From Iron Boy to Iron Man – Rebar Veteran Pekka Henell talks about changing business, rebar and the

NJ Rebar’s Site Manager Pekka Henell is one of the few rebar professionals in Finland who has worked in steel reinforcement for almost half a century. Now close to his retirement age he kindly took us down the memory line and shared his thoughts and experiences of the changes in the industry. What a journey it has been!

Rebar is a very different business nowadays

Decades ago no official schooling or apprenticeship process for rebar profession existed, and learning took place, and skills were acquired, pretty much “by observing and doing”. That’s how Pekka started his career as well, starting to work as an ”iron boy”, running errands and carrying iron at the construction sites.

Little by little Pekka began to familiarize himself with the rebar profession, interpreting and analyzing the technical drawings, thinking why things are done the way they were, and most importantly, asking questions and learning from the more experienced professionals.

This was over 40 years ago and rebar work as it is now looks very different to the industry that Pekka entered in his youth. “For example, in the past, the iron was cut and bended at the site whereas now the material is delivered from the factories. However, certain alterations will always need to be made at site, as the changes are continuous and we must be able to react quickly "Pekka explains.

Working hours and remuneration models have also changed. "30 years ago, construction sites were closed in July and one had to separately apply for a license to keep business running. Today the pace is fast and schedules are extremely tight. It would completely unthinkable to close sites for weeks. Piecework wages are also rare today, and have been replaced with site-specific bonus systems".

Massive construction sites present logistic challenges unheard of decades ago

“Constructions sites nowadays tend to be huge and this has brought logistical challenges and forced us to rethink our processes and ways of working. In the current model the work and responsibilities at the construction sites are decentralized. There are many parties involved in the projects and the coordination of various activities, scheduling and prioritization can be difficult. Ensuring the availability of equipment requires much more work than previously when the projects were managed by one company who eventually called the shots and made decisions,” Pekka explains.

Another big change is naturally related to digitalization and technology. “In my early days all technical drawings were hand-drawn and it would have been impossible to think that one day we would have been studying drawings from tablets or mobile phones”.

Communication and language skills play a big role today

Some things change faster than we would like to see, but when asked if there’s anything remaining, Pekka has a firm view “A great rebar professional has always been, and will always be the one who is capable of seeing the big picture and thinking ahead.”

Industry itself is also very international and Pekka admits that prejudices related to multinational workforce are not unheard of. Today the situation looks very different and Pekka’s experiences of NJ Rebar’s Polish employees are very positive. "Customers consistently praise the quality of their work and the can-do attitude they have, for example to working hours. They’ve come to Finland to work and it shows” Pekka adds.

The fact that construction business is global and labour mobility is high has also brought new competence requirements for those working in it. “For anyone interested in having a career in rebar I would like to emphasize that being a professional steel fixer is not enough. Attitude is equally important, and so is flexibility and having good communication and language skills. We work together as a team and being able to share things also during breaks and free time is important for the organizational culture and team spirit”.

Rebar veteran has seen a many different organisations and is firm believer of NJ Rebar’s engaging management style where employees have a say and can influence their own well-being, as well as company’s success. “We are all in this together, employees and management. When an employee is doing well, the company does well, and vice versa. The best success can only be achieved through cooperation, mutual respect and communication" Pekka summarizes.

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