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ABC Craft Professional of the Year Scott Walters Is Part Project Orchestrator, Part Staff Mentor

Professional success isn’t always about climbing the corporate ladder. Sometimes it’s best illustrated by someone who forgoes promotions to do what he truly loves and is undeniably good at.

Scott Walters is that guy for Dan Vos Construction Company Inc., Ada, Mich. He has been with the company for 28 years, starting out as a carpenter and becoming a foreman after five years on the job. From there he transitioned to superintendent—a position he has been content to occupy ever since.

“The opportunities for advancement through Dan Vos have always been there for me; it was a quick road to superintendent right off the bat,” Walters says. “I have been offered positions to move into estimating or project management, but I decline because I like being in the field orchestrating projects and training others. Five years from now I still see myself teaching people and building stuff from the ground up. It’s satisfying.”

This pure love of the work—and incredible track record of job performance and mentorship—earned Walters the 2016 Craft Professional of the Year award from Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Now, the rest of the construction industry is getting a sense of what his colleagues have known for a long time: Walters’ attention to detail and commitment to his responsibilities set him apart from his peers, and he leads by example in the sense that no project or task is too trivial for his full attention.

“Scott is one of the best mentors we have, and he embodies the ABC mission on a daily basis, in both his craft and the way he leads people,” says Dan Blundy, vice president/project executive for Dan Vos Construction Company. “Many of our new field employees try to model themselves after him knowing his success with any project put in front of him, whether it’s a medical facility, multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical plant or a church.”

Adds Project Manager Norm Styck: “It is rare to cross paths with a superintendent who exhibits such a broad-based knowledge of all construction trades.”

Putting the Team Above All Else

Walters’ love of craftsmanship dates back to high school, where he took woodworking classes for three years and was named state champion in a wood show. Looking back, Walter says his shop teachers were instrumental in mentoring him and guiding him toward a career as a craft professional.

Post graduation, he pursued finish carpentry as a furniture-maker, but after a few years he realized the factory setting didn’t allow his creativity and problem-solving to flourish. Walters’ supervisor was understanding of the other opportunities out there and encouraged him to reach out to Dan Vos Construction.

Now, Walters is proud to help others along on their career path. On larger jobs, he typically identifies younger lead men or women who are looking to take that next step and brings them into meetings so they can see how project issues are handled.

“You can’t only be involved in what’s going on right now; you have to be looking at what’s coming up as well,” Walters says. “I mentor them to keep looking forward and I encourage them to look for other ideas they can bring to the table that set themselves apart from the next person.”

Walters is a proponent of cross-training, too, as Dan Vos Construction has steel, concrete, carpentry and drywall crews. “I show them they can do all these and it makes them more valuable to the company,” he says.

The role of mentor has become so natural to Walters over the years that he admits he often forgets he’s doing it. To him, it’s just a fun, rewarding part of the job. But for the project leads and foremen, Walters’ professionalism, positive attitude and extensive skill set make him a trustworthy leader who exemplifies that it’s not about “you, I or them,” but rather the team.

“On my first day of work, Scott showed me not just how to be a good carpenter, but how to be a great carpenter,” recalls Brian Kuhlman, now an operations manager at Dan Vos Construction. “The attention to detail Scott has is incredible. He has the foresight to prevent most issues before they happen and has a solution planned out in case they do.” 

Inspiring Others to Go the Extra Mile
Walters’ resolve ties into Dan Vos Construction’s philosophy: “Do what we said we would do.” When faced with an option to postpone work due to factors beyond his control, Walters challenges himself and younger talent to devise a way to push forward and stay on task.

 For example, on a manufacturing renovation and expansion job for Perrigo in Holland, Mich., the steel delivery wasn’t on time so Walters suggested pouring the concrete floor first. “We flip-flopped the order of the schedule to make sure the subcontractors could keep working. I got a lot of compliments from them because they know I’ll schedule things out so they can stay busy.”

