The Case for Second Chance Advocacy in Construction | Work Done Right With Brian Robinson

In this week’s episode of the Work Done Right podcast, we are joined by Brian Robinson, an industrial construction professional with decades of experience. A passionate advocate for helping new workers excel in the construction industry, Brian delves into three significant themes that he views as essential for the industry’s evolution.  
First, he sheds light on the importance of on-the-job training, presenting it as an accessible means to bridge the competence gap, particularly for small companies. Second, Brian addresses a topic that has long been shrouded in silence—the mental health challenges faced by construction workers. He discusses the changing narrative and increasing awareness surrounding this issue. Lastly, Brian’s passion for second chance advocacy takes center stage as he passionately advocates for providing opportunities to those with criminal records, emphasizing the potential for personal growth and societal reintegration.  
Don’t miss this enlightening conversation with a passionate advocate who is driving positive change within the construction industry. 

About Brian 

Our guest today is Brian Robinson. Brian is the owner of Robinson Weld Testing, Inspection, and Consulting. As a seasoned construction industry professional, Brian has a long history of experience in the field of construction and more specifically, in craft training and recruiting.  

Brian has impacted many people’s journeys and experiences in advancing through the construction industry over the years, and is a second chance advocate focused on providing new opportunities for people who were previously incarcerated.

Top 3 Episode Takeaways

  1. The Importance of On-the-Job Training: Brian Robinson emphasizes the value of on-the-job training as a cost-effective and practical way to bridge the competence gap in the construction industry. He suggests that small companies can invest in basic training sessions using affordable materials and resources, supported by readily available online tutorials and videos.  
  2. Mental Health Awareness in the Construction Industry: Brian emphasizes the importance of open conversations about mental health, a topic that was traditionally avoided in the construction industry. He points out that the industry is becoming more accepting and supportive of individuals dealing with mental health issues, recognizing that the industry has historically had high suicide and divorce rates. 
  3. Second Chance Advocacy: Brian’s passion for second chance advocacy involves giving individuals with criminal records or a history of incarceration opportunities for personal growth and rehabilitation. He highlights the importance of providing opportunities for those who have faced adversity to reintegrate into society and find meaningful employment. 

Episode Transcript

Wes Edmiston: 

Brian, welcome to the show.  


Brian Robinson:  

I appreciate you having me on. It’s always a pleasure.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Absolutely, brother. Whenever I was typing that up and kind of going through this before the show, I was thinking 2014.  

 This has been almost ten years since we first met and really since we were both out there in southern parts of Houston, the Tic Training Center. Right. So we’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve seen you in a bunch of different kind of the different capacities that you’ve been in, but I never really heard kind of how you got into the construction industry and even kind of what got you into doing training and recruiting and everything else as well with what you do now.  


So could you just provide a little bit of a backstory about how you got into construction and some of the different roles that you’ve held over the years?  


Brian Robinson:  

Well, I was born and raised in Texas City, Texas, which is a very industrial town.  


There’s eight facilities there, chemical plants, refineries. So coming up, you kind of understand that if you’re not going to go to college and become a doctor, a lawyer, move out of Texas City, you’re probably going to end up working in one of the plants or.  


Flipping burgers for the people that work in the plant. So no, didn’t want to do that. Got out of high school, was out for a little bit, and then was talking to a buddy of mine’s, my buddy’s girlfriend’s dad was a crane operator.  


Really trying to figure out what I’m going to do. And I’m like, man, I sit in a crane all day that don’t look that difficult. And he’s like, well, not hiring. He said, you ought to go to the Pipe Fitters union or the electrical union.  


And they’ve always got work. So I did. I went to the pipe fitters local out of Houston. And of course, my body wishes now, I went to the electricians first. I took a test for them, and, man, they put me to work just maybe a couple of weeks later and started doing that.  


Went through most of my apprenticeship, like three and a half out of the five years, and their work has started to slow down, and I’m not one to sit around. So I started working non union. So I’ve been working since 93 or 94 in construction.  


So about 30 years in construction, started working non union. I’ve been journeyman, pipe fitter, welder I have leadman foreman, general foreman. I’ve been a superintendent. I was a construction manager for a small company at one point.  


And then we had some diversions in my career path that I think we’re going to talk about here in a bit. And after substantially life changing events, I went to work at actually went back to our local community college.  


Trying to work on getting some things going. Just trying to figure out what I was doing in life. And I was taking some classes, and I went to work for the safety council there. Just proctoring tests and things like that.  


The guy that ran it still good friends with him. His name was Ron, sokol he could see that I knew a lot about the industry, saw that my background in Construction Work and Safety Council specifically revolve around contractors.  


He kept putting me in places there that benefited both the business and myself. And I was actually headhunted by the HR manager out of Houston from Tic, and I took over as the district training manager out of Houston.  


Did that in Houston for a couple of years, and then they sent me down to Freeport to run that training and testing center. We were training and testing welders and doing the NCCR Cert Plus for pipe Fitters.  


