Oct. 27, 2021

Ironworker Impact with Cindy Menches, Ph.D., P.E.

Iron workers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, roads, and more. These professionals impact the built environment by performing physically demanding and dangerous work, often at great heights. Dr. Ci...

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Iron workers install structural and reinforcing iron and steel to form and support buildings, bridges, roads, and more. These professionals impact the built environment by performing physically demanding and dangerous work, often at great heights. Dr. Cindy Menches support the business success of union iron worker contractors and the Iron Workers International Union as the Director of Professional Development & Training for IMPACT. 

She develops innovative professional education programs that aid members in growing and improving their businesses, facilitating the startup of new contractors, and career advancement. Dr. Menches manages a training program that consists of nearly 40 unique courses. Check her full bio to learn more about these offerings. Her prior work included being an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, including research work on the improvisational decision-making processes of construction field supervisors. Dr. Menches worked as a construction project manager in Chicago and Madison and served as an Air Force civil engineering officer, including positions as a construction project planner, environmental engineering program manager, and Deputy Chief of Engineering.

Dr. Menches holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering-Building Science from the University of Southern California, a Master of Science degree in Architectural Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin.


Connect with Cindy via

Email at cmenches@impact-net.org

LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/cindy-menches-ph-d-p-e-5146413/

Website at https://www.impact-net.org 

Twitter at https://twitter.com/IW_IMPACT 

Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/impactironworkers/

YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/IronworkersIMPACT


Connect with Felipe via

Social media at https://thefelipe.bio.link 

Subscribe on YouTube to never miss new videos here: https://rb.gy/q5vaht 


Today’s episode is sponsored by Bosch RefinemySite. It’s a cloud-based construction platform. Bosch uses Lean principles to enable your entire team, from owners to trade contractors – to plan, communicate, document, and execute in real-time. It’s the digital tool that supports the Last Planner System® process and puts it all together in one simple, collaborative ecosystem. Bosch RefinemySite empowers your team, builds trust, creates a culture of responsibility, and enhances communication. Learn more and Try for free at https://www.bosch-refinemysite.us/tryforfree 


Today’s episode is sponsored by Construction Accelerator. This online learning system for teams and individuals offers short, in-depth videos on numerous Lean topics for Builders and Designers to discuss and implement, just like on this podcast. This is tangible knowledge at your fingertips in the field, in the office, or at home. Support your Lean learning at your own pace. Learn more at http://trycanow.com/ 


Today's episode is sponsored by the Lean Construction Institute (LCI). This non-profit organization operates as a catalyst to transform the industry through Lean project delivery using an operating system centered on a common language, fundamental principles, and basic practices. Learn more at https://www.leanconstruction.org 


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Cindy  0:00  
So here's how it often will play out. If you've got an iron worker, they're working on the job site, they get injured, and they go to the doctor. Unfortunately the doctor gives him an opioid painkiller. And if they've got that addictive tendency, you can call it a gene or just a tendency. They become addicted-  they didn't intend to they're not bad people they almost become just a victim of the circumstance. So then they become addicted, but it's just a downward spiral you know, if you know people who've been through that cycle, it's very difficult to overcome an addiction and they just feel worse and worse about themselves and that leads to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. So we recognize this spiral. And the iron workers have put a big emphasis; number one - on addressing the addiction problem, but also in removing the stigma, suffering from an addiction. And especially in being in a recovery program, we've got some super strong members who are in recovery who are very vocal.

Felipe Engineer  1:15  
Welcome to the EBFC Show - the Easier, Better, For Construction podcast. I'm your host, Felipe Engineer-Manriquez this show is all about the business of construction. Today's episode is sponsored by...

Sponsors  1:28  
Boshrefinemysite is a cloud based construction collaboration platform that applies Lean principles to enable your entire team to plan, communicate and execute in real time. It's the digital tool that works in tandem with your last planner system process and puts it all together in one simple collaborative ecosystem. This easy to use platform is available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French and can be used on desktops, tablet and mobile devices. According to Spencer Easton, scheduling manager at Oakland construction, - Refinemysite in my opinion, is the best leanest tool on the market for last planning. Here's what our users have to say. We've looked at three other digital scheduling platforms and none compared to the straightforward approach refined my site takes from milestone planning all the way down to daily tasks. This program gives every general contractor and their trade partners meaningful collaboration, accountability and KPIs. Register today to try refine my site for free for 60 days.

Felipe Engineer  2:41  
Today's episode is sponsored by construction accelerator....

Sponsors  2:44  
The design and construction industries come up with and build great things. But we also build in waste in how we do those things, in our interactions in our contracts in our logistics. So what does this do for our bottom line, or our next project, the best firms maximize their value by removing that waste, and only doing what's essential to the work what makes them money. Construction accelerator will train you to see the waste and give your teams the lean tools and experience to remove it immediately. All online. Construction Accelerator is made up of three to nine minute videos that can be watched again and again, in the field, at the office, and at home - all broken down by topic. You need to learn pool planning. We have videos on the process, how to set up a room and how to kick off a team. Need to set up a target value delivery project? We discuss all the aspects of TVD especially cost or maybe you just need to brush up on 5s well we have videos on that as well. You can download and print reference materials to use on site to immediately translate watching into doing subscribe today at tri ca now.com. Let's build an industry not just a project.

