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May 23, 2013

Construction Q&A -- Wayne Melnyk


Company: PCL Construction Services

Title: vice present and district manager

Wayne Melnyk settled into his line of work the way a lot of us do: unintentionally.

In college the native Canadian took a summer job at Poole Construction (PCL’s predecessor company), where his uncle worked as a yard manager.

The job grew on him, even though that wasn’t what Melnyk had planned. His college major was social work, after all.

“I never figured I was going to stay in this industry,” he said. “I actually thought I’d become an accountant.”

Today Melnyk oversees building operations at PCL for a territory that covers the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Its projects range from high-rise apartments to an air traffic control tower at Portland International Airport.

The company received AGC of Washington’s grand award for safety excellence as the top general contractor in the 300,000-500,000-hours category.

Melnyk said safety is a top priority at PCL. “We probably do a lot more training than almost anybody else does.”

He reflected on his career in an interview with the DJC. The conversation has been edited and condensed for publication.

Has your social work degree been useful?

Absolutely. I think it’s the best training anybody could ever have for what I do.

How did you make the leap from social work to construction?

I was an idealistic kid. I wanted to save the world, took social work in college, but I kept on working for PCL in the summers. When I got out of college, probably reality set in when I realized you couldn’t make much money doing social work.

Is the building boom in Seattle attracting new contractors?

I think certainly on the transportation side. On the building side, probably not, but on the transportation side, yeah. There has been quite a lot of national companies that have moved in, so absolutely.

How has that affected bidding?

It creates more competition, there’s no question about it. Seattle’s very competitive, but it’s a good market.

Who has been your biggest influence professionally?

(Former PCL general superintendent) Lyle Anderson. Back in Toronto in the early 1990s, just before I came to the U.S., he taught me the worst thing you can do in a career is not make a decision.

So I think that at that time, when things were really heated and busy, and you really had to really think fast and fly on your feet, he really taught me that you’d better stay ahead of the game, and you’d better be able to make decisions and live with them. Not every decision you make is going to be right, but you gotta make them.

How can the construction industry attract top talent?

It’s got to sell itself as more of a viable profession. I think Canada does a better job of promoting their carpenters and promoting it as a better career. I think Europe does a much better job, but here in the U.S. it’s almost as though “Well, if you can’t do anything else, you can always work construction.” We have to change that mind-set.

What’s something about you that would surprise people?

I truly believe in giving back to the community. I’m very involved with United Way for example here. When I ran (PCL) operations in Hawaii, I was on the board of United Way, and I ran the state campaign two years in a row.

I don’t have any earth-shattering records. I don’t climb mountains.

So you never played for the Winnipeg Jets?

No, I had season tickets with them.

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