I think I actually facilitated your Cert Plus test, or at least most of it was just me and Kirby back then. Brian Colette was there for a minute to help out with it also. It was between you and Brian Colette.  


Were with ones facilitating test. He’s a construction manager now.  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, I saw that. He’s doing real well. Happy to see it.  


Brian Robinson:  

It’s funny because I don’t think my career has ever been like a planned course.  


Like, this is what I want to do, this is what I want to do. I went down there and did that in Freeport for a while, and of course, we were supposed to be there five to ten years, and we were there about two, and they kind of changed the way we did things.  


They sent me to Colorado. I was at their training center up there. It just worked out where the welding instructor retired. So I took oprah as a welding instructor for a couple of years. Kind of got antsy.  


I didn’t really want to teach that whirly wasn’t my thing. I didn’t mind doing it. I enjoyed it while I was there, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Had the opportunity to get into recruiting and did that.  


I think that’s where my passion really took off because. Interact with these technical schools and trade schools and trying to get people into the business that I love dearly. I love construction work, man.  


Industrial construction to me is the business. Everything else is support staff, right. Lawyers and doctors, they’re all on earth just to support construction workers. That allowed me to get into workforce planning and doing some of the things that I do with these career and technical education, the prisons and things like that.  


Wes Edmiston: 

I mean, that’s awesome. And it sounds like you’ve seen the industry from honestly more angles than most people ever will in their lifetime. Right. I know a lot of people that are in recruiting that they started off in recruiting.  


Right. That’s all they’ve ever really done. Or the people that get into training oftentimes yeah. They’ll be from the craft, and then they just kind of follow that through until retirement, I suppose it would be, or get into some form of education.  


But really, from whether we’re talking boots on the ground, supervision, management, recruiting, training, it sounds like you’ve really had just a really diverse career for a guy that’s you’re not even 50 yet.  


So that’s pretty awesome and impressive.  


Brian Robinson:  

I’ve done a little bit of everything. Right. I’ve never gotten into business development aspect of it or things like that, but yeah, every aspect of building work, recruiting, talent development.  


Wes Edmiston: 

Yeah. And because of that, I think that you’re pretty uniquely qualified in order to talk about something that, from my perspective, doesn’t get really enough attention. A lot of people right now are talking about, hey, how can we attract more people to the end?  


And through the work that you’re doing with recruiting and working with a lot of these career and technical education facilities, that’s excellent. Right. We definitely need to start this pipeline further upstream.  


The limitation that I’m seeing right now, though, is it’s not even just a matter of getting more. On site. It’s how do we ensure that those people are competent? Right? How are we going to actually train these craft?  


How are we going to get these craft men and women prepared in order to do the work? And kind of the way that I think about is there are a lot of people right now working in just general labor jobs, right?  

 Very little training, and they’re kind of not really happy in their positions as it is. I’m sure that they would like to go to an industry that is much more interesting, much more dynamic, where they can make much more money.  


They just find, I’m not a tradesperson. I have a limitation that I can’t get over right now, and there’s no real pathway for me to do so without quitting my job and going to trade school for a while.  


Right? So how do you see it that we can begin training these people, in a way, in order to start kind of bridging this competence gap? What’s your thoughts there? It’s kind of all encompassing, right?  


Brian Robinson:  

You got attraction and retention. The attraction portion has changed a lot over the last several years. When I was in high school, they had votec programs, things like that. Not too long after I got out of high school, they went to everybody’s got to go to college.  


You got to go to college to be successful. You got to get a degree. Everything was about college prep. They took all the votec programs out. Then maybe eight or so ten years ago, they really started the push to try and put votec back.  


Now, it’s not to the magnitude of where we’re at now, but they knew that it was coming, so they started working on getting them back into the curriculums in high schools and things like that and how do we fund it so that’s gotten a little better.  


Of course, you can’t really have our industry without politics. It’s just part of the politics affects every aspect of business. The previous presidential administration really started talking more and more about apprenticeship programs and things like that.  


Skilled trades. That was really a lot of. Of the four years of Trump, biden has been doing a lot of the same thing. He passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a tax credit for clean energy and infrastructure programs.  


But there’s a big portion of that. The majority of that revolves around apprenticeships, registered apprenticeship programs. The talk is there. It’s out there. People are starting to get more and more jazzed about it.  


But also you had a shift from people thinking about college. What do I do? Where do I go? When COVID Hit, we were one of the few industries that were essential personnel outside of law enforcement and medical professionals, construction workers were essential personnel.  


We haven’t had any time off. Man COVID Hit shut us down for about five days, and that was for them to figure out sanitizing and masking requirements. And then we were back to work the following Monday and a lot of people lost their jobs.  


Industries that still haven’t recovered, hospitality, restaurants, things like that, those industries haven’t really recovered. So they’ve started looking to, what can I do? Well, now we’ve got interest.  