Felipe Engineer  3:57  
To me show is also sponsored by the lean construction Institute. LCI is working to lead the building industry and transforming its practices and culture. Its vision is to create a healthy and thriving industry that delivers outstanding project outcomes every time for everyone. Check the show notes for more information now to the show. Welcome to the show, Cindy Mencius. Cindy, I always enjoy our conversations together over the years that I'm glad that we became fast friends talking about things like lean and learning, which are synonyms in my book. Cindy, can you introduce yourself and let the good people of the EBFC show audience know who you are.

Cindy  4:40  
I am Impax, Director of Professional Development and Training. I am a civil engineer by training and have actually never done design engineering. I've always been in construction. It's been I believe 32 years now. I was former professor that was my previous job before I joined Impact. So if you don't mind, I'd like to just say a couple of words of what is Impact. Don't mind at all, please let us know I don't I don't think people understand what we are and what we do. So Impact is actually an acronym iron worker management, progressive action cooperative trust. So we're a nonprofit. We're a private nonprofit association, completely affiliated with the Ironworkers International Union. So we don't serve anyone else. We only serve the Ironworkers International Union in the US and in Canada. And we impact our a labor management trust, this got set up, I believe, 15 years ago. And the way it works is we had labor, labor leaders, and we had signatory contractors. And we were trying to find the best solution to advance our industry on both sides of the street, basically. And so the two parties got together. And at one of their conventions, they were able to pass a rule, I guess, you could say, to pass a movement that the ironworkers and the contractors would all pay, we call it pennies per hour into a fund and the fund became Impact's budget. And in exchange impact provides services to ironworkers and contractors. So for example, we, we offer training, that's one of our big services we provide, there's no additional cost to an individual, if they want to attend the training, they kind of got to get themselves there. But there are other avenues for helping them pay like travel expenses, the class itself has no additional cost to it, but but we give out grants, that's part of our function so that if an individual wants to go to a training course, they can request a grant to help pay for their expenses. So we do grants, we do training, we have a maternity program, which I hope to talk about at some point during this because that's, you know, it's a big hit, we've got off the job accident insurance. So if an individual gets injured off the job, you know, there's no stress, no concern, they can just call us up. And you know, with the doctor's information, we will provide a short term disability to them. And there's a whole host of other services we provide, we provide marketing, so we will be able to provide them with the development of a website if they don't already have one. And then all they have to do year after year is just pay for the URL. But otherwise, we will do the design for them. So there's there's many services all of them listed on our website.

Felipe Engineer  8:13  
Cindy, we'll make sure to put that website in the show notes for everybody listening so they can get all that information and more. I love how you've got this all started with a very deep seated respect for people, the ironworkers and the there are various different organizations, or many ironworker companies in the US and Canada, partnering together with the contractors for the benefit of the workers. I absolutely love that, Cindy.

Cindy  8:36  
Really, really important. So I mean, that is our mission, our mission. You know, if you go to our website, it's going to tell you that basically just what I said, we're, we're in the business of promoting our particular industry. But I see kind of my role as since I'm director of professional development and training. I so I will clarify this. I am not responsible for apprentice training. We have an entire department that focuses on apprentice training. So if an individual wants to join the union, they start out as an apprentice, and there's no cost to the training. So they just simply join, obviously, they have to go through an application process, but we will train them and we have apprentice training centers. In virtually well more than one in every state we have 157 so more than one in every state plus Canada, all the provinces. Some states obviously because we have pretty big cities and various states will have multiple training centers so so they take care of the apprentice training which are called skills training. On my side, I tend to do more of the I call it human skills training. I call it the foreman and above if you need a project management course we've got one. If you need leadership training communications, we have what I call different competencies. So it would be business fundamentals, okay? I say fundamentals like accounting, insurance if you want to start your business or if you're already in business, but you need help. So we've got business fundamentals, we've got business administration. So very specific courses on once you've got your business up and running, how do you be successful, we've got project management, leadership, we have two types of leadership, just kind of general leadership when we have field leadership, a very specific focus on training the ironworkers to be really solid field leaders, and... 

Felipe Engineer  10:51  
Incredible, so they've got to just stop one more time, because that any time to think about that, as an ironworker, coming up in the trades, you can start a business and get support from impact. That's true, make a viable business, learn all the skills necessary to grow your business, right, and then create the next generation or another wave of iron workers serving the construction industry, in your local geography. Or if you scale large enough, you know, you can go across many geographies we were at a conference, and we met a few individuals that has had their own iron worker and steel business. I think that's a testament to the entrepreneurship, encouragement, that impact is doing.

