Host Taylor White welcomes self-proclaimed “Chief Dirt Nerd”, Aaron Witt, to the podcast today for an insightful discussion on construction, entrepreneurship, and personal growth. Currently the CEO of BuildWitt - a services, media, and software business focused on the infrastructure and mining industries - Aaron's incredible journey to this role, as shared here today, highlights such pertinent themes as consistency, personal branding, and the balance between authenticity and professionalism in the digital age.
Aaron shares his humble beginnings in construction and the pivotal moment when he decided to share his experiences on social media, leading to the creation of BuildWitt. He also delves into challenges he has faced along the way, emphasizing the importance of daily habits, gratitude, and self-reflection amidst rapid growth and success. Together with Taylor, he explores critical topics within the construction industry, such as mental health, workforce development, and personal responsibility. They stress the need for leadership in addressing workforce challenges, the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health, and how businesses can support employee well-being for improved overall success. The episode also previews the upcoming Dirt World Summit, an event focusing on leadership and workforce development in construction, promising valuable insights and networking opportunities. Listen in today, ‘nerd out’ with Aaron, and learn about the profound impact this inspiring pioneer is having upon the combined worlds of social media and construction.
- The chance encounter that sparked Aaron's passion for construction
- BuildWitt's evolution and its impact upon the construction community
- How consistency and daily habits drive Aaron's success
- Balancing authenticity and professionalism in social media
- Self-reflection and gratitude amidst rapid growth
- Leadership and workforce development in construction
- Breaking the stigma attached to mental health in construction
- Personal responsibility and business impact on wellness
- The Dirt World Summit: Empowering Construction Professionals
Taylor White: What mindset do you think that you have to have or like talking to yourself or telling yourself or just things that habits that you're doing in your life that allow you to pursue these challenges both personally, mentally, and your business life and everything?
Aaron Witt: One thing I've written down a lot over the past year or two– The past year or two has really sucked in a lot of ways because we got way ahead of our skis at the beginning of last year. Way out ahead of our skis. And we’ve had to dial it substantially back over the past year which has not been fun in the slightest. It’s been really really shitty. But I basically written down, "Just stay on the path. I know I'm on the right path. I just need to stay on it just one step at a time. That's all that’s required. I don’t need a home run. I just need base hits. That’s it."
Taylor White: Welcome back, everybody, to the CONEXPO-CON/AGG Podcast. I am your host, as always, Taylor White. This podcast is brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu. God bless you. I am very privileged to have those people sponsor our podcast. With me today– I'm actually in my truck. First, I want to preface that I am in my truck; my second office, the power went out about 10 minutes ago just as I was logging on to do the podcast with today's guest, Mr. Chief Dirt Nerd, Aaron Witt. He doesn't need any introduction. Everyone knows this guy -- Build Witt. Aaron, thanks for being here with us today, dude.
Aaron Witt: Thanks for having me. And I think you doing it in your truck is a lot more authentic because you spend more time in that truck than probably just about anywhere else in your entire life.
Taylor White: Yeah, that and my truck. That's about it. Truck and home. Truck and home. That's it. But it's been like two years, I think a year and a half maybe, since we last caught up. I wanted to talk to you today and just kind of feel you out. I know you got a lot of big stuff coming up. We got the big summit in Houston at the end of this month. You've branched out. You've been doing so many different things, and there's so many different aspects to what you're doing. I'm just glad to cut out at least almost an hour of your time to talk about all those things.
Aaron Witt: I don't think we have too much to talk about, really. Sure, some things have changed, but not a whole lot over here. And I think you're the same. You're just still digging holes, it looks like.
Taylor White: Yeah, 100%. We are just digging holes. But I don't know. I'm more interested, Aaron, when I was thinking about today's podcast, I was more interested in hearing from the very start. And maybe you've shared your story on everything because what I hear is bits and pieces from everybody, right? Like, what was it that first started? What made you realize to capture and Instagram– Obviously, your love for dirt brought you to the industry, but what brought you to, “I understand I need to be posting this on social media?” Because from what I know is that didn’t you bought Heavy Equipment Nation or Heavy Machinery or something like that? What made you understand that? That was the value of, like, this is where stuff's going to go.
Taylor White: So I started in construction at 18. We had very different upbringings. My dad's a tax lawyer, so I did not grow up blue collar. I grew up in a wealthy part of Scottsdale, Arizona. I didn't even think twice about blue collar construction whatsoever. But a construction project appeared one day in my neighborhood when I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. And I thought it was cool. It was big concrete pipe, just monster. Over 100-inch. I don't know what it is in your Canadian measurements, but big, big pipe. Big enough to drive a pickup through a 385 excavator in this wealthy neighborhood. Everybody's pissed off about it, but I'm just loving it. And I go there after school every day, driving my little Toyota over, peeking through the bushes to see what the heck is going on.