Now we got to figure out, what do we do? So if you can’t afford to quit your job and go to a community college or a technical school, trade school type of thing, or if you’re not going to join a union, how do I get involved and what do I do?  


Where do I go? So it started those conversations, right? What are we going to do? How are we going to do it and what’s it going to cost? Right? Ultimately, that’s the biggest thing. I think for most companies, the bare minimum be doing is what we did 30 years ago.  


Man it wasn’t about formal education so much as it was making sure you could get somebody in, give them the basics, right? Safety training, basic hand and tools, hand and power tool safety, so they can be at least functional on a job site without.  


Then put them with somebody on the project that’s competent. A good solid journeyman, a mentorship program. We learned most of our stuff when I was younger on the job. On the job training was the big portion of it.  


Doesn’t have to be a classroom setting. You don’t have to set up a whole extra shop and teach people all these things. Put them with a competent journeyman and let that guy man, these guys, especially guys, guys my age, guys older man, that’s what we want to do.  


I want to show you everything I know. It only takes about twelve minutes, won’t take long. I’ll just have to repeat myself a lot. But I want to share the knowledge that I’ve gained over the last 30 years.  


For the longest time, we just didn’t have anybody interested in receiving that knowledge. Right now, put them with somebody that’s out in the field that’s willing to do that portion of it. Be a journeyman.  


Do what you should as a journeyman and teach your trade to the next generation of person coming in. That’s at a minimum, right? Then if they can pop up a tent two nights a week and get that journeyman to come in, and if it’s electricians, get a solid journeyman.  


Or a form and general form of superintendent that doesn’t mind donating a couple of nights a week. Teach these guys how to bend conduit, how to pull wire, how to do terminations, how to redrawings the basics of their math, whatever it is.  


And it doesn’t matter what trade it is a couple of nights a week, and all it takes is you starting the program. Because everybody’s like, well, I don’t want to put all this money into it and nobody shows up.  


I promise you, you start a program like that, you might have three people there the first time, it the next. You start doing that, you’re going to have 30 people in it because it builds momentum. Because now, even if it’s not a wage thing, right?  


We’re not coming to work for Company X because they’re the top paying contractor on the planet. Well, they all pay about the same these days. What else can you offer them? Not only are you building that next generation of worker.  


You’re building a loyal worker to know. I think one of the things that Henry Ford said, it’s better to train workers and lose some than to not train them and keep them. All right. You’re going to train some folks, and some of them are going to leave, but you’re going to build a loyal following, and we have to do what’s best for the industry.  


There’s only a handful of large construction companies that do the magnitude of projects that we do. We share the same workers, whether we want to admit it or not. With these companies, the workers that work for these contractors float between XYZ contractors.  


You might have some guys that like, these are my three or four that I work for most of the time, but if I have to go work for somebody over here, I’m going to do it. We’re sharing. We’re shorthanded in the industry.  


We’re 560,000 workers short right now. If you think not sharing workers, man, how do you think work is getting done?  


Wes Edmiston:  

Yeah, in my mind, there’s a lot to unpack with what you just said. I think you articulated it all really well, especially, like, the ideas of like you said, if you invest into the employee, yeah, you might lose some, and that’s fine.  


But by and large, you’re going to have a much more loyal workforce. And I’ve seen this even, like the time know, and we’ve talked about this before, but the time with Tic up until the point I’d worked for I’d been working for several different companies over the last we’ll know five, six years, and nobody had helped me with anything other than just the guys and gals on the project where they weren’t just being complete. I probably shouldn’t say this word, so I’ll forego the characterization of the people.  


We can all kind of put the adjective out there that we’re thinking of for these people, but where people weren’t just being rude or obnoxious. Yeah, people would teach, but the companies weren’t doing anything.  


And then the time that I worked with Tic, they’re actually really engaged in getting people certified, getting people trained in even supervisory training, which is something that I see almost no other companies doing.  


It makes for a much more loyal employee. I couldn’t agree more on that aspect. I have seen a lot of companies that are leery with, we’ll say, making the investment into the employee in order to potentially lose that person one day.  


I couldn’t agree more with the quote from Henry Ford about effectively having a competent workforce because you put some form of safeguard in there to ensure that that happens. But I also don’t think that it has to be a hefty investment.  


So I’d be curious to hear what other potential examples you could have or that you’ve seen used in the past with how it is that people can in fact, have more on the job training. And one of the areas where I think about this is whenever the project was going on at PetroNova, where people needed to come up to speed on RMD, it was a new process, we’ll say industry wide.  


And to me that’s about as intensive for cost as you could possibly have on any we’ll say, quote unquote, on the job training. But there’s definitely ways that we can make this bridge that gap and get people competent in a, we’ll say, lower cost way.  


So what are your thoughts as far as if you were a small mom and pop company that was running a project WPS specified that you were going to run RMD Pulse or something along those lines, and you had to get people trained up to speed?  