Cindy  11:34  
Okay, so you know that my favorite subject is training and learning, I would say some of our most important and popular courses. Number one probably is a class we call the Business Fundamentals Academy. It's for ironworkers who want to start their own company, they want to become an A union, iron worker, contractor, one of the challenges is, in construction, there is a fairly high failure rate for companies, if they can make it to year seven, they stand a very good chance of being successful. But it's those first seven years that are the most challenging, and many individuals don't completely understand what they need to do to get the business started and to, we'll call it increase their chances of success. So we provide a class, it's five full days, five full days. So they have to make that commitment that they're going to be there for those five full days. And during that week, we bring in different experts to talk about subjects that we call it fundamental because we can't teach them everything they need to know. But we will teach you the most basic things they must know just to get started. So we start out with a piece on like success and failure, like what are the characteristics of companies that actually succeed. And then we jump into accounting and finance. So exciting. And yeah, so that's the most challenging day we call that day to day one is, you know, just getting them motivated to stay in the class, but don't give up. And we talked to them about like picking their name and setting up their LLC, or their S or C Corps. And we'll talk about how to put together a business plan. And that, of course, is the whole class by itself, just doing business planning. But we want to encourage it on day two is accounting all day long. That's the most challenging day for them

Felipe Engineer  13:44  
Most coffee gets drunk get the trial, right? Yeah, that's

Cindy  13:46  
Yeah, that's where like, they're like, Oh, my God, they have no idea. But we feel like it's critically important. They need to understand that you must know the finances of your company to be successful. Absolutely. So day three, is a combination of talking about insurance. So it's just general types of insurance plus workers comp, which is a huge expense for our contractors. And then the second half of the day, we call it business development and marketing. It's how do you build your your network of general contractors and fabricators that you want to work with? So you can actually find work and get awarded work? And of course, we have a whole separate class just on cost estimate. And they all talk about that next. Yeah, so they just first need to understand like, where do you even go to find projects to bid on, and how important it is to build that network. And then day four is a construction contracts like understanding the language and construction contracts. That's my favorite day, of course, because I teach it. love talking about it. Oh my gosh, so Then the final day is, we call it the payment process, like a critically important very difficult process of once you've done the work, how do you actually get paid and what to expect? So that makes up the five days, obviously, we can't include everything. But we felt like that was the the most fundamental topics they need to know just to get started.

Felipe Engineer  15:24  
And what kind of people come through that course and be like, tell me some of the personalities and the where are they in their career? Typically, what do you see in that course?

Cindy  15:32  
Quite a variety we do, we get some fairly what I would call fairly early career iron workers, most of them are actually iron workers coming out of the field. But when I say early, that would be 10 years or less experience out in the field. And then we have a lot of like the mid range between between 10 and 20 years, where they've done the work out in the field, and they just feel like, Okay, it's time I'm ready to take the next step to start my own company. And then we get a few that are more in the senior part of their careers beyond 20 years, where they might still have a good 20 years left and want to get a company started. Yeah, so a lot of variety, lots of diversity, we have a surprisingly quite a few women that come through obviously, we're not women heavy in the iron workers, but we do get quite a few women to come through and lots of minorities. So really, it's, we we've kind of think that's possibly our most important class helping the individual who has that motivation to actually start their own company and, you know, keeps the industry going. They're a new contractor, they're going to hire iron workers that helps our union grow.

Felipe Engineer  16:45  
That's beautiful. That's a reinforcing feedback loop in systems thinkers. And yeah, it's just good for the United States to Sunday, you mentioned that a lot of the companies struggle with making a pass the first seven years, we see the same thing in business in general in the United States, where the first year is very delicate. And then if you get past five year mark is when a lot of people that especially in large organizations that make investments into smaller businesses are just looking at businesses in general, getting past that five year mark is a major milestone. And but then, the 10 year mark is even more precarious. Very few organizations get past 10 years.

Cindy  17:27  
Great commentary because that, you know, made me think about the next step, which is, after we started the business fundamentals, which has been we've been teaching it for six years, basically, a couple years after that, we realized that people were walking away from the class, and some would start their business, but others just, they were still struggling with, how do I really get going because the challenge is they need to work. So they need to be having, they have to have their day job go out and work in the field. And in the evenings, they were struggling to get the business going. So we now have a program we call it build BILD run by another individual. It's the business incubator leadership development program. And so when an individual expresses an interest in starting a company, or maybe they've already started it, and they're kind of in the early stages, they can call it my colleague, Carrie Walters, a male Carrie Walters, who has experience with starting his own company and he's where he formerly worked for Barton. mallow is basically in a you know, an accountant, that's a skills training. So he's got a great set of skills and a former Marine, so he's very disciplined. And so and we have a quite a number of individuals that are, they call it being in his program where he helps them connect with the right resources to increase that possibility of success, because we understand that training alone isn't going to quite gonna do it. They need additional help.

Felipe Engineer  19:11  
Like that positive shout out to Carrie. 

Cindy  19:13  
Yes, Carrie, thank you, you might need to be the next person on your podcast. It's just a fantastic program. He's, he could probably tell you all about the different stages that people are in and what kinds of resources they tend to need the most. I mean, it's, it's pretty fascinating.

Felipe Engineer  19:34  
Yeah, we'll add contact info. Cindy, if you send that to me, I'll make sure we put his contact info in the show notes so that anyone who's out there thinking about starting a business in iron work and you're an ironworker, please, there are resources for you. You've already paid for them. And as working for general contractor, we've already paid for you. So please take advantage of the things that are out there at your disposal because we need you to start businesses. We need future business leaders. And Cindy, I know that you and I both love the topic of leadership. Do you guys have a course on leadership?

