Construction Educator Podcast Sneak Peek: Jim Sullivan, University of Florida

In the second blog feature on the limited series, University of Florida’s Jim Sullivan discusses the importance of “soft skills” in construction education
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Jim Sullivan isn’t a typical academic—although on the surface he might appear like one.  

Like most others in academia, Sullivan has a Ph.D. and has taught at the same university for 17 years. Prior, Sullivan spent 23 years on and off as a student at the school where he now teaches, the University of Florida in Gainesville, earning four degrees and becoming an unequivocal expert in his field. 

But, unlike his academic counterparts in most other disciplines, Sullivan spent his formative years in his field swinging a hammer.  

Instead of conducting complex science experiments or writing impenetrable research papers on esoteric subject matter, Sullivan came of age in construction by putting in punishingly long days in the field making meager wages while learning everything he could about the industry—especially the culture and people skills required to be successful.  

Now, as a lecturer and director of undergraduate programs at the school’s M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management, Sullivan is working to impart the distinctive social and cultural norms of the construction industry to future generations. 

The Construction Educator Podcast

In February 2020, Bluebeam’s then Academic Program Manager Emily Heppard and Procore’s Non-Profit Manager Miles Anderson set out at the Regions 6 & 7 Associated Schools of Construction Student Competition and Construction Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, to interview prominent and influential construction-industry educators.

Over the course of three days, Heppard and Anderson completed 11 interviews, which became “The Construction Educator Podcast,” a limited series collaboration between the two construction technology companies to help spotlight the work of impactful industry educators.

In each episode, the two talk with various educators of differing disciplines about teaching methods, technology and how to cultivate new construction-industry leaders. Over the course of the next month and a half, the Bluebeam Blog will spotlight four interviews from the limited series, including this one with the University of Florida’s Jim Sullivan.Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Jim Sullivan:

Preview The Construction Educator Podcast, with Jim Sullivan:

Click here to listen to the Construction Educator podcast on Apple or Spotify.

The importance of ‘soft skills’  

Sullivan said while much of UF’s program is indeed centered around the more technical aspects of construction, he feels like the real value and perspective he and his colleagues bring to students are lessons about how to deal with people.  

Relationship-building and other so-called “soft skills” are important, he said, because jobsites are inherently stressful and high-tension environments. Knowing how to calm workers’ emotions and communicate properly through difficult situations is a major part of a career in the industry. 

“If you’re in an environment and somebody’s raising the temperament of the meeting, it’s usually not about what you’re talking about,” Sullivan said. “There’s usually a dozen other things that are impacting this conversation.” 

Here are the highlights from Sullivan’s Construction Educator Podcast episode: 

[01:50] How Sullivan Got His Start in Construction: The formative years were in Clearwater, Florida. In 7th, 8th, 9th grade I worked for a plumber. He’d drop you off with a bucket of tools and sink parts and say, ‘I’ll be back in a couple hours.’ You had to learn to be kind of efficient and learn ways to put stuff in without breaking more stuff, because he didn’t appreciate that and then you heard about it. Then I worked construction pretty much all the way through high school and all the way through college and grad school the first time. I think minimum wage was $3.85 or something and I was getting $9/10 an hour to swing a hammer.  

[4:09] Why Sullivan went into teaching: It was really a lifestyle choice. My wife was a new doc and the peers in D.C. had a morning nanny and an afternoon nanny and that wasn’t for me.  But I knew myself well enough that the job would come before the kids. I knew if I had a concrete pour, they were going to have to figure it out and I was going to be gone. I knew myself well enough to go, ‘Yeah, that’s not the next 12 years of my life I want.’ 

[27:26] How Sullivan Thinks Construction Education Will Evolve: I think the latest thing has been awareness of the other professionals within your university experience. So, getting engineering students and construction management students in the same classroom for the same experience. Getting architects in the same room for the same experience. I mean, I think it’s … I don’t know, it’s somewhat misguided at times. You hear industry saying, ‘We really have to get them integrated and stuff.’  

And mostly industry is reflecting on a project that just failed because the project manager wouldn’t pick up the phone and call the architect. We’re a very integrated delivery system. I call architects every day and they’re happy to talk to me and they are quick and super smart. And you cannot deliver a project unless you’re completely integrated. So, I think there’s a little shade being thrown on the fact that we don’t get along. Because we get along well. I mean, really well. You have to. 

Follow the links below for more information on academic support and partnerships from Bluebeam and Procore:

Procore is a leading provider of construction management software. The company drives social impact through Procore.org, an organization within Procore that connects nonprofit builders, schools, associations, and local organizations with construction education, workforce development and training programs, and free access to the full Procore product suite in order to support building for charity and advancing the construction industry.

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