What would you have your site do if you’ve already got the equipment there?  


Brian Robinson: 

Man, I’d buy the stick of the cheapest pipe that I could. Because if. If you’ve already got somebody that knows how to weld, right?  


Teaching them a new process, especially one as simple as RMD was. RMD STT is short circuit. GMAW. Modified short circuit GMAW. It’s a really fast and easy process. I know a lot of the guys from Miller.  


We were a Miller company. They tell you, we can teach you how to run RMD in 4 hours. I’m like, man, you’re full of it. No. And then they came and showed. I’m like, oh, yeah, I think we really can, right?  


Most of them, when they left, they were proficient in RMD in two weeks, you know what I’m saying? And they were going out there, and they were putting productivity to it. Man we had some hurdles, but it was more around quality, teaching quality guys who had never seen the process, because with those processes, we were running stainless and chrome and other things with no purge.  


They’re like what? This is impossible. Right? Yeah. This goes against all the knowledge that they think that they’ve learned up to this point. You look inside piece of stainless, and it’s dark because it’s just the way it runs.  


But you automatically go to, oh, it’s all sugared up. No, it really isn’t. This is what you’re looking for. It was clearing some of those hurdles, but these cats were putting out some quality welds, and they were doing it fast.  


And that’s the thing, right? It sped up the process so much, it didn’t take as much of a skill level as running Tig. Man I would buy the cheapest whatever I can find, a piece of six inch sketch lady and three inch coupons.  


I’d have them Bevels come in one day and have me a helper. Just double sided Bevel coupons until he couldn’t bevel coupons anymore. And I would have him come in maybe one Saturday. Designated Saturday.  


Hey, look, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to come in. I got this many welders. I got this many machines, and we’re going to work it and run it. There’s a lot of man, YouTube. You got to love YouTube these days, man.  


There’s so many videos, how to and what to look for and what to do and techniques and tips and tricks. and the Weld Doctor, some all these other places that you can go and they’ll show you exactly how to do it.  


So if you’re not burning up material, at least you’re making some progress with this is how you do it. Especially this younger generation. They’re really the show me in video or show me in a video game or let’s make it fun and interactive.  


And it doesn’t really take that much, man. There’s enough scrap and waste. I mean, you can start running RMD and stuff on scrap, plate a piece of flat bar, buy you a six inch piece of flat bar and double it until you’re solid at running it.  


It’s a downhill process. They really don’t take long. Same thing with other crafts. If you’re going to do pipe fitting, get you a couple of sticks of one inch and some socket weld fittings and some threaded fittings and teach them how to thread pipe, teach them how to run socket welds.  


Everything else is going to come right. If you teach them the lower level basics, a good pipe fitter helper should be able to run socket welds. Do socket well, takeoffs, do threaded pipe takeoffs, or at very minimum, run a pipe threader, how to clean and bevel fittings, things like that, how to run a porta van, how to do measurements and takeoffs.  


If we could do those little things. It really doesn’t take like some big astronomical amount of consumables. Mostly it’s just time. And I guarantee you, if you look within, you can find somebody that came up through the trades that wants to share that knowledge, that doesn’t mind donating a couple of nights a week or two Saturdays a month or whatever it is we have to invest that time, effort, and money.  


We’ve talked about this. You and I talked about this a week or so ago. One of a couple of things is going to happen here in the very near future. We have a severe shortage. We’re 560,000 workers short right now.  


I think that’s a fairly conservative estimate. 2030 is our drop dead date. Baby boomers are exiting the workforce in mass numbers. The largest generation in the history of America is starting to die off and retire.  


You 75 million are going to exit the workforce between now and 2030. Some of that 75 million has already started, but 2030 is that date. 11 million were in construction work. We’re already at the 560,000.  


We’re going to lose another nine and a half million, but we have seven years. In all reality, if you’ve got some good solid workers and some good work in front of them and at least somewhat of a training program, it takes four to five years to have the base knowledge to be considered a journeyman.  


Is that going to be a know all and know everything top notch journeyman? No, but you’re a basic journeyman. You’re entry level now. There’s sure, whatever, that’s fine. And then I know people have been doing for ten years that are still helpers, right?  


I still go places and I still see things, and I still learn things. 30 years after business, man, I learn new things all the time. And I’m floored and flabbergasted by some of the people that I was like.  


Man. I’ve learned so much from this person, and it never would have crossed my mind that that was where I was going to gain this wealth of knowledge from. But we’ve got to do that because we’ve got a finite amount of time to start turning people.  


When I was coming up, it was easy. You got Journeymen, and if they weren’t cutting it, you canned them, made them care, and you hired more journeymen. But we don’t have that option anymore, so we have to cultivate the work.  


Where are we going to do that? We’re going to have to replace 11 million people. We’re going to have to start somewhere. We got to start training them, but we have enough time to start that training, even on a minimal level, to make a big O dent in this severe shortage that we’re going to have over the next several years.  