Cindy  20:08  
Many? Oh my, we have many. So I'm going to talk about our maybe our most important one. So just to put things into context, there are some classes that we impact develop in house. And when I say we, I'm a one man show, so it's usually me. And I go out and I find a subject matter expert, and we work together. So we developed the business fundamentals Academy in house. But all the people that teach it other than myself, are essentially vendors that we brought in, they've got special expertise. And so for most of our courses, I will say this, for most of our courses they are, I have gone out and found vendors to teach the courses. So leadership, some pretty general subject. I wasn't about to create that from scratch, because there's outstanding programs out there. So a shout out to the vendor we use for our most important one, it's FMI. Pretty well known in the construction industry, scription, industry consultant, they also do training, they have something called on their end, it's called the Leadership Institute. It's a four day program. And they have tailored a version of it that we call impacts leadership experience. And it's again, a four day program. Again, we fully cover the expenses for an individual that goes through it, but there's a whole nomination process because it's, it's geared towards up and coming leaders, or individuals that are newly in a leadership position, or they're in a leadership position, but they still have many years to work five to 10 or more years to work. And the FMI program, the way it's structured is there are a lot of team activities. And there's actually a team contest. But maybe the highlight of it is they the individual has to complete a series of basically self assessments. So to assess like they do the Myers Briggs test, and they do the highlands natural abilities battery, and they do a 360 evaluation. And the final day is they work one on one with a counselor. And so for many individuals that go through the program, this is absolutely just almost a life changer for them. Like they suddenly they've done some self reflection, which you know, I love that. With you only love it, I think everybody should do some self reflection. And for many, this might be the first time they've really done that very deep dive into their motivations and their personality and what drives them. And they'll walk away, many of them walk wages transformed, it's phenomenal. So that's our most popular leadership course. But we have a variety of others, mostly taught by the different vendors. And the other ones tend to be a little shorter. We have...

Felipe Engineer  23:29  
Cindy, let me bring you back to that one. So on that leadership course that you guys have in from FMI. Do you see the nominations being like journeymen already going to lead positions? Or where are they in the where are they coming in from

Cindy  23:43  
The types of participants include like CEOs, vice presidents, they might be a project manager that's slated to actually move up into the C suite. We've got field superintendents, some general form and we typically don't get many below general foreman.

Felipe Engineer  24:06  
Okay, so we got the general foreman coming into this and then people inside of organizations or companies running inside. So this is a this is incredible, because at those levels at general foreman and above, you've got a lot of people that you're influencing and leading in your organizations, how what would you get would you gauge is like the size of the organizations like is it like a, you know, 10 person operation all the way to like, how big?

Cindy  24:34  
That sounds about right. So usually it could be anywhere from a small organization. So for example, someone who's in business fundamentals, who's started their company, they're now the CEO, they're maybe a little nervous about being in that kind of leadership role. They're now leading the entire company, they qualify. There are individuals like you say that are in the 10 employee type of company, there are big companies, big companies pretty regularly will send their up and coming leaders because they see you know that I give him credit for having the vision, they recognize their time and their company's finite and they need to have, you know, a pool of individuals that are going to run the company when they're gone. And we also get so it's not just just contractors and just the iron workers, it's also labor leaders will say so at the local union, so if you for, I'll give a quick lesson, if you don't understand why the union is structured, in every state, and oftentimes, in many of the cities in every state, they have what's called a local union. And so the local union is their own little business, we often we often use the analogy, it's sort of like a franchise mix. So you've got here in Washington, DC, the, the International Association of the ironworkers and the union. And then in all these different states, and in different cities, the local union, the local union will run their own business operations. And so all of those individuals, especially those that are business managers, or business agents, they're eligible to be in the program. And we really like a balance, we like to have about 50% of the participants on that more of the contractor side, employer side and about 50% on labor side, so that they can see each other's perspective and they can have those great conversations.

Felipe Engineer  26:49  
Because surprise, we're all human beings, doesn't matter what we do for a living. And like Cindy, even yourself, I mean, your background, you jump right over the fact that you served in the US military, right? And you'd love learning and teaching, and you've even been a professor and taught one of my friends. He just jumped over all that stuff. Can you just go back for a second? And just how did your experiences in the airforce help you in your transition into teaching and then being so instrumental on guiding so many business leaders in the Union Ironworkers in the United States of America and Canada. 

Cindy  27:35  
Right. So it's kind of a interesting path we'll say I was. So I'm going to start right from from the very beginning.

Felipe Engineer  27:48  
Hey, real quick!

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Cindy  28:40  
And you know be completely honest with you I came from kind of a lower income family and so my parents were not college educated. I wanted to go to college but I had no idea really how I was going to to do that without you know being able to get scholarships so I got accepted into a great school - USC in Southern California and they paid for my first year but after my first year I had to find my own funding basically, at the time my brother had just graduated from college and he did it the hard way he kind of worked and went to school and he joined the marine reserves but none of his education was paid for so when I got accepted he right away started pushing me to get an Air Force scholarship he was honest he said like Don't go Don't get army don't get Marines just go to the Air Force. So I you know, I went into Air Force ROTC ultimately did get the scholarship. They paid for all that education, which was great. Had the degree civil engineering, right so it was pretty clear what I was going to do when I got in the Air Force. So I had my degree in civil engineering, you know, went to my first base McDonough Air Force Base in Florida. And right away, they put me in a department on project planning. And from there, I was only there for about a year and a half, I left and went out onto the Aleutian Islands. And there it's it was all very much everybody does it themselves, like we had no extra support there because we were so far out. And they put me in charge of construction being the owner's representative. So I worked hand in hand with the Corps of Engineers. I didn't work for them, but I was the owners Rep. And they were the contract manager for it. For all the construction out there. That's how I got into construction.

