FORMER ARMY COMBAT MEDIC KEEPS HEALTH AND SAFETY TOP OF MIND AT BALFOUR BEATTY
BY NICK FORTUNA
It’s been almost a decade since Jordan Webster served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army, but he’s still just as focused on the health and well-being of others. For the past four years, Webster has been a safety, health and environment director for Dallas-based Balfour Beatty, a member of multiple AGC chapters, a position that calls upon many of the traits that served him well in war.
Webster, 37, is in charge of health and safety for Balfour Beatty’s Texas buildings team, which handles large projects, such as new high rises and hospitals, and small ones, like interior buildouts. He said his role gives him “a 30,000-ft view of operations” because he’s focused on driving a culture of safety throughout the company. In his prior role as a safety, health and environment site manager, he got a ground-level view, implementing safety programs at Balfour Beatty’s individual jobsites.
Whatever the assignment, Webster feels motivated and well prepared, having served in the Army from 2002-11 and having seen combat in Iraq in 2005-06. He said the discipline, problem-solving, leadership and teamwork skills he developed in the Army make him ideally suited to the fast-paced, deadline-driven construction environment, where plans can shift on the fly and it’s important not to lose focus.
“My job now definitely is similar to what I did in the military,” Webster says. “Being a medic, you have a compassionate heart, and you’re re-ally looking after your fellow soldiers. It’s the same concept for a safety professional. Every day, you go to work and try to make sure that eve-rybody who came to that site goes home to their family the same way that they arrived.”
Webster says Balfour Beatty invests a lot of resources in training subcontractors to adhere to the company’s safety standards, which typically are more stringent than those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or other regulators.
“We put a lot of time into training them up,” he says. “Whether their next job is going to be one of our projects or some other project, in the long run, they’re always going to come back to us. This is for their safety and well-being and to align their safety practices with our own.”
FINDING HIS NICHE
After leaving the Army, Webster, a native of Red Oak, Texas, completed his bachelor’s degree in construction sciences at Texas A&M Univer-sity in 2013. His coursework had taught him about budgeting, scheduling and overseeing construction projects, but his Army experience stood out on his résumé. When he interviewed for an internship at Balfour Beatty in 2013, the hiring manager asked if he would consider a position in safety, and his path was set.
Webster’s first job was at the construction site of the new Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, a $1.3-billion project that was the largest healthcare project under construction in the nation at the time. His responsibilities included running morning safety meetings with Balfour Beatty’s workers and subcontractors, walking the site in search of hazards and performing safety inspections.
“I knew probably within the first week that it was something I really wanted to do,” Webster said. “I didn’t have to be in a conference room talking about schedules or budgets. I could be out in the field, getting to know the workers. You build relationships with them and gain their trust, and eventually they may tell you about a problem they’re having. It’s the same scenario as a medic. You’re looking at ways to keep your people productive but also safe.”
In Iraq, Webster was assigned to a scout sniper unit within the Army’s 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Division and was based in Kalsu, an area 20 miles south of Baghdad that saw intense fighting. His unit of approximately 30 soldiers was tasked with gathering intelligence on high-value targets and then executing missions to take them out, and the work was as dangerous as it sounds.
On his first mission there, two members of his “small kill team” of about seven soldiers were killed by two separate improvised explosive de-vices. One of the IEDs exploded a few feet from Webster, killing his close friend.
“I don’t know for sure which one of us stepped on it, but one of us definitely did,” Webster said. “Your job as a medic really starts when something goes bad, but until that happens, you’re just a member of the team with a weapon. I would say 95 percent of the time over there, you’re doing mundane things or even having a little bit of fun, but of course, there’s that 5 percent that really alters one’s life. It’s just not nor-mal for a person to see people badly injured or killed, even if it’s just for a short period.”
Webster said serving in the Army required an ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and to address problems collaboratively, and those traits are invaluable on construction sites.
“Every day, when you walk onto the site, there are going to be changes, and one day is not going to be exactly like the next,” Webster says. “The same is true for being overseas and in combat. There’s always going to be changes, and it may seem chaotic, but when you have good plans and a good team, you can become a master of chaos.
“In construction, the situation is obviously different, but in many ways, it’s the same. It’s the same intensity. It’s the same need to get things done and to stick to a schedule, and people all pulling together, so it’s kind of like one team, one fight.”
Jeannie Clemens, vice president of human resources for Balfour Beatty in Texas, said the company could use more employees like Webster, and he’s helping it find them. Balfour Beatty sends veterans like Webster to job fairs for veterans and to local universities that have mili-
tary programs like the ROTC and Corps of Cadets to speak with students about career opportunities in construction.
“Anything we ask of him, he will do, and then he’s very proactive and does a lot of things on his own,” Clemens says. “We couldn’t be more proud of having someone like Jordan working for us.”
Clemens says Balfour Beatty has a strategic imperative to increase the diversity of its workforce. The outreach initiative ultimately leads to a company culture that is inclusive for employees and partners, she said. By embracing diversity, the company is really expanding its diversity of thought, collaboration and problem-solving, which leads to an empowered and engaged workforce, she says.
As they’ve returned from nearly two decades of war, U.S. military veterans have made a favorable impression on employers. In August, the unemployment rate for veterans was 6.4 percent, compared with 8.4 percent for the broader public, according to the Bureau of Labor Statis-tics, continuing a long trend of employers seeking out veterans.
Still, the statistics aren’t always positive. Each day, almost two dozen veterans commit suicide, according to the Department of Veterans Af-fairs. Webster said many of them struggle to adjust to civilian life from the highly structured military environment. Many have formed families while in the military, and upon being discharged, they suddenly must secure housing, a job and health insurance on their own for the first time in years.
“I think what a lot of people forget is that when you get out of the military, it can be really scary,” Webster says. “Overnight, your world is turned upside down.”
Military veterans already working for Balfour Beatty are encouraged to take advantage of the company’s employee referral plan, Clemens says. Employees can receive bonuses of several thousand dollars when the company hires a candidate whom they referred.
“We often find our best people through our own employees,” Clemens says. “Across the nation, our teams are highly engaged in recruiting veteran professionals. Many of our operational employees are focused on these efforts to make the connection with military personnel who are looking to transition into the construction industry.”
Clemens says Webster was instrumental in forming the company’s “We Love Vets” outreach team, which includes a senior vice president, HR professionals and several department heads, all focused on recruiting talented veterans.
“Veterans have a real sense of duty, and that really rings true with the heart and soul of our company,” she says. “That sense of responsi-bility is one of our top strengths.”