2013–2014 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry is Craig Daley of Daley’s Drywall & Taping based in Campbell, Calif., 50 miles south of San Francisco. He term begins July 1, 2013, and ends June 30, 2014.

With an annual business volume of about $50 million, Daley’s firm is one of the largest drywall contractors in California. A forward-thinking, energy-conscious Californian who drives an electric Tesla, Craig spent $400,000 on an elaborate network of solar panels for his business. He doesn’t balk at changing with the times—an important factor for the industry’s continued success.

What are some of the important issues for AWCI members right now and over the next year?

Quoting jobs is getting to be a challenge, especially for projects that don’t start for a long time. Costs are rising on all fronts. We’ve already seen 20 percent-plus increases in materials in the last two years, and we don’t know what’s coming this year. As the market picks up both residential and commercial workers are going to want wage and benefits increases that have been mostly shelved for the last five years. Workers’ compensation benefits and other insurance benefit costs are going up more than one would have guessed. In California, for example, workers’ comp rates took a 15 percent increase last year and we hear that the same increases could be coming this year.

And then there is healthcare … nobody seems to have a handle on what ObamaCare really costs those with existing health benefits and especially those who haven’t been providing it at all.

Other issues we face include rising tax rates and pension plans have to be made whole. Also, workers require more safety training. These are costs we didn’t have before.

Summing up, it makes it difficult to do accurate job quotes on jobs further down the road.

The thing is we might be smart and proactive with our pricing—figure it all out—but if other bidders are thinking in today’s dollars, we’re not going to be competitive.

Those are some big obstacles. Are you optimistic about the industry’s future?

Yes. I see construction gaining some respect again with our younger generation. That is really important to our longer-term health. Our industry is more attractive to them because we use more technology, pay competitive wages and offer good training. This is happening while some of the allure of the tech industry is dulling a bit, the dot-com days where everybody gets stock are over.

Is the industry doing enough to entice young people into the field?

While construction work is gaining respect, we can do a better job of getting the word out. There are high school and college job fairs all over with very little representation by construction. While we may not have the resources to staff these job fairs, our local associations, with help from AWCI, can develop recruitment brochures to leave at job fairs.

What does that message have to get across?

We should emphasize the growing technology side of our trade because it is that technology that often attracts young people to an industry. As an example, a brochure might show illustrations of people working with Total Stations, iPads, laptops, laser levels and other high-tech instruments. This side of our business is what will most likely attract more kids.

How can AWCI help in recruitment drives?

I think it can provide a model template that can be provided to local associations on how to promote this side of our business through schools and colleges.

As it stands, AWCI does a great job with training with its Doing It Right programs for all parts of our trade. We just need to get people interested.

What are some examples of incentives or initiatives that are a strong draw?

In our area an apprenticeship program offers college credits to its students. How it works is a junior college in Sacramento outsources the program to the local Carpenters union. The college actually pays so many dollars per class hour per student to the Carpenters’ apprenticeship program. Metal framers and drywall installer apprentices are covered under the program.

Usually, students with good grades in high school are steered by their parents into college, but with this program parents see the benefit of trades training. It steps up the trade’s respectability. I haven’t heard of anything like it anywhere else. It is thinking outside the box that provides incentives for young people to get into the trade.

Your daughter works for your company. Is she an example of the new breed of youth in the field?

Yes. Brittni, 27, has risen through the ranks to become our CFO and is doing some project management. What is so good for the company about her is that she really embraces technology. She has changed our accounting software and improved many of the processes in project management and finance to make us more efficient.

After graduating from University of California at Santa Cruz in 2008 with business finance and business legal majors, Brittni’s goal was to work with a major accounting firm—not to come to work for us. But after taking a break to see parts of South America she met and married Vlad Grishaev and the two came aboard my company.

It’s great to see youth and vitality in our 50-year-old company. As a second generation drywaller, I am excited to see the possibilities of a college-educated third generation taking the company to another level.

Is Building Information Modeling (BIM) part of the growing technology that might attract more young people to your industry?

BIM is part of the draw to our industry. Bringing on Vlad, an architectural graduate, to head up our BIM work has been great for business. Hardly anyone knew what BIM was a few years ago, and now it’s required on our larger projects.

Increasingly we will find that it pays to have BIM in place, particularly for bigger jobs, but even on smaller jobs it can be beneficial. As an example, my firm is using BIM design in a few complicated rooms where layouts aren’t clear, or there are interferences like overhead ductwork and we have to place drop-in anchors prior to ductwork installation.

Is BIM affordable for small contractors?

If you are a small company doing some big jobs, you’re going to have to hire someone at least part-time to do BIM design. I don’t think you can entirely rely on an outside service though, partly because it won’t make a model you can use for your own layout. It becomes like a shop drawing.