Felipe Engineer  30:38  
Oh my god. It's fascinating. Cindy, I didn't know that about you all the times. We've talked for years and years and years. I had no idea. That is awesome. That's a great story.

Cindy  30:46  
Oh, it was fantastic. Yeah.

Felipe Engineer  30:49  
Oh, no, I just want to highlight everybody like I've known Cindy for a long time. She always just grabs hold and takes responsibility like you did with your education, like you did when you're out in what are they saying like in the middle of nowhere Far, far, far away. And I think that's really admirable. And I want to just say that it's inspiring Cindy, to hear your story. And just how you had a problem, and you went after it. And that that type of learning mindset, you've you've trans, furred through all the work that you do and every interaction that you've had. And keep going, please, I'm just I'm just getting excited because you given me my morning inspiration.

Cindy  31:32  
Oh, great. Yeah, I'm glad I can contribute to wake me. I know you're at you're on a much earlier time line than I am.

Felipe Engineer  31:40  
It's Zero Dark 30, Cindy. 

Cindy  31:42  
Yeah, uh, here. It's like mid mid morning for us. Yeah, after that I I ended up spending nine years in the military because they sent me back to school. When I left the Aleutian Islands, they sent me back to Penn State University. You know, another shout out there great school.

Felipe Engineer  31:58  
I love Penn State everybody from Penn State. I absolutely love Penn State. Go Penn State. I didn't go there. But everybody I mean, that comes from Penn State are just amazing people.

Cindy  32:10  
It's just a fantastic school, a fantastic place. And I really, really enjoyed it. But once I got done there, I owe them the Air Force for more years. And so I've, you know, filled out my time, moved around the US several times. And eventually, my time was up, I had a choice, I could stay in or I could get out. But I really wanted to stay in the construction industry. And the way it works in the military, you tend to rise through the ranks, and you might not be able to stay in your chosen field, because you're going to become a leader. And so I totally got that. But I really wanted to stay in construction. So I got out. And I was in Texas when I got out and I left there and I went to Chicago. I have never lived in Chicago before. But I felt like this is easy. I'm, you know, I'm a construction person. It'll be easy to get a job in Chicago, it turned out to be totally true. That there have no problem getting a job, worked in the construction industry in Chicago, just doing basically being a project manager. But you know, I'm married and my husband had a career he was actually at that point up at the, you know, like a fire chief level. So he got a job in Madison, Wisconsin. And so I followed him there and and went to work on their Performing Arts Center. I was one of the project managers for Finn door. And while I was there, I found out I had GI Bill. So in addition to all the education that the Air Force provided, they said I had more education benefits. So I was literally working right down the street from the University of Wisconsin and went in and talked to them and said, I have the benefits. I'd really like to work on a PhD at the time I was 36 and they said my my academic advisor was primarily on HANA, Dr. Robin Hana. He works heavily with ci and Jeff Russell. And so I would Hana very kindly hired me on I had a fellowship through Mortensen in addition to my Airforce benefits, and you know, so I went to school full time to get the PhD. Of course they were like pushing me like you're not getting any younger. You gotta hurry up to get it done before I turned 40 Yeah, so it was great. I, I totally, it's totally worth anyone thinking of doing a PhD is totally worth it. Just remember you probably should try to get it done before you Hit 40. So from there, I got hired to be a an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, obviously a great school. Yes, operating programs, just terrific faculty. terrific program. So I worked there for about three and a half years, I admit, I had a really strong desire to live in Chicago. That was my favorite spot on earth.

Felipe Engineer  35:29  
And to see the Sears Tower over my shoulder. It's hard to see, but there's a little Sears Tower right there. That's where I grew up to. And I was also project manager, Chicago, I love the city.

Cindy  35:40  
I never knew that. But my story is I left the University of Texas, I got hired by the Illinois Institute of Technology there in Chicago, obviously, much smaller school. Fine with me loved the location, absolutely loved. And I was I felt like I was strongly connected to industry, there are a lot of companies, you know, because I was an academic, I'm not one of their competitors there to help. This leads into like, how did how did I get involved with link construction? Because when I showed up there in Chicago, which was 2020 10 to them 10. I went, first of all, I visited the Associated General Contractors there and just asked them in general, what's going on in Chicago? What should I know about? You know, I'm just going to start my career here with it. And they said, well, all of our contractors are interested in this new concept. It's called lean, you know, I kind of laughed, I thought, yeah, you know, it's not new. Yeah, because that was 2010. Right, tweeted, and they said, but it's new to us. So I totally got it. So okay, I get it. And so what I told them was, you know, I'd be willing to teach a lean class. And they knew that there were some specific contractors that were trying to get a community of practice started. And they said, We can put you together, we can put you in touch with these particular contractors that have approached us so that you guys can talk about it. And that's how it evolved. We had kind of our we'll call it the the ones that got us started the contractors that were initially interested and what they wanted was for the basically the chair of the the CLP. They wanted a neutral party. So they didn't want you know, someone to be in charge there. That would be a competitor for them. Well, you know, kind of.