For whatever reason, one day, all the trucks, these beautiful white trucks, are driving by me because the street was so narrow that the 385 would have to dig, lift up, and then put the material into trucks. They didn't have anywhere to cast material or stockpile material, so every single bucket had to go into trucks. So the trucks were driving through all day. Every truck said Pearson Construction Corporation on the side. I can see it. It's burned into my memory. So I Googled Pearson Construction Corporation. I find their phone number. I look around, okay, it's Rich Pearson who owns the place. And I asked the front desk, whoever it was, to meet with Rich Pearson.
So I get a hold of this guy. I go down to his office, I meet with him, and I say, basically, “How do I do what you're doing? Because I think this is cool. I want to be you one day. I want to have my name on a 385 excavator. How do I do that?” And he said, go study engineering and go work for as many companies as you can while you do. So I signed up for engineering school right after that, not knowing a single thing about engineering school, no background. I had no idea how math intensive it was or anything like that. And then I get a job with him as a laborer for summer leading into college, not knowing anything about construction. So I show up on my first day not knowing the right end of a shovel, not knowing a single thing about anything, and I just go to work. I keep my head down, I do what I'm told. I make it through the first summer, and I go through school doing this every year.
I would work for a different company and try different things out. He said, try out a small company and try out a medium sized company and try a big company and work out a state. And so I wanted as much variety as I could. So I spent two summers with two different companies on pipe crews. I did a summer on the railroad with a multi billion dollar contractor in California. I did drilling and blasting with another big contractor in Washington state. And after working in the office for a while in the estimating office, I ended up going into road construction in Texas.
I say all of that because as I had these experiences like anybody else today, I had my phone out and I would take pictures because what we were doing was cool. We were demoing bridges on a railroad while trains were blowing past us, 60 mph in the middle of the desert. We were blasting. We had a PC 2000 excavator. I was running equipment when I was a laborer. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, so I was just taking pictures.
And when I was on my bicycle riding home one day from class because I didn't want to pay for parking at Arizona State because the rates are absolutely criminal. I was listening to a podcast like I always did, and it was Andy Frisella MFCEO podcast about business. And I'd listened to the podcast since it began. I found Andy before he started the podcast from his cars. He would talk a lot more about cars than he does today.
I was listening to him talk about personal brand and how valuable it would be going forward, and he said, no matter who you are, no matter what you want to do, if you don't have a personal brand, you are going to be behind in the future. And I thought, "Ooh, okay". And I listened to the podcast probably four times before that. But for whatever reason, that day, it was just like, “I got it, I got it.” And I started to think about, “Well, what can my personal brand be, what's the unique story in my life that I can bring that no one else can?”
And I thought, “Well, I like hiking in nature.” But then I quickly thought, “Well, I'm going to go compete with millions of other people who also like hiking in nature, who are world class at capturing those mediums.” And then I thought, “Well, what about construction? I have these pictures on my phone.” From my experiences, I don't know very much, but I've learned a lot. And maybe I can, from my perspective as this 22-year-old kid, share about construction and take the storytelling in the industry and elevate it because it's not like it was today at all. There were very few companies sharing anything like very few construction companies on social media to begin with. The best photos were OEM marketing photos, which oftentimes are not that great, or maybe they're a great photo, technically speaking, but they're not at all authentic. And so I thought I could do better.
And that's how it began. I just basically made the BuildWitt Instagram page and started sharing the pictures I already had on my phone. Now what? You brought up me buying pages. When I started posting on social media, I reached out to the big, heavy equipment pages. There were only a few of them at the time, and I just said, "Hey, feel free to share my stuff" trying to grow my presence. And so I made relationships with everybody doing something on social media at the time. One of the guys that ran the biggest page, Daily Construction, reached out one day, and he said, "You want to buy this page?" I said, "Sure. How much?" And he's like, "$4000." And I'm like, "Done, I'll give you $4000. I don't know what a page is worth. I have 30,000 followers. You have 178,000 followers. So I'm going to buy this page."
And so I bought that page, and then I bought Heavy Equipment Nation as well. I haven't done a whole lot with them nowadays, but I basically used those to help promote my page and grow my page in the early days.
Taylor White: That's the part that I'm interested in, dude, I like that. Do you talk about that stuff a lot?
Aaron Witt: I feel like I used to, probably not as much as I should.
Taylor White: And I think it's interesting because it's the business side, Aaron. That's what I like. You love the dirt world, and I love that. I love the business side of it. What you've created is so intense, and it's so surreal, and I think that it's so important that it's like, you share that, okay. I saw the value in it. This guy reached out, and I was like, “Yeah, sure, whatever. I'll buy this for $4000.” Then I bought this other page. But then you changed one to BuildWitt, and then changed BuildWitt to Aaron Witt. You've done a lot of shifting of pages. Not a lot, but you've done some strategically right. And I want you to explain.
