Moving to management


John Palmer, general foreman, J.F. Fischer Inc., Rosedale

August 31, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary:: $120,000

Age: 35

Years on the job : Five

How he got started : Palmer served in the Navy for three years, including the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Afterwards, he knew he wanted hands-on work and decided to learn welding and steamfitting.

In 1999, he was accepted into the five-year apprenticeship program at the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 486 Training School, located in Rosedale. The program allows students to work at their trade full time during the day, while attending school two nights a week. He began at J.F. Fischer about five years ago; the past two years, he has worked as a general foreman.

Typical day : Although Palmer works in the construction industry and is often onsite, he said he spends most of his time attending meetings and pushing paper to ensure tight deadlines are met. He arrives for work by 6 a.m. and usually stays until 5 p.m. He's responsible for watching over the daily onsite operations and reporting progress to the project manager and superintendent. Palmer is now overseeing construction of the new Wilmer Eye Institute building in Baltimore.

This job includes : managing a crew of about 50 people. He submits daily progress reports, resolves any worker problems or questions, and must ensure all safety and code regulations are met.

"I pretty much try to stay ahead of the guys, make sure they have what they need and keep them busy."

Career job : Palmer said the benefits and retirement that go along with the union job makes it a great choice. "If you dedicate yourself to the apprenticeship program and you put the five years in, you've earned yourself a career."

Emergency contact : As general foreman, Palmer is on-call if something goes wrong on the job site during off hours. It doesn't happen often, but on occasion he'll get called in the middle of the night if something like a water line breaks.

Paperwork versus hands-on work : Palmer said he sometimes misses the physically demanding days of working the trade. He said the pressure that comes with management is tough. "The stress on these larger jobs is enormous."

The good : "The camaraderie and the way the men get along."

The bad : "Managing personalities."

Philosophy on the job : "Treat people with respect. You get a lot more out of people carrying honey around than you do with sour grapes."

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