Felipe Engineer  37:54  
All the listeners, so Cindy, I worked in Chicago for the first part of my career, it is one of the most competitive markets. I work. I've worked in a couple of cities around the United States, and I've never felt the same level of competition, like I do in Chicago, it is definitely something in the culture and competition is not a bad thing. But it can be problematic when you're trying to start something like a link construction community to practice. Exactly. And I will give a shout out to our mutual friend Leon. Leon, if you're listening, we love you, Leon!

Cindy  38:27  
Yeah. So he was one of the founding fathers of give a you know, a sad shout out Bob career. He was from a hill group, who unfortunately passed away. Mark skander. Off Sean arcia, they're heavily involved with lean, there was a really solid group of people see you CEOs, very top level.

Felipe Engineer  38:57  
Half of people you named are good friends of mine still. Great. Yeah. Sean, Sean is he's got a special place in my heart and He loves to make fun of me. So that's just bonus.

Cindy  39:10  
Yeah, I mean, he was really one of the pushers of getting this started. So he had he had been working for I believe for homebuilder was very successful at getting lean going, got hired by skander and was very successful at helping skander seriously improve their processes and their companies. So they're all they're still both very, very involved with lean and all great company and they were so as a professor, they were just fantastic for me to work at because I remember this one time. They had their basically their weekly work planning process, and I was with my student, and we're at their board talking about how does this really work and they went into great depth Explaining and in the process I mean this was great for all of us they were explaining how they do it and I said that's interesting because I haven't seen anyone else do it that way it was like the AHA for them they're like oh interesting we hadn't really thought that we might be the only ones doing this this way so it was great for them great for me great to have that really deep conversation you know, I felt very privileged because they would many of the contractors would share their processes with me I so enjoyed my time in Chicago but I'll put this as you know, as delicate as I can, I just wasn't that crazy about the academic life it was really a tremendous amount of work not to put anyone off who wants to go into academics are doing a lot of research lots of pressure to keep bringing money in for research as well as teaching I enjoyed the students thoroughly. So one of my agreements was I would teach the lean course I would also be one of the chairs of their co p we would hold events, I think we were doing it quarterly, we would have a an afternoon event it was a learning event. And you know, I promised to teach students so that they could hire them so the companies would hire someone who had some knowledge of lean you know, and eventually I kind of migrated away from that I hated to leave Chicago and I hated to leave all my friends there. But then I got this opportunity here at the iron workers International Union it's really really been fantastic This is where I feel at home.

Felipe Engineer  41:44  
Every time I've seen you I've seen you you just light up with a big smile and all the people impact that we've been together with they definitely love having you at impact.

Cindy  41:55  
I appreciate it I so enjoy being here today and I think they know that too. I just you know sometimes you're looking looking looking for you know that that job that's really going to be satisfying I found it here so if you're not happy in your job just keep looking it's out.

Felipe Engineer  42:17  
Do what Cindy does to show up at the front door and say, "Hey, what's going on here that I should know about? And people just open up and tell you.

Cindy  42:23  
Oh yeah, yeah so it's really great being an academic and having kind of that that much privilege with the contractors at impact here so when I I'd met when I got hired I wasn't really sure what I would be doing and they said well you get to create your own job and they kind of gave me some general parameters like we need to get some training going they a little bit of training going for the contractor we used to call it contractor training. I prefer to think of it is like nine skills it's not the apprentice training so for like I say foreman and above that was that's how it's evolved basically is all about conducting training programs around the country. This will lead into a topic I know you wanted to talk about getting things done so I you know, I was first introduced to getting things done GTD back in 2006 when I became a professor at the University of Texas they wanted to teach us about time management I know now why now.

Felipe Engineer  43:30  
Wait a minute, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, you're telling me like at the university, the school recognized that they needed to teach their professors about time management. That's true.

Cindy  43:39  
Oh, I love that. When when you know there's like the orientation process for new professors there and and once a month they'd have like a speaker and we would go and listen to the speaker on the different topics they were in admittedly they're trying to increase the success of their professors and they recognize that these are going to be the possibly the only there'll be the busiest people on the planet other than the President of the United States. That's what I used to say. I can't complain cuz you know, the President's busier than I am but otherwise I felt like I was the busiest person on the planet. And so time management was important. I always loved that type of topic. I was super organized. You know, I came from the military, loved it in the military was just alter organize. And I went to this, this time management lecture will say put on by another young professor and he said he introduced He's like, he held up the book and he said, This is what I use. And I devoured the book I bought it I read the whole thing is I still have my original copy all marked with little tabs in it and set up my system, which I've been using ever since 15 years.

Felipe Engineer  44:58  
So he's made I wanted to Tell everybody like Cindy's got such a good habit on GTD that I later she became a champion or lean construction Institute for me as a speaker. She was my champion. I was showing her what Scrum is. And it did not convert her. She did not convert stayed GTD that's how strong it is for her.