Aaron Witt: Yeah, so I started out as BuildWitt. I made up the BuildWitt name in my bedroom in college. Not thinking twice about it. I thought I was being clever. It's kind of a play on words. Build with Buildit. And I just ran with it because it was available on Instagram. And then at that point, I didn't have any plans on starting a company. But 1, 2, 6, 8 months later, I was moving back in with my parents. My career in construction was already over, and I was starting a company called BuildWitt. And then over a few years, I do the BuildWitt page. But the company grew beyond me as an individual, and there was value in separating those two and creating the BuildWitt brand and the Aaron Witt brand, mostly because it gives me some freedom to say some stuff that probably is not super kosher to the corporate folks, but gives BuildWitt a little bit more insulation. Because to change the industry, to get over the status quo, we have to play the game.
And early on, I was this young buck bowling a china shop, just knocking everything over. And along the way, I've learned, “Hey, slow it down. I'll get my way. We'll go in the right direction, but in due time. You have to work with these people, not just sock them right in the face. That doesn't do any good.” And so that's why we separated the two. And then we had the daily construction page just sitting there with nearly half a million followers or whatever it was. So it's like, why don't we just make BuildWitt that page instead of starting over from the company side of things, use that to springboard off of, which we did. It's still largely my social media driving the business right now, but I think that separation was important.
And I don't know what I'm doing on social media. I don't find myself all that good at it. But I think, if nothing else, the only secret, the only principle I've adhered to for seven years now is just consistent storytelling every single day for seven years, I have not stopped. And it has been consistent. Add value, educate, inspire, entertain. One of those three things or do all three of those things. But you can go to any one of my posts. I'm either educating, I'm either inspiring, I'm either entertaining, and I've done that for seven straight years. And that's how I've reached, in the past 30 days, 30 million accounts on just Instagram alone.
Taylor White: Yeah, that is wild, man. I mean, you're right with knocking everyone out, right? You have this thing in your head. And I was the same as well, too, on Instagram at the start. And I feel like over the years, obviously, things change. I have kids, and you get older and you get more clients, and then there's things in the back of my head where I'm working for this client who's, like, an ex judge, and we're doing this insane job for them, and it's one of our largest jobs. And then it's like, man, if I post this, like, me saying this or talking like this, probably not the best representation of myself or my business. It does change because I remember even sitting down with people at large companies, and we're like, “Yeah, we can't do what you do.” And I'm like, “No, fuck that. You can do what I do. Get out there.” But then you realize it's like, no, we got to dial back. But there's also a lot of different things.I find, like on TikTok, you can get away with doing some different stuff than what you're posting on Instagram, just because of the audience changes, right?
Aaron Witt: Yeah, exactly. You know, I heard a few summers ago, a guy, Jason Gardner, he was in the SEAL teams for decades. He'd spent his whole career in the SEAL teams. And he said when he would go meet with the army in Afghanistan, he could walk into the commanding officers or whatever it is. I'm not a military guy, but he could walk into the head guy's army guy's office in his Navy uniform, but that would immediately put him at odds with the Army. So anytime he'd have to go work with the army, he would wear the standard Army ACU uniform just as a, “I respect you, and I am here to just work alongside you.” So instead of going in there and saying, “I'm the guy. Look at me.” Which just creates that rift that puts you back ironically, he said, “Let me just meet you where you are because then it allows me to operate it more effectively and allow us to accomplish the mission.”
And I've had to balance my bowling with a China shop approach with that approach. I haven't gone all the way in that direction because I do think a lot of marketing in this industry, storytelling in this industry, social media, is complete nonsense and garbage and provides no value for anybody. But at the same time, I've learned to say that in a more tactful way.
Taylor White: You're very humble when you say, like, “I don't think I'm good at social media,” or, “I don't even know what I'm doing with social media.” But again, I think that that's what makes you you is because I think you subconsciously know that when you say that, it puts you on this level of like, “Oh, people are going to think–” you know what you're doing. You know what you've done. You know what you've built. You've built it for a reason. You know, you're BuildWitt. You even said to yourself, your personal brand is growing BuildWitt. You are BuildWitt with the brand. When people think BuildWitt, they think this dude with the camera, with glasses on a job site, with the hard hat that says BuildWitt on it, with a flowered shirt on. You know what I mean? That's what I think. Because that's probably what 85% of the rest of people, when they hear BuildWitt, what they think. It's interesting. I think that you're too humble with it, but I also think that's part of the plan as well, too.
Do you find that it's a hard separation sometimes to be like, I'm Aaron Witt right now, or I'm BuildWitt, and then which one's more fun? Are you having more fun with “This is me, I'm going hiking, having a good time” or I’m business Aaron?
Aaron Witt: Aaron, I think it's similar. I don't really separate the two, and I don't know if that's the healthiest thing in the world.