If companies aren’t willing to invest that, then the only natural thing is going to happen. You’re going to have to duke it out in wages if it’s going to be a way age war. The big companies are going to be able to afford to do that.  


And these smaller companies that are just barely treading water as it is, they’re not going to exist anymore. And then there’s going to be a surplus of work that can’t be completed by these four or five companies.  


It’s going to be a debacle anyway. You look at it, right, because ultimately, like you said, we’re eventually going to have to pay for it anyway through the competitive increase in wages. So realistically, we can either make the investment now or we could potentially run ourselves into a seriously perilous situation later.  


That’s going to cost us even more money, we’re going to be less productive, and even a lot of these other smaller companies probably aren’t even going to be able to survive through.  


Wes Edmiston:  

I think the interesting thing also that you had said is that, one, the information already exists, the framework is already there, and it’s extremely accessible, right.  


Even if we’re just talking about if we’re on a Saturday, we bring our tier one people, right? The people who are most junior on the site, bring them in, we show them a couple of videos that are out there, accessible on the open market already through things like YouTube, and then just kind of start off with the basics.  


That’s not going to cost that much. Yeah, you’re going to train four people, right?  


Brian Robinson: 

Exactly. Train four this month and you do another four next month or three or whatever it is, man, eventually you’re going to build up enough workforce where you got enough work coming in, where you can afford to do a little more.  


Wes Edmiston: 

And even still to this day, right, if I were to walk on a project, I know I’m going to learn something just because I like to ask a lot of questions personally. But up until Jeez, I was getting out of, we’ll say, working for the contractor, I started working for the owner and I was getting into more of the inspection and quality and all that stuff.  


I was still learning more and more about how to best do the work. And even one gentleman, his name was Juan Medina, did you ever meet him working with GIC?  


Brian Robinson:  

Yeah, love the guy.  


Wes Edmiston:  

He was fantastic and he was adamant about the first thing and really the biggest thing that he will teach anybody and everybody to do is how to bevel a piece of pipe.  


Because if you can bevel a piece of pipe to where the bevel is clean and everything is square, everything else is just so much easier from there, right? And I will tell you, I’ve seen that guy back whenever he was selling his tools.  


Take the time, just the smoothest bevels you’ll ever see in your life. Everything is just flick to the point where you’re like kind of taking a little bit of time here. Juan like, well, what are we going to finish up?  


And by golly, whenever he actually goes to fit it’s, it’s a breeze. Because everything the foundation is set. And I think about it, if we’re going to do some on the job training, how to bevel a piece of pipe, why not that it’s so ingrained.  


That you don’t have to think about it, right? It just happens and same thing with everything else we do. But you’re building that foundation, right? You’re giving the foundation of these are the things that you need to know right now to make your life so dramatically much more easy down the road.  


I’d like to pivot the conversation a bit to something else that I know that you are really passionate about is Second chance advocacy. So for our listeners who might not know what second chance advocacy is, could you describe a little bit about what that means and how you got into doing this?  


Brian Robinson:  

So, yeah, I am a huge second chance advocate, and that revolves around giving somebody that was incarcerated or that has a record that opportunity to make themselves better. So I’ll tell you how I got involved with doing it, and then I’ll tell you what kind of led me to do that.  


So while we were in Freeport, while I was running that training center down there, we had a lot of work there at the Dow facility maintenance and small caps projects. And one of our general foreman, we lost him a few years ago, his name was Alvin.  


Great guy. Alvin came to me and he’s like, hey, man, I got this buddy of mine that works for Texas Department of Corrections, Wyndham School District. They do all this training inside the prison, and they’re trying to get people know who do I have them talk to?  


And I’m like, man, I’m not going to have this guy bothering HR. People are recruiting. I was like, Just send him over here and let me talk to him. And we’ll go from there, right? This guy, man. And I know he’s going to listen to this podcast because I talked to him this morning.  


Today’s his birthday. His name is Rex Rohn. He worked for Wyndham school district. He just retired in the last couple of months. Today’s his birthday. Happy birthday, Rex. Happy birthday. We’ll sing at the end.  


Yeah, he comes to me and he tells me all about their training programs. They’re using the NCCER curriculum. They’re teaching electrical and welding and plumbing and carpentry, and they’ve got all these programs, man.  


And he was so excited to tell me about it. And he was a workforce specialist, and that was his job, was to try and get companies involved. So I said, well, listen, man, before I can commit to anything or try and help get people involved with recruiting and stuff, I need to see what you’re.  


So I did. You set us up a trip to Palestine, Texas, the Beto unit. I’ll never forget my first visit. And this will kind of bleed into why I do what I do. I remember going there, right? And you send everything in.  


You send them a picture of your driver’s, all your Social Security number and all this. I knew passing background check at that point in life was not that difficult for me. I had to do it a few times.  