Cindy  45:21  
Solidly in place. It works very well in my current position, it may be worse. 

Felipe Engineer  45:29  
You're my only one that got away. But I didn't come so far. I was batting 1000 until until I bumped into GTD.

Cindy  45:38  
Learn about Scrum and we can connect the two. But definitely I've got my system in place. And a lot of what I do here at the iron workers is I would say there's a few main tasks, obviously I develop coursework, but these are specialized coursework I told you, I would tell you more about it, like we develop the business fundamentals Academy, myself and some subject matter experts. But we've also recently developed a cost estimating class very specific to the iron working industry. So we've got a structural cost estimating course, that's for structural steel, you know, the big pieces. And then we just finished and we're still pilot testing our rebar cost estimating, because that process is actually quite different when you're estimating. And next week and Chicago week from today, I have a meeting with the contractor one of our own contractors for the quarter Ark, architectural metal and glass. Which, you know, we we could equate that to be like curtain wall. Yes. So we will have a class for that specialty as well. It's just getting kicked off the development of it. So I do development work. And I, I do a little bit of teaching, I don't have to do a lot of teaching, because it's very, very time consuming. But I otherwise I administer programs. And we're always looking for new classes that we can add to our course catalog. But we do a lot of administration. Like I said, we travel our courses around, and we have a system, this would take too much time to explain how the how the fairness works. But we've got something called district councils, it's really an iron worker term district councils around the country, and they all get to request a class, they don't have to have a class but but if they want a class every year, they get a class. And yeah, we like send out our vendor, and the vendor will go and teach the class for them.

Felipe Engineer  47:50  
That's beautiful. Now I wanted to ask you, because this is something that we've talked about quite a bit on classes, health and mental health are becoming very important. In our industry, people that watch the show know that we we are the number one industry for suicide in the United States for the last two years. And we want to we want to stop being number one in that way. What kind of courses are what is impact doing with the ironworkers in this area? Cindy?

Cindy  48:20  
That's a great question. On the you know, you know, I told you this before, I really like the self reflection, you like the deep inner work, I think every person could really benefit from that kind of an experience. And so the the, I would say lately, there's a few programs that have been launched, I wouldn't call them specifically training their resources, strong resources. But so the first one is, we have a maternity program. So I consider this to be a wellness resource. We don't want to lose our women, iron workers. And so when they get pregnant, they can only stay on the job site so long, and then they they can't be doing that kind of very difficult physical labor. And so we have a maternity program for these women who they need to take some time off, you know, maybe there's no way to keep them in the office, or they stay in the office as long as they can. But maybe at some point they need to stop working until they you know, have their baby and have maternity leave so so we've got some upfront benefits before the baby's born and some benefits afterwards to give them some time. And the idea is we want to keep them in the industry. We just don't want them just saying I have no other option. I've got to quit, I'm done. So we want them to be able to continue their career. So that's one of our big programs.

Felipe Engineer  49:53  
Yeah, and I think you know, for as a as a member of the human race. I think it's lovely that people want to keep having kids, please, let's continue. This is, as my friend in Germany says, This is not a problem. We need to have ways to encourage people to start their families. And if they want to keep working, keep working.

Cindy  50:14  
That's right. Yeah. And you know, there's other countries that maybe do a better job than the US. But I this is a fantastic program. I don't have all the statistics admittedly, but I think it's helped tremendously to retain many of our women ironworkers, because just because they're an ironworker doesn't mean they don't want to have children, lots of people have children. So we're trying to make it possible for them to have both a career and have children, right. So. So this should not be a mystery. This is the, you know, 21st century topic of mental health, big, big push right now in the market. So I'm going to kind of hold this up, if you can see it here, I can see this little tribe, we call it a trifold. And the emphasis here is we're distributing these to our members, because as you absolutely said, mental health, suicide, especially is I think the construction industry has the highest suicide rate or pretty close to it, it does. And then within the construction industry, I believe the iron workers are number one, or number two, in terms of their suicide rate. So fortunately, we've had some very forward looking leaders, and many of them recognize that this whole, the whole issue of suicide and addiction oftentimes are connected. So So here's how it often will play out. You've got an iron worker, they're working on the job site, they get injured, they go to the doctor. Unfortunately, the doctor gives him an opioid painkiller. And if they've got that addictive tendency, you can call it a gene or, or just a tendency. They become addicted, they didn't intend to. They're not bad people, they almost become just a victim of the circumstance. So then they become addicted, but it's just a downward spiral. You know, if you know people who've been through that cycle, they're it's it's very difficult to overcome an addiction, and they just feel worse and worse about themselves. And that leads to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. So we recognize this spiral. And the iron workers have put a big emphasis number one on addressing the addiction problem. But also in removing the stigma, suffering from an addiction. And especially in being in a recovery program, we've got some super strong members who are in recovery, who are very vocal about putting together recovery programs. So so far, I can tell you what I know about what we've been doing. we've, we've certainly had no fewer than four webcasts these would be live webcasts with experts who have talked about the addiction and suicide phenomenon going on right now. And we've put in place some programs through some experts, vendors, basically. So if a local union wants to put a program in place, they now have a resource, they can go to these vendors that we're working with. So we we've got one webinar on an individual, I'll attribute the push from this individual, he might not be the only one but he was willing to step up, admit that he had been in that cycle and went through a very, very strong recovery program. And now he's just very vocal about telling everybody it works. And we can't just keep burying our head in the sand, we need to put in place recovery programs and we need to remove the stigma. So he's really been instrumental. So we've had the him he got on to a webinar and basically told his story about what happened to him. And then since then, we've had four additional webinars on suicide and addiction and we there was a very emotional present. And recently from a contractor whose son had committed suicide so so we're, you know, people are now coming out of the Woodworks telling, being willing to tell their story because that's one of the ways we learn. We learn compassion by hearing what people go through, and you know, what the techniques are, they've used to actually survive, you know, this sort of grief. So, so the ironworkers have done a phenomenal job. I personally was so pleased when I started opening up and having these webinars, the other thing we're doing is, at some of our major events, like we we impact have a conference every year, we have a two major training events every year, in addition to all the other training, when we have these events, we are now scheduling in the evenings, what we call a recovery meeting. So individuals that don't want to go to the free bar and get all the free drinks. They you know, they prefer to go to the recovery meeting, they have an alternative. So we are doing that we are openly scheduling our recovery meetings. Local unions are also allowing 12 step step programs to be conducted at their local unions. I mean, it's really in my mind, this is a positive development. 

