Present: 'Pay attention' - PJ Panebianco

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An apprentice is going to have consistent prompting on roughing in a wall, a journeyman is going to be handed the drawings and expected to know what to do based on those drawings; a lead guy is going to be given drawings for a whole floor and be told to get the floor done; a foreman or a general foreman is going to be handed the keys to the trailer and told to get the job done.

For this week's FCLF blog we sat down with PJ Panebianco! PJ is a General Foreman at Dynalectric-San Diego. After 30 years in the construction industry, PJ is a seasoned, certified Journeyman Wireman (JW) who knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of construction. 

When asked how he got into construction, he cracked a few jokes, and eventually came to the answer that after attempting junior college for a few semesters, playing college basketball in the process, he found that he didn’t enjoy college. 

"To be honest, I didn’t like the other students. I felt like it was an extension of high school and I wasn’t feeling it."

In his presence it is easy to understand this statement; Mr. Panebianco possesses a ‘no nonsense’ attitude which makes his claims of ‘not feeling it,’ that more understandable. He went on to explain that in a nutshell, he figured out college wasn’t for him and that he was ready to have a job and start earning a life for himself. He started working in the industry and soon after he made the decision to apply for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - Local Union #569 (IBEW Local #569) Inside Wireman Apprenticeship Program. This program was and still is a five year training program that offers apprentices a wide range of electrical skills that will help them to further their career. While the program is seen by some as rigorous, the turnout is a JW certification and the potential of a wonderful and successful life as a certified electrician. Just to be clear, Mr. Panebianco did not give up on his traditional college education. After finishing the apprenticeship program, he went back to attend night school at the same junior college and worked for the next 20 plus years to earn an Associates of Science in Electricity (thanks to his credits from the apprenticeship program) and an Associates of Arts in Photography (Fun Fact: when PJ graduated in 2014 from Grossmont CC, he was only one of ten people who had ever finished the photography program).  It was also in that 20 plus years that he went back and taught as an instructor for the IBEW apprenticeship program. He is now in pursuit of his Bachelor’s Degree in electrical engineering; he hopes to transfer to San Diego State University in the near future. All in all, through actions and statements, Mr. Panebianco clearly supports education in all forms whether it be junior college, trade programs, four year universities, apprenticeship programs, etc.

As our interview moved forward, I asked PJ what advice he would give to his 18 year old self? After some head scratching and ponder, he said,

Make sure you find something you really want to do, because at 18 you don’t know [a lot].

As a leader himself, we asked what qualities he believes makes for a great leader? Believe it or not, this question took him a while to answer. Initially he made comments that leadership goes hand in hand with responsibility. He explained what he calls the “flip the pyramid” method (See diagram). This method expresses that at different levels of leadership (he used his own realm of leadership roles) there is growth in the need of leadership qualities. After this he stated that ultimately, a great leader, “makes others better,” and does that by surrounding themselves with people they trust and people that are educated. Mr. Panebianco went on to say that in his opinion, in order to make others better, a great leader needs street credibility, which comes with experience, people skills and ability to maintain composure under pressure. Furthermore, he explained that the experience and street credibility is very important in construction because it goes hand in hand with the way you grow as a construction worker and a trade’s person. 

With each level, comes more responsibility and more skills necessary to delegate tasks and work with different people. A leader will be able to get the job done with the help of those around them.

The final question we had for Mr. Panebianco was what the most valuable lesson he had learned in his career? He answered, without hesitation, “Pay attention, you might learn something; in life and in work, you’re never as smart as you think you are.” It is clear that Mr. Panebianco  has had a colorful 30 year career pegged with experience, wisdom and his own fair share of obstacles. His perseverance and dedication has shown that construction leaders are not built overnight, but will shine through in the end.

Helen Panebianco