Taylor White: I was going to say I don't know.
Aaron Witt: I think a lot of my identity is wrapped up in the company, but I recognize that and I’m fine with that for right now especially where I’m at in life. I don’t need balance. I’m 28 years old, throttle wide open right now, no kids, or anything going on. So I'm going to send it as much as I can.
Taylor White: That’s awesome.
Aaron Witt: It’s balance. How much do I talk about our business and explain what we’re actually doing so that we can grow our business and help grow the industry ultimately. First is just, yeah, I play it cool, what goes is easy. But reality is a lot of people think I’ running around on job sites, which I am, but we also have 70 full time people, we’re an 8-figure business, and having 700 plus executives at our first ever event, in just a few weeks we have over 10,000 people on our training platform that a lot of people said wouldn’t ever work. We’re doing a lot of cool stuff from just that one decision of I need to go build my personal brand.
And when people say social media is not for me, I don’t say it’s stupid but I’m just like, “Oh, my God. You’re leaving so much on the table it’s crazy.” Because I think about what my life would be without social. I don't know. I’d be in some project management gig at a construction company. Probably living a good life. But I met my girlfriend through social media, every single person we employ is derived from social media. Our entire business, every dollar we get is derived from social media. Off the travel, the people I’ve met around the world, friends, are from social media. My life is exponentially richer over the past five years because of that one decision of I should put myself out there and start talking about my life on social media.
Taylor White: Yeah. I mean, just everything that you listed with the event coming up, the amount of employees that you have, 8-figure business. Yeah, you're right. I don't think that there's anybody that would deny that in today's world of social media, maybe it's just not for us. Maybe we just won't do it. You mentioned so many things there like the Dirt Summit. Do you ever stop and smell the roses? Like, that's a good saying. But then I always say, “Well, who's maintaining the goddamn roses?” Do you ever take time to stop? And we just had a year end Friday, for good example, and we just had another amazing year. Awesome. Against all odds. We had an awesome year. And I just was driving here in the parking lot where I'm sitting. I was like, I haven't even taken the time to stop and be like, "Holy crap, that was impressive. That was really cool." Do you ever have those moments where you sit back and you're like, "Oh, my God. 70 plus employees, 8-figure. I'm doing this event that Ariat Boots is sponsoring, and we're working with this business and this business.” Like those aha moments, like, 'Holy crap, what am I doing? I can't believe I'm doing this.”
Aaron Witt: Sometimes. But, like you, I probably don't do that nearly as much as I should. The one thing I have done that's really helped is I have written every day. And so through 75 Hard, originally, I don't know, four or five years ago when I first did it, it really rewired me, and I established some great habits that I've kept up with to this day. Reading 10 pages every day. I've done that for years now. And I write just one page a day. I have a notebook. It's always with me. And I write down what I need to do in that day on one page, and then the other page is basically, I just need to fill the page at the end of the day, and it is just a stream of consciousness, no strategy. What was my workout? What did I eat? Where did I go today? How did I feel? How was this conversation? Hmm, that gave me a lot of anxiety. Why is that? Or that was pretty cool. Holy smokes. We're working with this company now. That's amazing. Or, whoa, I'm in the Middle East right now. This is insane. And it's, if nothing else, just forced me 5-10 minutes a day to reflect upon the past 24 hours. And so I don't do it nearly as much as I should. But that alone, I think, has allowed me to be a lot more appreciative and grateful and recognize what's actually going on.
Taylor White: What mindset do you think that you have to have or, like, talking to yourself or telling yourself or just things that habits that you're doing in your life that allow you to pursue these challenges, both personally, mentally, and your business life and everything?
Aaron Witt: One thing I've written down a lot over the past year or two– Past year or two has really sucked in a lot of ways because we got way out ahead of our skis, the beginning of last year, way out ahead of our skis, and we've had to dial it substantially back over the past year, which has not been fun in the slightest. It's been really shitty. But I've basically just written down, "Just stay on the path. I know I'm on the right path. I just need to stay on it. Just one step at a time. That's all that's required. I don't need a home run. I just need base hits." That's it. That's all I need to focus on. And that's probably the biggest lesson I've learned over the past few years. And that's, I think one of the core teachings of 75 Hard is just be consistent. Just be consistent. It's not even that much. You don't even have to do very much for 75-Hard, you just have to do it every day.
And when people asked, I just did a triathlon. I did an Ironman full triathlon a few weeks ago. And a lot of people ask, "How did you train for this while you're doing everything else?" And I told them I didn't do anything all that dramatic. The longest bike ride I did was 60 miles. The race is 116. And I was under trained in a lot of ways, but I trained every day. And some days when we were on the roadshow, traveling the United States, living in an RV, I ran every day. And if I had to be up somewhere at 4:30, I'm running at 3:00. And maybe I'm running only 3 miles. I'm not getting in a great workout, but I'm doing something every single day. And so I think that habit of just consistency, reading every day, working out every day, putting good stuff into my body every day, sleeping well every day, going to therapy consistently, writing every day, and then just at work doing the things I know I need to do daily, every day. It's monotonous, it's boring a lot of days, but it stacks up and creates something so extraordinary. And I've seen that most glaringly in the races I've done. Like, even last year, the 100 miles race, running 100 miles straight, it's brutal. But the longest training run I did was 15 miles beforehand. I didn't run 70 miles to prove to myself.
