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4 Work Lessons from Three Weeks as a Construction Layman

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For the last three weeks, I have been involved in a construction site as a layman. It is tiring work, to say the least.

But the greatest damage has been done to my pretty writing hands. I developed ugly blisters on the first hour of the first day of work. It only got worse as work progressed.

But we are not here to talk about my hands.

On reflection, I realized that all that work was a big learning moment.

Lesson 1: The grunt work takes more effort, but that’s not what you get graded on

What construction laymen do is called the grunt work. It’s all about carrying bricks, mixing and transporting mortar sand, etc. It is all tiresome, dirty work.

In fact, the layman does more work overall than the mason they work with. But at the end of the day, they take home half of what the mason earns.

This is not so surprising, as the sole aim of a layman in a construction site is to make the mason’s work easier. However much you work, the credit will always go elsewhere.

No one but the layman knows or cares that the construction bricks are heavy and massive. There will always be stronger men to replace you is you opt out.

Mason work, on the other hand, gets noticed very easily. It is what the boss checks to ensure that the construction is progressing as intended.

The boss does not care how hard the grunt work is. If they had an option, they would opt out of paying the layman altogether.

Construction is essentially what the mason leaves behind. What the layman does is to make it possible for the mason to deliver.

Lesson 2: The mason gets all the credit for the straight walls the laymen helped him construct

Every construction site is a sort of marketing event for the mason. Passers-by stop to admire the work as a matter of courtesy.

If the construction has been done really well, credit goes to the mason. In fact, masons land new gigs in the course of building all the time.

A layman is never really hired. They are just a pair of hands taken on every morning to do the day’s grunt work.

At a construction site, it is actually rude for a layman to talk to the big boss and passersby as the masons do. You will get admonished to get back to work very subtly.

Ultimately, it all boils down to skills and experience. Masons are of two kinds: trained and apprenticed.

Apprenticed masons work as construction hands for years as they learn how to build.

Trained masons spend thousands of fees in artisan school and add months of practical work on top of that.

The mason’s skills give him the edge. The layman’s only contribution to the success of a construction project is brute force. No one rates brute force too highly outside a boxing ring.

Lesson 3: The grunt work is invisible – and will always be

Construction laymen are paid poorly even though they do all the heavy lifting. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

During the building process, the layman’s grunt work is superseded by the mason’s skill. It’s the mason’s tools that really complete the construction.

At the end of it all, only the mason’s work quality will be seen and judged. If there is ever a defect in the construction, the chief mason alone will answer for it.

If a layman makes a mistake, it can be corrected without harming the project. The same cannot be said of masons.

In construction, masons tend to take a good layman and make them a companion. These mason/layman tag teams are more employable and more efficient. But when people are talking of such teams, they usually refer to them in the terms of; “Fundi’s Name and his person”.

At the end of the day, only the mason’s skills matter. It is the job of a lay man to remain invisible – to do the grunt work and move on.

Lesson 4: No matter how tired you are, if you did it wrong the first time, you’re gonna have to do it all over again

Construction work is hell for the layman. He gets tired by 9 AM, but work ends at 5 PM. Throughout the day, every small task feels like another attempt by the mason to break your back.

Naturally, the laymen bicker a lot. But the worst sort of bickering happens when, for some reason, it becomes necessary to demolish something.

For a mason, demolishing is part of building. You have to pull down crooked walls to put up straight ones.

For the lay man, demolishing feels like losing a part of oneself.

But the construction boss cares only about the final outcome of the project. If demolishing is ever necessary, no one considers how tired the laymen are.

However hard a job, it will always be possible to find the strength to do it.

Every job has a lay and mason’s works aspect to it – the grunt work and the skilled effort part.

For example, a writer’s grunt work entails research, jotting down notes, and writing the first draft. The skilled effort comes from countless revision and polishing.

As in construction, the the grunt work in a well-done job always remains invisible – the hidden trick to a job well done.

To do any job well, it is imperative that one understands which parts are grunt works and where the finesse comes in.

Also read: The Life of a Sniper: Workplace Lessons We Can Draw From It


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