Thursday, October 22, 2020

Transitioning Into The Inspector Role: Taking the Leap

 You finally got that call and given your first opportunity to be an inspector on a project. For many of you, all those years you spent in your trade will finally be used in a different capacity. Your skills and knowledge in welding, coating, electricity, heavy equipment operation, bending pipe, hauling pipe, trenching, pad building, backfilling, concrete work, hydrostatic testing, stockpiling pipe, tracking inventory/materials, compressor installation, surveying, NDE, safety, tank building, tank repairs, fabrication, hot tie-ins, taps, clearing, right-of-way building/grading, reclamation, environmental, wetlands, mountainous and other types of terrain, plants, facilities, etc. will be the value you bring when you “take that leap.”

With tongue in cheek, I normally refer to taking the leap as “going to the dark side.” If you are a Star Wars fan, then you know where I picked up the phrase. I jokingly reference inspectors are of this world. A world that is misunderstood and full of accusations that inspectors cause and create havoc and disarray for contractors, sub-contractors, and at times for the client.

Today, the dark side is much brighter than it used to be 20 years ago. And I think the reason for that is due to the education of workers, transparency of positions within the scope of work, and a shift in perspective and expectations. There has been a stigma about inspectors being full of themselves, headstrong, and egotistical. In my years of experience, I would not be able to argue against that claim. I have met these individuals. Furthermore, let it be known that these types of people will be found in all aspects of the oil and gas industry as well as other professions and industries. Today, I feel there are far fewer of these types of people than there was 20+ years ago. If you have not read my article titled, “So, You Want to Be an Inspector?” I touch on these characteristics of inspectors and what the main key is to break down this stigma. It also holds true for other types of workers in all professions.

When you take that leap, you will go through a transitioning period of changing habits from being a hands-on type of worker to an observer of work who keeps their hands to themselves. Literally, you will keep your hands and urges to tell someone what they need to do to yourself. This is one of the hardest changes that new inspectors struggle with because it is second nature to react in ways to assist others and or pitch an idea (directing work) to a person that might make the task easier and quicker. You must be aware of this habit and consciously make effort to remove it from your behavior. If you do not, it will come back to haunt you and quite possibly cause a termination of your employment if it is something you cannot control. That last statement may be a bit harsh, but you must understand that as an inspector, you are an observer and documenter first and foremost. You are the eyes and ears of the client. It is not that you won’t be involved in troubleshooting issues in the field but there is a line you cannot cross and that is directing the crews’ work. This is a concept that calls for discipline and awareness.

Taking the leap will introduce you to a completely different view of the work than what you are used to. Your new perspective will be guided and supported by company specifications, standards, procedures, local, state, and federal regulations, RFP/RFQ, the scope of work (SOW), etc. and you will be required and expected to be familiar with all this documentation while you are assigned to the project. And know now that if you choose to stay in this field of work you will be expected to become familiar with all documentation that is handed to you for every project and client that you are assigned to work with. Expect each time you complete a project and move to a new one, the information you are handed at the beginning will be new and different which will require you to put in the effort of familiarization. Do not become complacent with this familiarization and assume it will be the same as the last client you worked for. I guarantee that idea will come back and haunt you with a vengeance.

When you take that leap, expect your belly to fill with butterflies bouncing around like pinballs the first morning you are on the project. You will be overwhelmed with information and the introductions to your coworkers. It will be a lot to process. A little secret, you will not remember everything and that is okay. Make sure you are taking good notes for yourself and seek out the answers to your inquiries, so you are not out there throwing caution to the wind and guessing at what you thought you heard or were told.

At times there will be several inspectors who know each other making their first day on the project a little more bearable. There will be many in the group that do not know each other. With that, comes a period of about 2- 3 days of everyone sharing “war stories” and addressing what they did and what they have experienced on past projects. This is a way for those individuals to hide their insecurities when starting a new project with new coworkers. This event has occurred every time I have been handed a team of inspectors. And I am comfortable in saying there is not a Chief Inspector or Construction Manager out there that would disagree with me. After the first week or so has passed everyone will fall into their position and be busy fulfilling their obligations to the work they have been assigned. A good Chief will control the “stories” as the days pass and guide the team down the path of focusing on the project(s).

Everyone who starts a new position goes through the “butterfly” stage. And anyone who says differently I would doubt their state of mind and intentions. I have a lot of projects under my belt and I get the butterflies every time I start one. You might ask why. The one thing that comes to mind is I know every project has its own challenges and issues. I don’t care if you are going to lay a pipeline on a newly acquired right-of-way with no obstacles for 10 miles and turn around and lay a second pipeline 10 feet off the first one you just laid. The second pipeline is a completely different project with its own issues. Just for grins and giggles can you guess one of the issues with the second pipeline? The first pipeline had no obstacles. The second has another (the first pipeline) pipeline offset 10 feet. And that is just one issue. Trust me, there will be other issues.

When you take that leap keep in mind that every day you are on a project has the potential of presenting issues and concerns that were either missed during the planning stage or were unforeseen. You can count on new issues coming to light more often than you want every day you are on a project. Whenever you complete a project, know that the next one you are going to is a new set of challenges and the hope is you took the time to learn everything you could from the previous project in case some of that knowledge can be applied to your next assignment.

If you have a good mindset coupled with humility and self-awareness, your leap into the inspection position will be exciting and hopefully build energy inside you that drives you to learn the process and performing your best for the client, the team, and yourself which will put you on track to building a respected reputation. Anything worthy does not come easy. You will have to put the work in and seek out individuals who are willing to share their knowledge with you. Follow your intuition when it comes to those who have experiences to share. And then qualify what you learn.

There is so much more that can be said about “taking the leap” but for now I think this is a good place to end this article. I plan on sharing more in the future on this subject.

Take care and be safe!

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