Taylor White: Just go for it.
Aaron Witt: Yeah, but I had run every day. I had built this base, this really strong base that I knew I could lean on, and I knew that could take me through something quite extraordinary. But it's not sexy. It's not fun. Running every single day through winter is not a good time, but it creates something pretty extraordinary.
Taylor White: You mentioned waking up at 3:00 AM. if you had to. I'm not saying that you're one of those guys that's like, “You're up at 4:00, I'm up at 2:15.” You know what I mean? Sleep is very important as well, too. But I think that you kind of just described a life that is the opposite of almost 90% of every blue collar person ever. And I will comfortably say that there's probably 10% of guys that are actually out there, blue collar, that are like, “I'm dialed in, I'm reading, I'm writing, I'm working out. I eat well.” Because you go to 90% of the job sites, at least in Canada, I'll speak for Canada, and it's a Monster Energy and a gas station—coffee and a pack of cigarettes. Or they're putting some Ziducinis in their lips and ripping zins or whatnot. How do you change that and find the time? When you're working 12–14 hours a day, it's difficult. And then throw kids on that, on top of that, as well, too, even for me, because I haven't been the best in my body. But I'm privileged enough with a time where if I really wanted to focus in on my body, I really can. But lately, it's just kind of been like, okay, kids work. Kids work. Kids work. That's what, sober October. I'm using that as an excuse to like, “Okay, doing it.”
How do we fix everyone else? How do we fix your 12–14 hours a day? Change your mindset. You would be better off. Because it's hard. There's only so many hours in a day. You know what I mean? I think that we talk from a very privileged standpoint of, like, if you want to cut out an hour in your day, Aaron, I'm sure that you can do that. There's not so many people that can. Should they do it before or after? But then they got kids, but then, you know what I mean?
Aaron Witt: I'm not going to sit here and say I have it harder than anybody in the blue collar world. I don't work for a living. I'm not spending the 12 hours busting my ass every day. It's easy for me to sit here in the bleachers and comment on what's going on in the field. So I try to be careful in that regard because I have so much respect for anybody that works for a living. I try to be the biggest fan. I just love this world. And the irony is, if I was working in this world, I couldn't promote it or see it the way I do. I couldn't play the role I'm playing if I was working every day. So people use it against me. It's like, “Well, okay, great. If I worked for one company, I'd be somebody else's competitor. But number one, right now, I can go wherever I want.” But one, I just try to set a good example. If I were to tell you, I think you should go to therapy, and I say, “Taylor, you should go to therapy,” that's just a hit to your ego immediately, and you're not going to respond very well. “Oh, so you think I need to go to therapy? Well, who the hell are you?”
Taylor White: I probably would agree.
Aaron Witt: Rightly so. However, I've learned therapy has been great for me, and I talk about that. I say how great it's been for me and how much it's changed my life, and how much I've been able to understand how I was raised and wired as a child, and how those traumas or experiences are dictating my behaviors today, and how I can work better with that and just be a better human overall. And then you hearing that, okay, well, maybe you're more open. “Oh, wow. So maybe I should consider this.” So, with health and wellness, I've at least just tried to be a good example and talk about how much it's benefited me because it's like the social media thing. I could not imagine my life being even 25% of what it is right now. If I was 50 pounds overweight, 100 pounds overWeight, I don't know how it would even work. I'm hanging on by thread as is, and I'm really damn healthy. I think it's not a 0 to 100 thing, though. If you're an individual, ultimately your health is on you. And what is something you can do to make a difference, and everybody knows it. You don't have to cut out all processed food, but it's like one out of three meals. I'm not going to eat total trash. And I know that's easier said than done when you're on a job site.
Taylor White: But it's achievable.
Aaron Witt: It's achievable. I eat at gas stations all the time. All the time. There's very few things I can eat in a gas station. I eat at gas stations all the time. You can get beef jerky, you can get bananas. There's just a few things there that make up a meal, and a pretty solid meal while you're at it. So it was just like one thing you can do, just get on the path, and then just one step at a time. I think it starts small. And then we need to look at it from the business perspective, too, because I think it's good business too if your business is largely dependent upon the bodies of the people working for you. So you are financially incentivized to ensure that those people are healthy, and yet that doesn't happen. It's like, “Well, I think if businesses were to really critically think, how can we make sure our people are healthier, they would get a significant return on investment for whatever they spend on helping their people be healthier.” I don't know what that is. I think part of it is driven by schedule. Part of it is driven by things that we might not have any control over. But I think there are a lot of variables that a business can start impacting pretty quickly if they wanted to. And I think it's good business, too.