But we get up, we there was the recruiting manager at the time. Her name was Stacey Bell. And then we had another outreach coordinator or something like that. She went with us. Her name was Tina. And myself, we go up to the Beto unit and we go in.  


The first thing, right off the bat was, one, I’m going into a prison. I have no idea what to expect. Nothing. And the second thing was this warden. His name was Todd Harris. This guy’s like 6’8”, 300 pounds, just big, massive.  


And I’m 6’4”. I’m like, I’m not short, small by any stretch of imagination. And I’m looking up at this guy and I’m thinking, shit, that is one of the biggest dudes I’ve ever seen in my life, right?  


And we’re walking through because they’re going to take us back to where they do vocational training. And these cats are walking through with their pants hanging down. He’s like, Pull your pants up. And they’re like pulling their pants up.  


I’m like pulling my pants up because I’m talking to me, man. He was pretty intimidating. And I don’t intimidate, but we get in there and they’ve got like 100 of individuals, incarcerated individuals, that they walked us through some of the programs, the plumbing program, carpentry, and showed us what they were doing and got everybody into this one big room.  


There’s probably 100 of them in there, and they want us to address them, all right? And. It. The first two ladies, they get up and they’re doing what recruiting and HR folks do. They’re talking about employee value proposition and benefits and pay.  


And I’m just thinking, man, what am I going to tell you guys now? Here I am. This is 2013 or so, maybe 2014, and I’m wearing a $1,000 watch. I got diamond earrings. I’m thinking, man, what do I tell these guys?  


So I get up and I tell them, I’m like, listen, man, for the longest time, I didn’t know what to tell you. I didn’t know what to tell you. What I can tell you is, no matter what you’ve been because and I asked him, I was like, how many of you all get told from the time you were arrested to now, that you’re never going to have anything?  


You’re never going to amount to anything, you’re never going to be anything, because you have a felony on your record of vacation. Almost every hand went up. I’m going to tell you firsthand, it’s not true.  


I’m a convicted felon, so I understand even without being incarcerated, right? I understand how hard it is to overcome. And you do. I mean, I remember going into county jail. The first time I went to county jail, say the first time, because there was way more than one trip.  


First time I went into county jail, I knew one of the guards there, and I was like, hey, what’s up, man? He’s like, I don’t know you. I’m like, yes, it’s me. He goes, I don’t know you now. And just start in with that.  


You ain’t never going to be nothing. You ain’t never going to amount to shit. You’re never going to have nothing. You’re in jail for a felony, man. I don’t want to hear nothing out of you, man. And they treat you horrible, man.  


It’s the same no matter what part of the system you’re in. I’ve had everything from cops and jailers, district attorneys, judges. I’ve had all kinds of people in all different levels of. The legal system telling me that I was never going to amount to anything with these felonies on my record.  


So I think I’ve done a pretty good job at proving them wrong, because I love to go back into the legal system and talk about how much money I make compared to what they make. I know what you make. So I got to tell these guys my story, right?  


And I’m standing in front of these 100 guys and tell typically, I guess I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was thinking, okay, we’re going to go, and then they’re going to escort us out of here real quick.  


And, man, as soon as I got done talking and of course, I look over at the time, right, and I look at the two ladies, and their eyes are like this big, and the warden, he’s just kind of standing there eyeballing me, and they don’t know what to say to me.  


But the only thing I could do was be honest to these guys, right? These men in prison, the only thing I could do was be honest with them. And, man, as soon as I’m done talking, I was like, man, I appreciate your time.  


Thank you. If there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know. Man. Every hand in there goes up. Everybody had a question, and the warden’s like, you all get in line. We’ll give you a few minutes.  


These folks will answer as many questions as they can. And we’re kind of standing at the front of this place, and there’s nobody lined up to talk to these ladies about benefits or employee value or anything.  


Like, they don’t even know what EVP is, right? But there’s 78 guys in line to ask me questions, and a lot of them were legit questions. Of course, you get the random few that you just like a lot of them were guys going, you know what, man?  


I really appreciate you telling me. You know what in this conversation has happened more times than I count. I’ve had guys with tears in their eyes be like, man, I just needed to know that there was hope that when I got out of here, something out there was waiting for me to where I didn’t have to go back to that lifestyle that I live.  


They finally they were like, all right, that’s enough. We can’t take any more questions. You all got to get back to your norms, pause, whatever. We got to get these folks out on their way. And we walk out, and again, there’s this 6’8” 300 pound mountain of a man, and I’m like, hey, look, I’m sorry, man.  


I didn’t mean to drop that on anybody. It was like I just didn’t know what else to say. The only thing I could do was be honest. He goes, you think I don’t know who I let in my prison? I was like, I guess background check on me and theirs is a little more extensive than just because you got to make sure that you’re not gang affiliated a bunch of other things, right?  


You can’t just have anybody walking into the prison. But I had more. The more and more I got involved with corrections, and it started with Texas department of corrections, and then I would get to go to some functions for, like, correctional education association and things that were more states were at these conferences.  


