Throughout my blogging experience I have geared my posts toward teaching my readers about the different aspects of owning/having a vinyl liner in ground pool built. Today’s post will be the 67th post I have written. I have covered topics related to pool safety, from how to keep you children physically safe while in the pool, to how to prevent recreational water illnesses. I have discussed topics related to specific products as well as covering more general topics like choosing a heat pump or gas heater for you pool. I certainly hope that what I have written thus far has given people some insight into the swimming pool world. However out of all of these topics I have covered I have yet to write about the pool builder grunt. Today, just for a change of pace I want to give my readers a look into the life of the average pool builder grunt.
I would venture to say that the majority of professional pool builders consist of a crew of at least 5 workers. Some builders, depending on the size of their company and the volume of pools they build each year may have several crews. Within the crews you will likely find that there are one or two workers that act as the bosses on the job. Typically there will be one person who is heading up the job. They may be the owner of the company or they may be the “project manager”. Basically beyond that the rest of the crew consists of what I would call grunt workers. These individuals are those that do what they are asked to do and have little say in the way the build should progress. In an effort to clear things up a little better I will go through my own experience as a pool builder. I think that this will give you a better understanding of how a pool company works. At this point in the post you might be questioning why you would even care. The reason is that I think that it is just as important to understand the lives of these workers as it is to understand the process of what they are doing.
When I started building pools years ago I came into the company knowing nothing about pool building or construction for that matter. The only thing that I had going for me is that I was a reliable employee and had a good attitude. I went in my first day with an understanding that the work I was about to do was going to be harder than any job that I had ever done before. However I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. The process of building a pool is a very physically enduring at times. Some days all you do is work your butt off. What makes it a bit more difficult is that you are doing this throughout the heat of the day. I live in northern Indiana but let me tell you that we get some very hot summer days in which the heat index reaches 108 or so. In addition to that when you are down in a hole surrounded by very reflective steel the temperature rises even more. So after my first day I seriously contemplated looking for something different. However I thought to myself that due to the physical nature of the job if I stuck to it for a while then the compensation would get better. When I started I was making just barely above minimum wage. In addition to that I was a seasonal employee and got laid off every November. I received no benefits like health care, vacation time, sick days, or personal days. It was the perfect job for me at the time because I was in school and figured that I could at least work my way up a little bit in pay and after receiving my degree I could move on to something better. Well I busted my butt for a few years without getting a raise. At that point I took on a second job at a local radio station as a remote technician. That certainly helped me out financially but definitely made time management a bit more difficult. There were days in which I would have to wake up at 5:30am to be at work by 6 building pools until about 4:00pm when I would have to leave to attend class. After class I would have to go to the radio station to pick up the remote equipment and drive to a location where the DJ would be broadcasting from for a few hours to set up the equipment. After the broadcast I would load up the equipment and drive back to the station to unload and get home around midnight to do whatever homework I had or study until about 2:00am. Then I would wake up a few hours later to do it all again. That is how my life went for a while, and I imagine that there are other pool builder grunts that are currently in the same situation.
It took about three years or so before I got a raise at the pool company. That is when I again stepped up my game and took it upon myself to do the jobs that others didn’t want to do or that I wasn’t trusted to do in the past. Then one summer I got a call from my brother asking if there were any position open at the pool company. It turned out that a friend of ours was looking for something new and had experience in construction. I knew that he would be a good fit with the company and would thrive there. In addition to construction experience he had an immense knowledge of all things technical. He was basically a pool building whiz and just didn’t know it yet. After I got off the phone with my brother I called my boss and told him the situation. He told me to have my friend put his application in. I called my friend and told him to put in his app. After that call I got a call from my boss telling me to have my friend call the owner on his cell. The next morning when I arrived at work I saw my friend sitting there ready to work. I was right about the fact that he would do well in the company. It wasn’t but a few months that he was making more money than me. I know that you aren’t supposed to talk about your wages with your fellow employees but this was my friend and actually more like my brother. In fact we were so close that in my younger days I was in a band that was named after him. At first I was a little upset but, in reality it made perfect sense. He had a better understanding about the process and how things went together. Also come to find out shortly after, he was making like 3 cents more than me. What that did was light a fire under me. I realized that this was the person that I should base my work ethic off of. He was always ready to go and nothing intimidated him when it came to work. He would go about doing something new as if he had been doing it for years. That is exactly what I did. I took on everything they threw at me with confidence and it paid off. I began to get raises and more responsibility. My friend and I always stayed within a few cents from each other and things went on like that for a while.
The day finally came when I graduated with a bachelors degree. I was still working at the pool company without benefits and getting laid off each winter. Then something happened that changed everything. I got news that I was going to be a daddy. That is when the second fire was lit under me. I went to my boss and told him that I needed year round employment with a raise and benefits or I would have to find something different in a hurry. I made my case by detailing the progress I had made over the last seven years all the while working at another job and attending school. I described my dedication to the company by returning each year. Unfortunately I was not able to continue building pools full time. Instead I was transferred to the service side of the company. I received year round employment and health benefits. I was relieved that I finally had something worthwhile that would allow me to take care of my new family. At the same time I was a little sad that I no longer got to work with my friends on the construction side of things.
I spent the next summer doing nothing but liner replacements and while I was happy that I was finally making more money and had health benefits for my son I was unhappy doing the work I was doing. I could never see myself as a liner replacement guy in my 40’s or anything and meanwhile I now had this degree that I wasn’t using. At that point I decided it was time for another change. That is when I got into my current position and I could’t be happier. I am finally using my degree, and I don’t go home smelling like something that came from the black lagoon everyday. I am also gaining more knowledge everyday and I am in the position to pass on that knowledge to my customers.
You know for every high there is a low. In all my excitement with my new job I feel that I am slowly losing touch with those guys I worked with for so long. I used to see them every day. In regard to that friend who I based my work ethic off of, I used to hang out with him every Wednesday evening. Then it got to the point where I would only be able to make it out every once in a while. Then something terrible happened. I was sitting at my desk one morning when I got a call from my former boss from the pool company. Initially I spoke to him like I used to in a light hearted manner, but after he began to speak I could sense the seriousness in his voice. He said that he had bad news, and that my friend who had been like a brother to me and whom I based my entire work ethic off of was found dead in his house that morning. This is one of those things that is impossible to wrap your head around at first. I mean I had just saw him at my wedding, and before that at my bachelor party, and before that at my 30th birthday, and he was there the day I proposed to my wife. A friend like that just doesn’t pass away out of nowhere. It turned out that his girlfriend had shot him in the head shortly after he told her that she had to move out of his house.
The reason I am willing to disclose this information is because I know that some people often overlook the human aspect of a grunt worker. When it comes to something like building a pool, the customer is paying a fairly substantial amount of money and wants the best. They can often overlook the fact that the workers in their backyard are people. It sounds weird to say that but I think that it is true. If the homeowner has a problem or question they go to the owner of the company. They don’t talk to the worker. They often don’t express their gratitude for a job well done.
I will always remember my friend as the man who taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. I take every challenge that comes my way head on because I know by the years of watching him that if you attack a challenge with confidence you will rarely fail at it. He was a very good worker and a very good friend. I would have liked to see more people tell him that while he was here because I know he would have appreciated it.
Please don’t take the people building your pool for granted. They are working hard to give you something that will bring you and your family a lot of happiness for years and years. More often than not they are not doing it because they make big bucks, because most of them probably make just enough to get by. They are doing it because it is rewarding. They take a plain old backyard and turn it into a beautiful space. One of my favorite things about the job was when I got to see the looks on the faces of the homeowners kids when they finally got to jump in for the first time.