Ultimately, you as an individual, your health is your health then you are the only one that's going to deal with that at the end of the day. It's not on your employer, your spouse, whoever it is. That said, I think it's wildly unfair to just sit here and say, “Well, it's just the blue collar, uneducated people in construction, they just don't know any better. It's like a lot of it's driven by the system and the system needs to change.”
Taylor White: I totally, 100% agree. You could give them all the tools, but at the end of the day, it's them. I put a gym in our office. We built out a gym, and I've been like, "Hey, guys, anybody who wants to use it, you guys know the hours that we work.” I still own a business, right? So it's not like we're going to end two hours early every day so we can all hit a crossfit workout together. It's like, “Well, no, because you guys still have bills to pay. I still have bills to pay. But guys, there's this gym, there's this office. If you guys want to use it before work, after work, on the weekends, everyone has access. I don't care. Use it. Do it." So far, I think one or two people may have used it. And maybe that's me. As I'm reflecting here, maybe it's me that needs to kind of incentivize or push that a little bit. But like you said, you can give the people all the tools that you want, but it's really up to them to do it.
But you spoke a lot on anxiety and mental health and stuff like that, and I know that we have spoken about that. I know that you are very vocal about that as well, too, and your own challenges with that. And you talk about therapy. What have you found has really been helpful for you? And then I guess what are you seeing that is lacking in the industry that we really need to fix? Because I feel like the conversations are more there, but I don't think that it's fully there.
Aaron Witt: Before I get into mental health, like on the gym thing. Yeah. Can you stop every day, two hours early to go have a crossfit workout with the team? No. But maybe could you do it one Friday every six weeks.
Taylor White: Absolutely.
Aaron Witt: Well, I don't know your business, but it's like, okay, if we do it once every six weeks, here's the cost to our business. But this is an investment in our workforce. I think business owners go very quickly to be like, it's not going to be a 30 hour work week, guys. But that's not what people are asking for or really need. They just need a little bit. They don't need a whole lot. They're not asking for a lot. They're not unreasonable. They understand. But on the mental health side of things, I think it's gotten a ton of momentum over the past year, especially the past two years. It wasn't talked about maybe up till a year and a half ago, even just this past year. I've seen it everywhere. But before it was very rarely discussed, which I think is great. I think it's been driven by people like Vince Hefelli at Ajax and there's some other great, great folks out there, Michelle at SSC, that have been talking about it and have built these amazing organizations around it. And I like when Vince talks about it because he has a very real perspective on it. He says, “Don't talk about it if you're not going to be serious about it. If you don't have an intent to really do something about it, you're better off ignoring it.” Those aren't exactly his words, but he said something along those lines when I talked to him. I was like, "Damn, that's profound."
And I think there is a lot of talking. I don't know if there's necessarily a lot of doing. And that worries me a little bit. But I want to remain optimistic and say, "Okay, great, we're getting the word out, one. But two, again, I think a lot of it is systemic. I think a lot of it is the hours, the way this world works. And I know there's realities, like where you are, there's something called winter. And so we only have so many months to be productive and then the ground freezes. That's what we got. We have to work in an extreme way. But I still think there are some things we can do from a systemic standpoint to help alleviate some of that pain. And again, it's just good business. I think if someone is on your job site and their partner, just your spouse, husband or wife, just asked for divorce a week ago yesterday, their mind isn't on your project. They don't care about being safe, they don't care about your work, they don't care about productivity. They're getting a divorce. And if you can help people be better people, you'll end up being more productive and making more money.
And so I think mental health hasn't been viewed as a real issue construction companies need to solve because it doesn't impact their work directly like safety does. If someone goes and kills somebody on that job site, that is a financial impact that hurts. This doesn't impact them directly, so they haven't really had to act. But with where the labor market is, you have to look at the whole worker, not just the worker that's on your job site for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. It's that whole individual that you need to consider. And those that do consider that whole individual are going to attract that next generation that wants to be considered as a human being, not just a haul truck driver.