And then I got involved with Florida Department of Corrections. So it went from Rex Rohn and a fellow named Ted Watts. And then I met this guy named Robert Melgard. He’s over kind of education of Florida department of corrections.  


And then not only have they asked me to come in and kind of do what do, man, like, they make opportunity for me know? They’ve got conferences every year. They’ve asked me to be speakers at their conferences, and not to mention I don’t do what I do for recognition or a pat on the back.  


But earlier this year, I received the governor service award in the state of Texas from Governor Adam.  


Wes Edmiston:  



Brian Robinson:  

I’ve been doing thank you for the work that I’ve done in the prisons and just to be recognized, and you actually get sought out.  


I’ve actually had another state just reach out to me recently. I’ve got a call with them later this. But looks like it’ll be more of the same trying to get involved and just not only letting those folks know, but all of the companies that I work with.  


Hey, man, look, we’ve got a huge skills gap to recover from. Where are you going to get these folks? Only 3 million kids a year graduate from high school. Roughly 3 million a year. How many of those you think are going to want to get into construction?  


It’s probably a pretty minimal. It’s not even half. I would guarantee you that. Even if you 30%. So you get a million a year. It’s going to take us eleven years just to replace the 11 million that we don’t have that kind of time to wait till the 11th year to start replacing people.  


The community colleges and trade schools and things like that are not turning out enough students. So where do we go to help bridge this gap? Right? Where are we going to start to look where there’s a competent skill base?  


People that are being trained and taught on what we know that they need because they’re using most of them, all of them are using the NCCR curriculum. Where do we prison system? There’s not very many prisons in the state, in the country that don’t have some sort of educational programs.  


At a very minimum, they have GED programs. Recidivism is the big word that they use, right? That’s the rate at which people return to prison once they’ve been released. Trying to get that number down low.  


I think the national recidivism rate is around 45%, something like that. So 45% of everybody that gets released from prison ends up going back states with a GED program or basic education. At a minimum it drops.  


It like 50% of that it goes down. If you get career and technical education on top of that, they’re like 93% less likely to reoffend. I think what you said earlier. Just giving them some level of hope is really, honestly what a lot of people need.  


And that goes for people that have been incarcerated or even people that are just down on their luck looking for some sort of outcome. The construction industry in general, or just having some thing to go to, really gives people this kind of sense of meaning and purpose, plus a sense of community.  


This group of people that we’re all in it together and we’re all working toward a common goal there’s. In my mind, almost nothing better for you than having some level of purpose, right? And couple that with kind of the shifting narrative that’s been happening here recently.  


But I would 100% believe that, really, honestly, anybody that hears, oh, well, you’re a convicted felon, that maybe they’ve known you for years, they’ll look at you slightly differently. It would be different if it’s something that they knew from the get go, like they’ve known you forever and they know what happened, but you haven’t never talked about this at all.  


And then all of a sudden, you’re like, bingo bango, here it is. Was it as dramatic as I said? Probably not, no. Give me the side eye a little bit. And they were like, Tell me more, and how much. But the biggest thing is that hope, right?  


And it ties back to a lot of things. Right. We were taught a lot not to talk about, and it’s not just about that hope and opportunity, but about mental health and awareness of what’s going on. Construction work is so fulfilling, but it’s also a very hard industry to be in if you’re lucky enough.  


And we talked about this with Tic. I had never had so much respect for a company me, because I had never worked for any company where you saw guys that had 20, 25, 30 years, 35 years with one company.  


I know so many guys with them that they went to work either as apprentices or helpers or fresh out of college. And that’s the only company they’d ever worked for. And I’m, like, worked for 14 companies one year, right?  


Shut down. We’re going to turn around. Right? Again. It was that build the loyalty. They trained, they treated their people good, and people stayed. But we also didn’t talk about a lot of things. We don’t talk about our mental health.  


I think we’ve shifted and a lot of it’s generational, right? Older generation. You don’t talk about you don’t talk about religion, no politics or money, right? Those are the things you don’t talk about at work.  


And now we’ve got generations that don’t know how to talk about religion, politics, or money. You can have civil conversations about a lot of things. You don’t talk about your mental health. And I think especially as men we’re taught, you don’t talk about your food, you don’t talk about things.  


And we’ve kind of turned a corner on a lot of that. So the industry itself is getting better. It’s a hard industry to live in, and we’ve talked about this before. We’ve got a high suicide and a high divorce rate.  


But I think those things have gotten better because we’ve started talking about it, man. I talk about your mental health with a lot of the guys in the business, man. Like, there’s things that you need to talk to, used to.  


The only way to deal with issues was drugs and alcohol drink. Yeah, drugs and alcohol are not as much of a problem as they were. I think people are starting to talk about getting sober more frequently.  


I think people are starting to talk about discussing the way you’re feeling, talking about your feelings more. We’re a big family. Construction work is a huge industry, but a small. We know everybody.  


