Q: What is your job title? What do you typically do at KLE?
A: I started with KLE in October of 2019 and I’m an on-site operating foreman. I handle scheduling for a project, not just for our own guys, but also between utility companies, subcontractors, and inspectors. For example, I’m currently working on a county road, so I’m doing scheduling with the county. I also help take care of scheduling maintenance issues.
Then, there’s the paperwork side. I take care of hours for billing, and I check and make sure all the numbers are right for any subcontractor contracts. That’s all on top of operating equipment. I try to operate something every day. I’ll try to get my paperwork done in the morning when it’s still fresh on my mind from the previous day, and then hopefully by the afternoon, I can jump in a free piece of equipment and help out.
Q: What is the biggest challenge of your job?
A: Balancing the scheduling and operating sides of my job is definitely a challenge. I come from an operator’s background, so that’s where my true passion is. With the role that I have, I have other obligations that need to be taken care of daily. Trying to get a good balance, rhythm, and schedule to be able to accommodate both aspects of my role is my biggest challenge.
Q: What were you up to in your career before you joined KLE?
A: I have a colorful resume. When I got out of high school back in Oklahoma, I went to EMT school. Then, my wife and I got married, and we moved up to North Dakota. I actually worked in a coal mine for a while, which is where I started running heavy equipment, like scrapers and haul trucks. As soon as I got in the seat of those big Tonka toys, I knew I loved operating. That’s where the passion came in.
I worked at the coal mine for five or six years, and then I went to South Dakota and worked in a bentonite mine for another two years. I worked my way into a foreman role there and also worked on the safety side of things, helping implement their new safety program.
When my wife got pregnant with our second kid, we decided to come back up to North Dakota to be near her family. At that point, I got a very similar job to the one I have now, except I was working for one of KLE’s competitors. I was running multiple crews up in the oil patch, building oil pads, and generally doing the same thing I’m doing now, except on a little bit bigger scale. I oversaw 2-3 crews at a time instead of one crew like I do here, but otherwise, it was similar work.
Q: What makes KLE special? What sets them apart from other construction companies?
A: The big difference is that with most large construction companies, you’re just a number to them. That’s all you are. You’re a place filler. What made me want to make the transition to KLE was realizing that I would be more than just a number here. At KLE, my voice is heard. I have input. I feel like I’m part of this company instead of just somebody who works for this company.
Q: Is there any specific project you’ve worked on that you look back on with pride?
A: Honestly, this job I’m on right now will probably end up being that project. We’re redoing seven miles of a county road. I’ve done small road projects before, but this is a very long project with several different phases of work. Once I get this job under my belt, I will take a lot of pride in that. It’s a good learning experience.
Another reason I take so much pride in this job is that we’re in the middle of nowhere in North Dakota on a county road that 99% of the people who live in this state will never see. But the 1% of people that do live out here — the people who travel through this area every day — they see the improvements we’re making.
I’ve gotten to know a couple of the landowners out here. I know their land and I know how they feel about the project. I’ve been able to connect with the community out here and I know how much this road means to them.
Q: Do you have any ideas for how the construction industry could do a better job of attracting young people?
A: I have actually had this conversation with several people before. When I was young, I never knew that I wanted to move dirt for a living. I went to EMT school, racked up some student loan debt, and thought that was just what everybody does. And to be honest, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing what I thought I wanted to do.
I feel like, for the younger generation, there’s a lot of people that will go to college, take their basics, change their major a couple of times, and still not really know what they want to do. And they’re stuck with student loan debt.
These days, experience trumps a lot of degrees. If you want to get yourself out into the world and get some experience, what better way than starting to learn a trade? It may not be something that you do forever, but you might find something you love and realize you’re really good at it.
I’m a very artistic person. I play six different instruments. I look at what I do as an art form. I’m able to take the landmass around me and totally reshape it. It truly is an art form, the way some of these guys can operate.
In addition, for the next generation coming into this industry, there is a lot of really cool technology that’s going into this equipment. A lot of younger operators take to that quickly, whereas some of the old-school guys might struggle a bit. I think that’s another way to bridge the generation gap. Have the younger operators help the older guys with the tech, while the older guys teach the young guys how everything else works.
We should be pushing the artistic and technological sides of our industry because I think that’s what young people will be drawn to.
Q: How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not at work?
A: I don’t live to work, I work to live. My family is everything to me. We’ll have family game nights and we like to play badminton, for a couple of examples. When I have time on my own, I like to ride bikes. I have a motorcycle and I’ll go on long rides or head down to Sturgis. I like to get a little wind therapy!
I also love music, and I play the alto, tenor, and baritone sax. I haven’t touched any of those in a little while, but I’m sure I can still make them play a tune. I also play guitar and a little bit of harmonica, and I even built a ukulele.