The challenge is finding the right person to do your BIM design. There’s a big learning curve for a drywall estimator. In our case, we were lucky because my son-in-law was an architectural grad and proved a nice fit into the position. He taught himself over about a year-and-a-half and luckily enough for us, we’ve had enough big jobs to make it pay off.

What are the political issues that could impact the industry?

Immigration is a hot political topic and could have a big impact on our workforce, especially here in California and throughout our southern states. We need the immigrant workforce and have to find ways of taking the term “illegal” out of the issue. I’ve personally seen some friends go through the immigration process, and it’s just too complicated and takes way too long—and there is talk about making it even more long and difficult.

I am for tightening up the borders, but let us create a system where we can employ these workers easily and legally. What we as an industry are afraid of is legislation that takes away workers but doesn’t add workers.

What is the state of the skilled labor pool?

It varies across the United States but our region of Northern California is not, for the most part, seeing shortages—perhaps tightening would be the best word. There are some companies facing challenges securing enough skilled acoustical ceiling people, but drywall and plaster divisions are doing OK.

We’re in good times, relatively speaking, but I don’t see such a huge bubble of work coming that could result in skilled shortages.

Again, I think the AWCI’s Doing it Right programs and apprenticeship training help meet our training needs now and for a while ahead. As long as we don’t do something with immigration that makes it impossible for some of our workers to cross the border, I think we will be in good shape for a while.

How important is skills upgrading and education on new products/materials?

It is important. At the very least, we need a good understanding of the new products and materials, such as drywall and barriers that deal with water. When I first got into the trade there were four types of drywall; now there are a dozen or so.

The impact new energy codes have on our industry is another area we have to stay current on as it relates to insulation methods, materials and their impact on the building envelope. It’s a part of our trade that is changing fairly rapidly.

Tell us about your three-year appointment by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to building commissioner on the board that passed the 2010 California Green Building Standards Code.

I guess you could call it one of the memorable moments in my career. That board set a precedent when it established the code requirements—many of which are being adopted by other code bodies across the country. For a right-wing Republican, Schwarzenegger was definitely keen on making sustainable design and practices a big part of his legacy.

How serious should this industry take energy and sustainable design practices?

Stay on top of these issues because they will affect your state. Among the AWCI’s Doing it Right programs are ones that address the latest energy and green issues. Check them out. Also, while many of us have difficulty finding enough time to read publications like this one, I think we have to make the time because the information we need to know is there. Anytime there is a new product or method, it will often be first in this magazine.

Tell us a bit about yourself and the state of the field in your region.

I was born and raised in San Jose, Calif., which many people know as the home of the Silicon Valley. We are fortunate to see a resurging tech industry in the world of big names like Apple, Google, HP, Cisco and more. I think the spurt is from some pent-up demand and will fade out to a more normal pace in the coming year.

We are also seeing an increase in multifamily residential, partly through projects being released that have been on the drawing board for years. Our suppliers tell us the San Francisco Bay area is one of the hot spots in the country.

What are your successful business philosophies?

Transparency. I think that it is important to be a fairly open book with information to all levels of the company, including field crews, foremen, estimators and project managers. That transparency helps everybody understand the challenges we face, which helps them represent us well with our clients.

Clients can be suspicious about us, thinking that we are making a killing when we charge them for an extra, but being open about our construction budget with our guys in the field helps to convey our position to the client.
Looking at means of keeping a happy staff is paramount in other ways as well.
Our company has established a reputation with other subs for our jobsite barbecues, which we hold for all the trades on a job on at least a monthly basis. It might seem like a small thing but it has a positive affect on our employees and other trades working with us.

What are some of your goals over the coming year in your term as president of AWCI?

One I’ll deal with is to try and get all members using code-compliant metal stud products. Using non-compliant products puts a huge liability on contractors that they shouldn’t have to take, so we are attempting to come up with code-compliant standards for all suppliers. AWCI assisted in the formation of SFIA, the Steel Framing Industry Association, with hopes of having one all-inclusive group, but we have run into some politics and suddenly find ourselves dealing with three different metal stud associations, which doesn’t seem right for the industry.

Any other issues you want to address or raise during your term as president?

I would like to see AWCI expand on its Business Forum sessions (half-day brainstorming sessions among peers) because they have been so successful. Every time I’ve attended a forum, I’ve brought some really great new things back to my company. Perhaps have forum groups represented by people in specific jobs—such as CFO, chief estimator, superintendent and safety personnel. It’s a chance for contractors to talk to and share ideas with their non-competitor peers across the country.

I’d like to see AWCI represent everything we do by working closer or joining up with other trade associations. There’s been some resistance to this that hopefully time will fix.

Our company, like many other AWCI member companies, has added scope to our services over the years. We contractors don’t have time to get involved with multiple trade associations representing different parts of our scope.

Don Procter is a freelance writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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