Taylor White: You're right. And I like all the different points because you're right. And construction in Canada, I always describe it as like, you wake up, wah, you go to sleep. You wake up, wah, you go to sleep. And then all of a sudden then it's winter and everyone gets seasonal depression. It's just brutal here. And I mean, right now it's 30. Well, 30 degrees would be 85, 80 degrees, whatever. It's beautiful right now. This is unseasonal for October. And you can see it, the weather here in places– If someone's listening to someone who's in California or Arizona where it's sunny and hot a lot of the time, the weather depicts energy up here, man, so much. And we're about to get into Thanksgiving in October. And if you look at our long range, 14 days after today, it's just rain and clouds for the next 14 days. So I already know as a business owner, the mornings are going to be so much harder in the shop with the guys and the girls, because when they walk in in the morning, it's going to be like, “Okay, let's get some radio music going. Let's try to share a funny story about myself the night before.” Try to get momentum and people going. That's what I see that I can help as far as when we're in–
We got a grind season of acknowledging my own self and being like, “Okay, this weather sucks and makes me feel a certain way. What can I try to do to pick up?” Even though I might be on their level, I still have to walk in there and boom, be on. And then also, hopefully you're building up leaders within your company that can help you with that as well, but it is hard. And like you said, hopefully there's something that we can do to kind of shift and change that. Because at the end of the day, you're in business to make money because if you weren't getting paid for it, then you wouldn't be able to live. You're into it because you love it and it's a passion as well, too. So you have all these things, but what things can we do, Aaron? What things can we do to make it better for the employees mental health wise? What tools can we give them? What conversations can we have? What experts can we bring in? Like what do we do?
Aaron Witt: And talking to Vince, the first steps, just having open conversations about it and training your leaders on how to talk about it is really important. And I think training leadership in general is really important. And that's something I think the industry as a whole and we as a business haven't done a great job of. And so I think, one, just training and you can train people on mental health. Two, better resources because most companies don't offer any kind of resources, but we've partnered with a company called Uturn Health. They provide these remarkable resources for any company. You basically pay per month and it's really affordable for your entire workforce. And you basically say, "Hey, this new benefit is available to all of you, and here's what's covered by that." And you explain it and you make it easy to use and you're not just covered, but your family is also covered.
And so I think it's leading by example from the top. I think it starts from the top. There's no way around that. It starts with me at my organization, you at your organization, any leader within any organization, and everybody cares. But I think you do have to be vulnerable. You do have to put yourself out there in a greater sense today than before. I think, two, it's talking about it and training people on how to talk about it and how to have those conversations and just create pathways because, like what Michelle says, maybe somebody doesn't want to talk about it in the field, but just allow them to know that this pathway is here. Like, "Hey, I'm in the office, here's where I am. I'm happy to talk anytime. Here's how to talk." You kind of lower those barriers and make you more accessible than just say, "Well, you can talk to me whenever," which isn't very helpful, I've recognized.
And then I think there's some great resources out there like Uturn Health that you can then provide your people that are very tangible that are not within the business and that they can put to work at any time. Because I think if you're going through your insurance provider, most mental health resources are complete garbage or very hard to use because we have it through our insurance program, but we have very low utilization. And I guarantee you there's a lot of mental health problems in our business because it's full of human beings, and all human beings have mental health problems. And so we're trying to lead by example and offer our people a much better perk beyond our insurance plan.
Taylor White: You're right on the money there. Our benefits cover anybody who's a registered therapist, which is super cool. Again, I'm not sure how much it gets used, but I'm also just not the best person for it. And like you kind of said, I'd be lying to you if I’m like, “Aaron, I'm trying to change the way that we deal with mental health and construction.” Because for me, I have my own stuff that I deal with off the side. I got medication for anxiety. I'm a Lexapro advocate, baby. Without that Lexapro, I'm just in shambles. Actually, I think Lexapro should do a brand deal with me. But I’m just not the best person for it, so I kind of almost sometimes just turn a blind eye. So I think for me, I'm one of those people that I'm better off just getting somebody in here that can understand it and talk about it, because I'm just doing this, I deal with this, but business is more important, which is not good. So I think that's an interesting take on it.
Anyways, this is kind of like a therapy session here. I want to talk Dirt World Summit. What do you have going on there? What's happening there? Because I'm going to be in Houston. I'm excited. I'm pumped to go down there. I'm actually lining up to go hog hunting at the same time.
Aaron Witt: Nice.
Taylor White: Because I always told myself if I went to Texas, I'm living the American Dream and shooting hogs with an automatic gun out of a helicopter. So that's what I have planned. What do you have planned for the actual summit?
Aaron Witt: So I think it was January, February this year, and we had just gotten our asses kicked last year. And Dan said, “Hey, I think we should have an event, and here's what we could do. We need to make an event on leadership and workforce development.” Because there really isn't anything in the marketplace focused exclusively on what is the industry's biggest issue in a different way? I said, “No, I don't want to do that this year. We need to focus. We have enough going on. We need to figure out ourselves as a software business. We're finishing up raising money , we’re trying to get expenses under control. There is enough going on. Last year, we didn't focus, and we learned these lessons. This year, let's focus. But I said, if you can make the business case work, then great.