Felipe Engineer  56:35  
That's a major shift.

Cindy  56:36  
Terrific. You're right, it is a it's a bit of a shift. And it's only taken place I would say within the last five years. And it's really taken off probably within the last two or three, like really taken off. So they're doing a terrific job of just removing that stigma and allowing people to come out in the open and talk about their experience.

Felipe Engineer  57:01  
I absolutely love that. Cindy. We have so much more to talk about. Yeah, but we have things to do we need to GTD. So I want to thank you so much for coming onto the show, and sharing all these beautiful stories of continuous improvement and lean is alive and well in the iron workers in the United States and Canada and I'm sure also abroad.

Cindy  57:24  
Well I appreciate you inviting me on so I can talk about what's going on within PPIC. There's just so much going on. You're right we need half a day to talk about all the interesting programs that the iron workers are putting in place you know, I will get one final shout out that for any general contractor out there I you know, I hope you are aware of the the many ways that the unions are taking care of their people, the iron, in our case, the iron workers, but as well as serving their contractors, we just have this this environment in the ironworkers of mutual respect. And like you say continuous improvement with the contractors and the individuals you know, and just interested in improving our industry.

Felipe Engineer  58:20  
Thank you so much, Cindy, have a great rest of your day everyone out there. Be well, thank you. Very Special thanks to my guest. I'm Felipe Engineer-Manriquez. The EBFC Show is created by Felipe and produced by passion to build easier and better. Thanks for listening. Stay safe everybody. Let's go build!

Cindy MenchesProfile Photo

Cindy Menches

IMPACT Director of Professional Development & Training

As the Director of Professional Development & Training for IMPACT, Dr. Cindy Menches is responsible for the design, development, delivery, and administration of education and training initiatives to support the business success of union iron worker contractors and the Iron Workers International Union. Her major areas of responsibility include developing innovative professional development education and training programs, establishing interactive e-learning environments, creating curriculum that aids members in growing and improving their businesses, facilitating the startup of new contractors, providing education that enables ironworkers to advance their career, and measuring progress towards achievement of organizational goals. Dr. Menches manages a training program that consists of nearly 40 unique courses. Among the most successful courses, the Construction Contracting Business Fundamentals Academy: Establish Your Business program was developed and is facilitated by Dr. Menches and is offered four times each year. The academy is a 5-day intensive program designed for current and future ironworking contractors who want to develop or improve their fundamental business skills. Furthermore, through IMPACT’s Ironworker Contractor University (ICU), Dr. Menches offers over 40 courses every year on topics that include business administration, project management, field supervision, leadership, communication, Lean construction, and technology, which consists of new and existing instructor-led in-person and online courses, self-paced interactive e-learning, and webcasts. The success of union ironworkers and contractors is vital to the growth of the construction industry. Consequently, IMPACT and the Ironworkers International Union are committed to helping prospective, new, and established contractors and field personnel strengthen their knowledge and skills, ensuring that iron workers continue to be gainfully employed, to grow, and to thrive.

Prior to joining IMPACT, Dr. Menches was an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where she conducted research on the improvisational decision-making processes of construction field supervisors. Dr. Menches previously worked as a construction project manager in Chicago and Madison, and she is a former Air Force civil engineering officer. Her tenure in the Air Force spanned nine years, during which she held positions as a construction project planner, environmental engineering program manager, and Deputy Chief of Engineering.

Dr. Menches holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering-Building Science from the University of Southern California, a Master of Science degree in Architectural Engineering from The Pennsylvania State University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

Dr. Menches grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and has traveled to all 50 states and Washington, DC. She has also traveled to most of the Canadian provinces and several other countries. Dr. Menches is an avid health, fitness, and nutrition enthusiast and a self-declared biohacker. She enjoys walking, jogging, bicycling, and qigong. As an avid life-long learner, Dr. Menches is learning to speak Mandarin Chinese and is a voracious reader, completing at least one book each month.