While each year we recognize those in our business who are having a major impact, we overlook the young people who will shape the business in years to come. Many have a different perspective on our industry. For one thing, each of the four outstanding young construction professionals we talked with mentioned the importance of work-life balance. Each also discussed how they had to overcome the perception that their age (and, in one case, gender) meant they could be bullied or ignored. The solution to that, they all agreed, is to work harder and from that to gain confidence and earn the respect of older colleagues. Here are their stories.

Chris Garcia, Concrete Project Manager, Charles Pankow Builders, Pasadena, Calif.

Many young people jump around from job to job early in their careers, but that’s not Chris Garcia’s style. “This was my first job out of college, starting in 2008. Pankow lost about 25% of its people during the recession; but I held on, kept busy, and did whatever it took. They saw my potential and kept me around.”

Today he’s part of a five-person concrete group that acts as a subcontractor to Charles Pankow Builders and also takes on work from other general contractors. “I like the venue here,” he says. “The key is collaboration and feedback. It takes more time but makes the work experience better and that pays off in terms of safety, quality, cost, and schedule.”

While earning an engineering degree with an emphasis in construction management at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, he interned with a heavy civil contractor and realized he loved construction but not heavy civil work. “I think government work stagnates innovation. At Pankow, we work on buildings in urban environments and we are encouraged to innovate.”

Loay Hanthel, Project Manager, M.J. Dean Construction, Las Vegas

The Resort World project on the south end of the Strip in Las Vegas is a massive project that was up to level 53 on the tower portion as of mid-December. You might expect to find an old pro running such a big job, but then you meet Loay Hanthel: young, but a force of nature.

Hanthel moved from a job with Largo Concrete in Orange County, Calif., to Las Vegas in early 2018. “I hated to leave – Chris Forster and Ken Long are mentors and friends – but this was such a great opportunity I couldn’t pass it up.”

As a professional engineer, he could have stayed on the design side but saw more opportunity in construction. He brought with him expertise with laser scanning and other technology solutions. “I convinced M.J. Dean to invest in technology,” he says. “Now we have robotic total stations and all the foremen are working on iPads to do their dailies. Everything is easy to track, there are no unknowns, and improved quality has followed.”

Outside of work, Loay has been going to local high schools to tell students about the joys, and challenges, of construction. He’s paying it forward.

Matt Poppoff, President, Poppoff Concrete Contracting, Moxee, Wash.

While Matt Poppoff is president of the company his father founded and ran for many years, that path wasn’t a straight line. After high school he moved to Seattle, about two hours away, to pursue a tech career.

“I told my dad I didn’t want anything to do with concrete: ‘I’m moving to Seattle and never coming back,’” he says. “I lived there for about five years and met my wife. We came back to Yakima, Washington, for a visit and she asked why I didn’t want to work for the concrete business when it was obviously exciting for me.”

Yakima, Washington, for a visit and she asked why I didn’t want to work for the concrete business when it was obviously exciting for me.”So, they moved back about 10 years ago. He spent the next two years working in the field as a laborer and finisher, eventually became safety director and vice president, and last fall was named president. In addition to his father, his mentors include Steve Lloyd, who he calls “my East Coast father.”

Matt sees communication as one of the keys to success today in construction. “I think my generation is looking for communication more than previous generations.” He also has found confidence from working with the American Concrete Institute (ACI). “One important reason to get involved with ACI was gaining the confidence to talk about concrete in an intelligent way—it can be terribly intimidating.”

Ashley Stamper, Project Manager, Danko Concrete Construction, Atlanta

“I started in the business doing estimates for my father’s company instead of playing with coloring books,” says Ashley Stamper. Today, she’s a project manager overseeing six large projects. “We have been building enormous buildings compared to even a few years ago. We’ve done three buildings in the last two years that are over 1 million square feet. I think that’s a trend: Buildings will continue to get bigger, and one of the things that allows us to do that is the technology that allows us to collaborate and transfer drawings instantly.”

Stamper feels her mentors made a big difference in her ability to thrive; and when they are Rocky Geans and Tommy Ruttura, you know she’s been getting good advice. Other things she sees changing in the concrete business are safety and available resources. “Every American Society of Concrete Contractors meeting starts with safety. It didn’t used to be that way, but it makes sense because our people are our main asset as well as our friends.”