Paul Baggett, Associate Lecturer, Engineering Management & Technology Department
When the Construction Management program began in 2008, Paul Baggett became an adjunct. From adjunct (2 years) he then served as Lecturer (2010 until 2019) and has been in his current role as Associate Lecturer since 2019.
Residing in Chattanooga, he’s mostly lived in Cleveland, TN with a brief stint in “LA” AKA lower Alabama – Perdido, AL.
Raised in a family of contractors and ministers, Paul is a first-generation college graduate. He chose the contractor side. He enjoyed being a part of something that was being put together like a building, which would be there for many years as a legacy with lots of stories to tell the kids and grandkids. Below, Paul shares some of those stories with us.
What was your first job?
My first job was working for my dad in the summer building houses at 13 years. My first job working for a non-family member was a desk clerk position at a rinky-dink motel. I worked on weekends on 3rd shift while I was in high school for gas money.
You’ve been in the construction industry for 40 years. Can you share some stories of what has amazed you?
I have been amazed at the ingenuity of design professionals (Architects and Engineers) as well as the workers of all crafts (carpenters, steel workers, plumbers, etc.) who accomplished amazing feats building without the technology we have today. The Timex watch was the closest to technology we had on the job sites when I first begin in construction. I am amazed at the speed of communication and the speed of making a design change with I-phones, laptops, and building information modeling (BIM). The use of GPS for surveying and grade controls for building projects are lightyears away from the old plumb-bob string, level, framing-square, and leveling instrument.
Another great positive change in construction has been the increase in the number of females who have been given the opportunities to become project managers, corporate officers, as well as those entering the various craft trades. This has been long overdue and it is awesome to see their talents being used.
Unfortunately, there are two things that have reduced. One is the lack of the mature craft workers mentoring the younger workforce to learn the skilled trades. There is a major shortage of trades’ people in the construction industry. This shortage may last for many more years due to the economic downturn in 1978 when construction hit bottom and many left the construction industry and never returned.
Secondly, the work ethic issues by a portion of the workforce have created a void of dependable and teachable workers. There are job opportunities in construction, but many will not show up on their jobs and are unwilling to work and unwilling to want to be trained to make a high salary over time. They seem to feel the work is too hard or they feel like they are entitled and should start at the top pay first before they have earned their way.
What would you like us to know about the industry that we may not know or think of?
Construction is a service industry. It is no different than banking or software service industry who have to have satisfied customers to stay in business. Additionally, the construction industry is dynamic when it comes to purchasing building material i.e. concrete, steel, lumber, copper wire. The materials are actually commodities, which fluctuates to extreme high and low ranges. Purchasing materials for a construction project is no different than dealing with the prices of the commodities of wheat, barley, beef, and pork. Construction material prices have tripled since November 2020. Along with the risk of the prices of materials are safety of the workers, and regulations consisting changes at the stroke of the political pen.
What has been your favorite thing about your career so far?
There is something different every day. Each day brings on new set of challenges dealing with the progress of the project. There is not one day alike, as compared to a production line in an industrial plant. There is never a dull moment on a construction project.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Reading, walking nature trails. I enjoy watching college football & basketball, shooting basketball and soccer.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
I have a music background. In my college years I sang baritone in a quartet, played trumpet, baritone, and tuba.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve either worked on in the past or are working on right now?
Not sure if it is exactly cool, but I have been involved in the construction of over 115 new Walmart Supercenters in the seven Southern states. I am working on research concerning women in construction and opportunities for them to be placed in more leadership roles. Equal talents, abilities, and performance for equal pay with opportunities for advancement and promotion. The situation is better but not where it should be, yet.
For what are you most grateful today?
I am grateful for living in America and for the freedom and opportunities that have been purchased and preserved.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
A brief story. I worked on the Hamilton County Library as assistant superintendent in 1976. I was responsible for all the layout and quality control for the project. This meant walking steel 8” wide to check various types of measurements. I had previously walked steel 13 stories high at the University of Alabama Birmingham Research Center. Up to that point the height never bothered me. The new library in Chattanooga was only 3 stories high, but it had steel girders that cantilevered out 35’ feet. As I was walking out on the steel to the outermost end, the wind began to cause the steel to sway and I froze. This means a person is in panic mode and the muscles will not move. It took me by surprise and 30 minutes to talk myself into relaxing to move back toward the interior of the building. I knew I had to immediately go back out to the end of the steel to overcome the anxiety or else I would never be able to walk the steel again. So, I did just that and accomplished the task. It helped me overcome other things in life later, because the mind is a powerful force.
A favorite restaurant in the Chattanooga area?
An app you use most often on your phone?
If travel was open and safe right now, where would you go if you had to choose somewhere?
Scotland. That is my ancestry.
What advice would you give to someone in their 20s?
Write a list of personal goals for yourself. Read them every day. What you think about, you will become. Where you will be five years from now will be determined by only two things. It will be determined by the books you read and the people you meet. Five years from now you will arrive at a planned destination or an unplanned destination. So, write your plan.
Earn your way with diligence and forget entitlement. People and society owe you nothing. Never blame others, take responsibility for your own actions and you will be respected, never complain. For things to change, you have to change.
Seek knowledge, be a lifetime learner, learn and respect all positions of opinions and make your own decisions based on the information you have. Be a student and not a follower. Help others, show kindness to at least one person each day. When you feel down, find someone who needs help and encouragement. Forgive everything and everyone.
Read three articles each week related to your work career. Read one article each week totally outside your industry, which you know nothing about. See how it can relate to solving problems in your industry.
Just like there are four seasons of weather, there are four seasons in life that keep repeating over and over. If you are in a “Winter” of tough issues and struggles, always know that Winter will pass soon and Spring is coming followed by Summer and Fall to prepare for Winter. That will never change and has not changed for the past 6.5 thousand years of recorded history.
Thank you, Paul, for sharing your stories. Thank you for what you’ve accomplished in the Construction Management program, the students you’ve taught along the way, and your continued research concerning women in the construction industry. Your advice is great for all of us, too!