Have you ever taken a leap of faith and ventured out into the unknown hoping you can land safely and in the right place? Well, that is exactly what I did last month in Charlotte, North Carolina - hence the blog title! That is right, I recently attended the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Southeast Region Conference held in Charlotte and I must say it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.
You see, I am a newly certified Construction Documents Technologist (CDT), and construction specification writer, or simply put a "spec writer", specializing in architectural divisions (Div. 02 - 14). I performed this role for about 8 months; previously working as a building facilities technician, a construction project manager for general contractors, and a project director (owner's rep) for a large hospitality company. Being a spec writer was my first role ever on the design side and this was my first ever CSI conference. Suffice it to say, the thought of being in a room full of architects, interior designers, and manufacturers was a little daunting. I thought: "I am not a designer! As a general contractor I like being told what to do so I did not bear the risk of having to make the design selections/decisions. I do not belong here!" Surprisingly, the conference theme was "Coming Full Circle" which was the perfect theme for someone like me who has served in different roles throughout his professional career in the built environment. Perhaps it was the first indication that I had landed in the right place.
The first day was Leadership Training Day and we covered strategies for growing the CSI chapters. Since I am in the incoming vice president for the CSI Greater Orlando Chapter, I felt the training I received that day was the perfect tutorial for a newbie like me. The presentation "Snow Globe Leadership: Shaking up your Leadership for More Influence and Impact" by author and leadership guru Jeff Nischwitz was eye-opening and thought provoking. We finished the day with a super fun game of Pong (spec writer style) that really set the tone for the bonding and comradery I was going to experience throughout the rest of the conference. See the CSI Pong video here: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/csi-southeast-region-b29880228_csisercon2023-comingfullcircle-joincsi-activity-7057334865507057664-RzNl?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_ios Note: Watch until the end to see some Cuban flare magic!
In the second day of the conference, we began the technical presentations, and although every talk that day was worthy of note, the one that stuck with me the most was Cherise Lakeside's "Let's talk About Specs, Baby!". Cherise is a powerful voice in the specifications industry and my colleagues had recommended I reach out and introduce myself. After she finished her presentation, I stood in line to speak to her, and when it was my turn, I took the opportunity to express my perspective regarding a particular point that was unclear about how documents such as geotechnical reports, record drawings, etc. are not in fact "contract documents" and are referred to as "additional documents" in the specifications. From my experience on the contractor side, the reality and the definitions don't always match up- I could go into more on this topic, but we will save that for a future blog post- stay tuned for more on this later!
The second day finished with a great dinner hosted by the Sherwin Williams Southeast Executive Team. The completely awesome Joy LaChelle introduced me to many architects and specifiers including Chip Hayward, Greg Burke, Cam Featherstonhaugh, and Virginia Clavijo. That dinner made me feel like I had made it to the top, I was in fact among Sherwin Williams' "chosen few".
The third day began with an Oldcastle Plant Tour in the morning. The plant was built in the 1970s and produces about 20,000 concrete masonry units (CMUs) per day. In the afternoon, we had more technical presentations, and one stood out as extraordinary: "Accessibility Demons | Fair Housing vs. Accessibility Code" by architect and Cuban national Miguel Rodriguez. He covered many accessibility code requirements. He discussed how during facilities operations it is so easy to install items that make your facility out of compliance with the accessibility code - remember I started out as a facilities tech! The fact that the presentation used many facilities in the Miami-Dade County and the fact that the presenter was Cuban made me feel represented. Once again, I felt I had landed in the right place.
One thing that stood out to me throughout the conference is that not many contractors attended. As specifiers we are constantly trying to improve the communication medium (written specifications) to reduce risk and enhance project performance. However, the first rule of communication is that you need a Sender (the specifier), a Medium (the spec book) and a Receiver (the contractor). Without the latter we do not have a complete communication channel. We need to do a better job at attracting contractors to attend the CSI conferences so that we may learn from them what other "grey areas" they are perceiving in the industry, much like the one about the "additional documents". In doing so we would not only be reducing risk for architects and owners, but also for contractors. A contractor that does not perceive a lot or risk on a project is likely to tender a more competitive bid. The opposite is also true, the higher the perceived risk due to unclear communication (incomplete drawings, inconsistent specs, no record drawings, etc.), the higher the premium will be added to the bid to cover the unknown.
I could go on about the amazing time I had at the CSI Southeast conference. In all honesty, as a contractor by trade, the conference gave me a sense of inclusiveness, that my opinion and prior professional experience mattered and an overall welcoming feeling that I didn't expect to receive. I cannot wait to attend 2024 CSI Southeast in Tampa because…I feel like I belong!