NEWB Participants Learn Webcor Craft’s Tricks of the Trade

NEWB has pulled Webcor PEs and APMs from the office and thrown them into a five-day crash course in all things Webcor Craft since its 2017 launch.

March 13, 2023

Core Values

4 a.m. wake-up calls, 12-hour (or more) physically demanding work days, and no complaints. It’s an exceptionally taxing lifestyle requiring a truly tireless work ethic that Webcor Craft field professionals know all too well and office employees usually cannot begin to fathom.

Enter New Engineers Will Build (better known as NEWB), an internal Webcor boot camp that’s known to completely redefine each participant’s idea of a hard day’s work. NEWB has pulled Webcor project engineers (PEs) and assistant project managers (APMs) from the safe confines of the office and thrown them into a five-day crash course in all things Webcor Craft since its launch in 2017. Each year, NEWB continues to evolve as leaders incorporate lessons learned from previous NEWB camps and work to improve the next NEWB class’s experience.

“Every NEWB leader has put their own spin on things while still holding true to the Webcor Craft experience and Webcor’s core values,” says Sr. Project Engineer Miranda Nowlen, who led this year’s NEWB class, aka the NEWB Theta class. “It’s always great to see the NEWBs develop a connection with the foremen in the field, as this is essential to working with trade partners, and to learn from their expertise. It’s even better to see the teams develop and bond throughout the week. On day one, they’re thrown into circumstances most have never been in before, like waking up for a 5:30 a.m. start time  and performing challenging manual labor with people they just met. By the middle of the week, the teams usually begin to find their groove—they’ve learned how to communicate with one another and understand the next steps required to complete the day’s main task. You can see each one of them smiling from ear to ear, taking photos, and rooting on their teammates. They ‘graduate’ from NEWB with a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished and a desire to build more.

“Although it’s primarily targeted to office PEs and APMs, I highly encourage all Webcor employees to participate in NEWB on some level if given the chance—it’s a learning and bonding experience like no other. I’m so grateful that Webcor continues to offer this program year after year.”

In 2019, NEWB’s host site transitioned from the Webcor Equipment yard to an active project site that changed each year. Past host projects include UC Merced 2020, Bay Meadows Stations 1 & 5, and SFPUC Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (BDFP). This year, NEWB was hosted at Genesis Marina in Brisbane, a few miles south of Webcor’s King Street office in San Francisco. Each day was dedicated to a different side of Webcor Craft: concrete (layout, form, and pour), framing (layout, framing including rough opening, backing, and setting welded frames), drywall (hanging sheetrock), carpentry (grab bar, fire extinguisher cabinet, swing door, door hardware, wood paneling, baseboard), and drywall finishing (tape and mud).

“Familiarizing myself with working on an actual job site was extremely valuable,” says Project Engineer Tiffany Vuong. “I have a newfound respect and appreciation for our self-perform groups and trade partners out in the field. Each day posed new challenges—understanding the drawings and specs, having a plan of attack at the beginning of each day, delegating tasks, finding ways to be more efficient, running into instances of rework, seeing how each deviation is affected at every step of the project, etc. I know this experience barely scratches the surface, but it gave me a better understanding and perspective of some of the frustrations and issues our subs deal with day in and day out.”

Throughout the week, participants ran into near-constant surprises about life in the field, many of which were related to strategy, efficiency, and the weighty consequences of seemingly trivial mistakes on the job.

“The reality is that even when following a good plan, when you’re trying to work quickly in such a small space with so many people, anyone can easily make a mistake,” says Project Engineer Sandra Padilla. “It’s easy to solely focus on your individual tasks and forget to confirm whether your actions will align correctly with the next step of the building process. For instance, if your walls are not plumb (perfectly vertical) when you install the door frame, you will not be able to do it—you’ll be left with work to undo/fix before the frame and door can be installed. Essentially, you lose hours, perhaps even days, of work.”

Webcor Craft workers dropped in throughout the week to give demonstrations and enlighten the group of novice PEs and APMs with their expert insights on the most effective ways to deliver work in the field, leaving NEWB participants inspired to tackle their projects with Craft workers’ shared perspectives fresh in their minds.

“The tips and tricks that the Craft members/demonstrators use in the field every day were surprising and extremely beneficial,” says Project Engineer Lia Milam. “As new builders, we hadn’t immediately thought of the most efficient ways to approach certain things in the field. Creating a work plan as a team of new builders was definitely the biggest challenge—we were given a set of plans and an agenda for the day, but it was up to us to strategize the most productive way to conquer it.”

“The immeasurable difference between the self-perform foremen’s skill level and the NEWB cohort’s was completely and utterly expected, yet surprising at the same time,” Tiffany shares. “Seeing the demonstrations and explanations happen in minutes while our teams took the rest of the day to complete similar work was humbling to say the least. Still, seeing our final structure on the last day was an extremely rewarding moment. I was proud of what we created and accomplished as a team, and seeing the structure’s progression each day was a really cool experience. Although it might have looked simple, it took a great deal of effort, coordination, and time to deliver.”

It’s a feeling Sr. Project Engineer James Bicamumpaka says he also shared with his NEWB team members, all of whom sunk several long, exhausting hours into bringing their “tiny home” structure to life. Shortly after they’d finished taping and stepped back to admire the work they’d delivered over the last five days, however, they were in for a surprise.

“The carpenter who had taught us how to mud and tape mentioned he had another tutorial for us,” James says. “Everyone gathered around him as he approached our tiny home for the demonstration. He then swung his hammer into our south wall with all his might, leaving behind a huge hole in the wall. Although I was agitated in the moment upon seeing what he’d done to our product of several manhours, it quickly turned into my favorite memory of the entire week. He went on to teach us how to do a California drywall patch, which was incredible to see and more or less restored our wall to its pre-smashed state!”

At the end of the week, NEWB participants left the experience with countless valuable lessons, many of which certainly weren’t limited to the field. Aside from an appreciation for the manual labor required to physically build a structure and a deeper understanding of the frustrations often faced in the field such as logistics, last-minute changes, and incomplete drawings, they also developed a sense of pride in what they were able to accomplish as a collaborative team, Miranda shares.

“Every year, NEWB participants grow more bold and comfortable with asking questions when needed while remaining humble enough to learn from those who are on the way to mastering their craft,” she continues. “They learn to use their resources, including one another; often, PEs on separate projects are dealing with similar problems, but one has determined a solution that the other hasn’t thought of. It’s encouraging to know you’re part of a community of people who most likely have been in your shoes and are willing to help.”

“NEWB is an incredible experience filled with plenty of hard work,” says Project Engineer Enio Pepe. “Understanding what goes into performing tasks we normally coordinate and the enormity of those efforts helps you become a better PE. Don’t miss out on it! Ask your manager about getting involved with the next NEWB class. Once you’re there, prioritize going out with your fellow NEWB attendees. You’ll be exhausted from the day’s work, but connecting with one another outside the work environment will be more than worth it.”