You’re on one project to the next project, and you see the same faces over and over and over again. And that’s the family that you build, the family that you make. Right? So you’ve got to learn to lean on your family.  


And I think we’ve kind of turned a corner on a lot of that. I think when you talk about folks that are incarcerated, it’s the same thing. Right? They were like, well, what do I tell people when I get out there on the project?  


Tell them whatever you want to tell them. If you walk out and you act like a BA because I’m a badass because I was in prison. Well, there’s a guy that wasn’t ever in prison that’s more of a badass than you ever were.  


We’ll test him, and he’ll show you. If you go out there, it’s like the military. Don’t ask, don’t tell. You don’t have to tell. The only place you can’t lies on job application where they ask you if they go tell me.  


Other than that, tell them as much or as little as you want to tell them. And don’t be scared to talk to folks if you’re having a hard time. If you’re struggling, talk to somebody, talk to them, man.  


I guarantee you, there’s people on those projects that have been through what you’re going through or they’re going through what you’re going through, man. They’re there to help, man. I don’t know very many construction workers at all that don’t want to help their fellow brothers and sisters in construction.  


It’s just the way it is. I’ve got an RV spot here at my house, man. I got a couple of folks standing with me. They’re waiting to go the next project. Actually, they’re buying property down the road now, so they’re probably going to wait to move know.  


And I’m like, anybody that’s passing through this part of Oklahoma, you need a spot to stop for a couple of days or a week, let me know. I got lights, water, and sewer right there, man. All you got to do is stop.  


And I think that’s our industry in general, man. I mean, are there people that there’s a few folks that if they called and said, like, hey, I needed a spot, I’d be like, yeah, I live in Houston. But for the most part, I think we all want to help each other out, and I think we’re getting at that point.  


It’s making it more comfortable for a lot of folks to get into our industry. Hardest part now is convincing somebody, and the physicality of our job is not what it used to be. The safety aspect has taken over, which my back wishes it had done it 20 years ago, but.  


The physicality. The hardest part about our job now is being on your feet and out in the weather. But I think kind of the bigger point overall in all of this is I think the industry is becoming a lot more accepting of a lot of different things and kind of society even is we’ll say at large becoming more and more accepting of got individuals, everyone, everything.  


And with that, the people who are previously incarcerated, we’re starting to understand one, they did time right? If they didn’t go there in order to get rehabilitated and to serve their time, then why did they go there?  


Construction work. Construction workers I think has always been one of the most accepting places you could be. Because it doesn’t matter what walk of life, what your lifestyle, where you came from, who you are, what religion you are, what color you are.  


It’s never been one of those type of industries. We’re a mixed bag of people. We’re a motley crew, that’s for sure. Substantially. As long as you get out there and you do your job and you can put in the work that you’re expected to put in now as long as you can do that, nobody cares about everything else.  


But it was always one of those things like we just didn’t talk about a lot. Right now we talk about it more and I think people are feeling more accepted and the message that we’re more accepting and defers and everything else is getting out, it’s not same thing because the biggest number right now only 11% of construction workers are female.  


If we could get that up to 18 or 19%, we wouldn’t have crazy. But it’s always that you see the wolf whistling and cat calling on TV on these ship, man, that is not the reality because I guarantee you the first dude that does that there’s some cat behind him that’s going to punch him in the mouth.  


You don’t tolerate that kind of mess, right? I thought it was getting escorted off the job. We’re not going to tolerate that. So the more and more females that were getting into it, they’re going back and telling other females like, hey, this is not nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be.  


This is not what we saw on TV. This is not what the movie said it was about.  


Wes Edmiston:  

I couldn’t agree more. First off, and I’m really impressed, honestly with the work that you’ve been doing for the Second Chance Advocacy.  


I think that it’s phenomenal message that more people, you’re only one man. And I know there are more folks in our industry and in other industries that can be that glimmer of hope, right. That shining beacon for other people out there.  


And I hope that somebody else hears this and if anything reaches out to you or reaches out to their local representatives to see what they can do to do something similar because man, so many people just need some form of hope.  


We’re turning a corner. We’re getting more people involved, more different industries. Hospitality industry is huge. More and more programs are starting regularly and more and more industries are starting to realize that not only are we helping the population, population that I love dearly, a lot of people I know are still either incarcerated or just got out or whatever, but not only are we helping them, we’re also helping cut that skills gap.  


We’re minimizing that gap every time we do. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, brother. I will say that I’m happy that you turned the corner in your story and you’re able to make everything that you’ve been able to make for yourself and for your growing family with your little boy.  

And, man, I hope that it can be the message that other people need in order to do the same for themselves, because, like I said, we can’t do without each other. And the more people we get into the industry, the better off we’re all going to be.  


With that brother. I think that we’re at time. It’s been an awesome conversation with you and I look forward to doing this again.  


Brian Robinson: 

Appreciate you having me on. I appreciate the time and it’s always good talking to you, brother.