Randy and Dan got together, who helped me lead the company, with Jason, who also leads the company, and others, and they made the business case for it. And it's like, “You know what? Great. Let's do it because no one else is.” There isn't an event focused exclusively on leadership, and it's all about attract, attract, attract, attract, which is great, but the reality is we need 500,000 people in the United States to meet the infrastructure construction demand. Last year, we attracted 100,000 who stayed. So we were plus 100,000. We need 500,000 right now.
Attract is not the end all, be all, and we are attracting a lot of young people. But I believe under the age of 24, the rate in which they bounce out is 64%. It's unsustainable. We genuinely believe that this problem, the solution to this challenge, I would say, starts with leadership. It starts with the people already in the industry who are the solution. Everybody. It's like, look in the mirror. You're the hero you're looking for. No one's coming to save you. No one cares about your business. No one cares about your workforce problem. It's on you. And that's scary. But also great, because, okay, if I can develop tools and if I can grow myself as an individual and look at this in a different way, I can make a dramatic difference on this problem, on this challenge. And I've seen companies do it.
And so we thought, why don't we put together the best event possible, get the best people, not just in construction. We brought in a lot of people that we've met from construction, great leaders, but also just the best people in leadership. The three books I recommend most are Extreme Ownership by Jocko and Leif. Jocko will be there. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The CEO of Dale Carnegie will be there. And Everybody Matters by Bob Chapman. Bob Chapman will be there. And a long list of others. And so it's not me talking about leadership because I don't know how to lead. We brought in the best, and we've never hosted an event before, ever, but we have over 650 senior executives at some incredible businesses, big and small, across the industry, signed up, and it is just going to be a spectacular few days.
Taylor White: That got me more excited now. That's awesome. Yeah, that sounds sweet. Jocko will be there, everybody. So you're focusing on leadership, leadership within the industry. And then obviously, there's a massive networking aspect to the summit as well, too, right?
Aaron Witt: Yeah. The goal is it's not this rah rah thing. Oh, let's make everybody feel good and then leave and go back to our businesses and do the same thing. We hope that people leave with tactical things they can go implement the next day to dramatically impact their business and their lives, not just their business. Leadership is not exclusively reserved for business. It is about your family, your friends, your community, your religious community. Whatever it is, it applies to your entire life. And so our goal is to get a bunch of amazing people together, help elevate that group of people, then have them go out into the industry and impact from there. If we can get 700, 800 people there, everybody's going to go out and impact 10–20. Sometimes these big companies, 100 people, we'll have an impact of thousands, tens of thousands from this event.
And then you have the networking. You're going to be brushing shoulders with some of the best people. I've met a lot of people in this industry, and most of the absolute best people I've met will be there. And I'm like, maybe you, I don't know, but I'm always afraid that I'm going to fail. We're going to go do this event, nobody's going to sign up or it's going to suck or it's just not going to be– We're charging a lot of money for this. Are people going to get their money's worth? And it's just been nothing but stress for six months. But now seeing the list of people and companies coming and the lineup we have and the whole event coming together, it's like, this is going to be cool. So that's the goal, is to make the absolute best leadership workforce development event in the industry and hopefully start running it annually.
Taylor White: Can people still get tickets?
Aaron Witt: Yeah, it's open till the 11th, so I don't know when this goes live, but maybe or maybe not.
Taylor White: Yeah, we'll see everybody in Houston next week by the time this is out.
Aaron Witt: I've talked with a lot of people, and a lot of people probably aren't aware, but again, maybe, like, you, I have a chip on my shoulder, and so if somebody said, no, I'm too busy this year, my goal is now to make the best damn event out there and make sure that they're sitting there going, "I missed out. I should have been there. I will not miss out on next year." That's now the objective.
Taylor White: Well, I will go up in a chopper shooting hogs and be like, the Dirt World Summit was the best thing. If you didn't come, you missed out. It's going to be a good time, dude. I'm excited. I know a bunch of people that are going, well, not, I shouldn't say that I know, like three dudes that are going, myself personally, that I know that I'm, like, pumped that they're going to be there sharing a room with one of my buddies down there. It's going to be a good time.
Aaron Witt: It's going to be awesome.
Taylor White: Yeah, no, I'm looking forward to it. Like I said, pump for Texas. Pump for everything. But, man, I know you're a busy dude. I want to thank you for coming on today and chatting, at least for the 52 minutes that we got to actually sit down and chat. You have a lot of unreal things going on, Aaron. And as always, I want to say that I am super impressed by you. As always, when I see you, you intimidate me. And it takes a lot for me to look at somebody and be like, “That guy makes me look stupid, and I need to be better than him.” So thank you for that. You're doing great things, dude.
Aaron Witt: I appreciate that. I'm just a scrud, but I'm doing my best.
Taylor White: Too humble. You know you're better than me. Just say it.
Aaron Witt: We'll see.
Taylor White: Thank you, everybody, for listening to the podcast today brought to you by our good friends over at Komatsu. Aaron, thanks for coming on today.
Aaron Witt: Thanks, Taylor.