Structural designs are always changing as well, with architects using angles and radiuses to set their buildings apart. Though they look pretty on paper, complex architectural features can be challenging for subcontractors to put in windows, drywall, etc. Walters dealt with a huge radius on the Susan P. Wheatlake Cancer Center for Spectrum Health in Reed City, Mich., completed in 2013.

“I had the pleasure of working with Scott on the new cancer center. He has a great authority on his projects and all field personnel know they can go to him for answers,” says Timothy C. Jones, a project manager for Dan Vos Construction Company. “Scott doesn’t manage from the trailer, but rather is out on the site interacting with the subcontractors. His ability to get the right people in the room for coordination is second to none. Quality, on schedule and on budget is the type of project you get every time Scott is leading it.”

Adds Jonathan Mattson, a project engineer for Dan Vos Construction Company: “Scott inspires subordinates to go above and beyond by holding himself to the same high standard he expects from others. Personally, I find myself going the extra mile because I don’t want to let him down.”

Based on project results, many other colleagues feel the same way. In the last five years, Walters has supervised more than $99 million in construction without any lost-time accidents.

“The people I work with are the reason I’ve stuck with construction for so long. I’m always being challenged to go out there and do better work,” Walters says. “I feel very proud to be in this position. When you work hard and produce a quality product, you’re rewarded.”  

As ABC's Craft Professional of the Year, Walters won a 2016 Ram Tradesman Crew Cab truck from the award's sponsor, Tradesmen International, with custom upgrades donated by Ram CommercialBosch also provided power tool packages for all award finalists.

Meet the Finalists
ABC presents the Craft Professional of the Year award to an individual who exhibits outstanding skills and leadership, demonstrates a passion for his or her trade, takes pride in hands-on work and gets satisfaction from a job well done. Get to know this year’s finalists below. To nominate someone for next year’s award, visit abc.org/workforcedevelopmentawards.

Bryan Feller
General Superintendent (Electrical)
Gaylor Electric
Noblesville, Ind.

Interpretation of the merit shop philosophy: “My favorite saying is ‘gravity holds you down, but nothing holds you back.’ If I want to be the best journeyman, I can be that person. The same is true of management positions. It’s all there for anybody who wants to take it.”

Biggest motivation: “The results I get working with, mentoring and training people, whether it’s apprentices or supervisors. When they actually ‘get it’ is when I feel my reward. I love looking into the crystal ball and seeing what paths you can take to achieve that future.”

Coping with the labor shortage: “It’s easy to seek workers, but harder to retain them. We fix that by getting them engaged from day one. We make them feel like they have a purpose and a long-term plan with a path laid out in front of them.”

Christopher Goodwin
Foreman (Plumbing)
Comfort Systems of Virginia, Inc.
Chesapeake, Va.

Desire to learn: “There’s no stopping point for education. I’m not only going to learn how to put something in, but I also want the knowledge on why it’s going in and why it works from point A to point B.”

Importance of collaborative problem-solving: “I’m not one of those foremen who shuts people out. My way might not always be the best. I want everybody’s opinion.”

Advice to younger generations: “Put the computer games down and go learn. I went through a four-year apprenticeship and came out running jobs. You don’t know how to do anything until you put your hands in it. Anybody can take something apart; putting it back together is what’s important.”

Mike VanBemden
General Superintendent (Carpentry)
Kent Companies, Inc.
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Best part of his job: “Looking out over a room of employees and knowing I’ve been able to help them reach their goals, whether it’s growing an 18-year-old into a foreman or helping someone already established in their career develop a skill set so they’re more valuable to the company.”

Merit shop advancement: “If you put in hard work and are dedicated, there are rewards out there, whether it’s a promotion or increased pay. A lot of people want to lead in the field. It’s possible to get there by mastering your craft skills each step of the way. It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes years of practice and striving to go the extra mile.”

A family of perfectionists: “If you’re going to do something, you should do it to the best of your ability. That attitude came from pouring concrete with my father, who was pretty meticulous. When you pour a concrete wall, the intent is to be plumb, straight and true. I’ve instilled the same appreciation for craftsmanship in my son, a third-generation member of our team.”

Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org or follow @ConstructionMag.

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