Building a Strong Crew

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There are a lot of things you can do as a lead rigger to make your job easier, in my opinion the most important one, is surrounding yourself with good people. I was very lucky when I got my job as the lead, the venue brought in Jimmy Mullen and Steve Thonus to help steer me down the right path. Both of these guys have been rigging since I was a kid and taught me some invaluable lessons.

One of the first things Jimmy drove into my head was the importance of having some control over who is on your crew. You want to surround your self with the best players available. I love when I look around the room and there are several guys on my crew who are more experienced than I am. The idea that you need to surround yourself with people who suck to make you look better is just pure backwards thinking. In a perfect world , you, as the lead, will be able to hire your own crew, purely based on talent. Unfortunately , this is usually not the case. Many of us have to deal with union seniority, friends of the Business Agent or foreman, the whiners who always seem to get their way, or whatever else may be the case.

What Jimmy and Steve both expressed to me was that the talented riggers will move on, the slugs are here to stay. You have to do what you can do to limit the slugs on your crew. These people are like a cancer, they will suck the life out of your crew, poor work ethic spreads like a disease. Keep in mind that the good guys on your crew have to pick up the slack for the weak links, this pattern incubates bitterness on your crew. One of the most important things you can do to endear yourself to your crew, is to make an effort to eliminate the weak links. This is no easy task, and sometimes seems impossible, but you have to keep making the effort or things will get complacent.

You also need to recognize the difference between a slug and someone who may just be more of a type B personality, who needs a little push. We often speak of a riggers depth, it’s great to have good, fast, “shackle installers”, but it’s also important to have a core of guys both upstairs and down who understand the theory behind what we do. Encourage education, the International training fund will reimburse most educational costs. It’s also important for you to share information, I invite every body to come learn how to mark the floor. All my information is yours for the asking. I’ve never understood the practice of hoarding information. I like to think that if I get held up, there will be three guys stepping up with a laser and chalk who know the room well. Your crew will respect you more if you show them that you trust them to have your back, just as you should have theirs.

With that said, you also need to be constantly looking for, and recruiting, new talent. You already know who the hard workers are in your local, try to convince these same people who are talented electricians and carpenters to come over to the dark side. I try to actively do rigging and rescue practice sessions, give people a shot to come harness up and pull a point under a no pressure situation. I’ve been very surprised by some of the talented riggers who have become a part of our crew from these training sessions. People that it never would have occurred to you could pull one point, let alone lead a crew through the roof like a champ.

One of my favorite stories to tell is about Ren Cain. Here was a young kid that was afraid to stand on a six foot ladder. He came to one of our practice sessions a couple of years ago, he was walking in the center of the catwalk, white knuckling both hand rails, looking white as a ghost. I basically wrote him off, figuring he just came to say he was here. I went through my usual routine and took several people out and walked them though the routine. At what seemed like the end of the day, I was giving my little wrap up, I see Ren, harnessed up, center of the scoreboard catwalk, bracing himself. I will tell you, I was impressed, this kid was frightened, but looking to overcome it. As someone who was also pretty terrified his first time out, I have an idea what he was feeling. I walked him out and he did what he had to do, slowly and carefully, but he did it. It was a slow learning curve for Ren but now, less than a year later, he’s one of the faster guys on the crew, and he brought his step dad into the mix, one of the guys I had been trying to recruit since the building opened. He has also made several contacts and branched out on his own to become a pretty solid steel climber on some big outdoor gigs.

In my experience, you will always need support from outside locals. I’m always on the look out for the A-players when I’m out working in neighboring locals. There are very few, if any, venues that will support a crew of riggers full time so most of us are willing to travel to rig in different venues. You need to have a long list of good riggers outside of your core crew to insure that when the larger calls come around, you’re not just filling the numbers. When that friend of a friend comes through and all you see is their rope tail dropping in for work all morning, make sure to get that phone number. Production riggers are also a good resource, most of these guys don’t mind pulling a rope when they’re between gigs, gather as many numbers as you can. You also need to do what you can to make the outside guys want to come back. Make sure these are the first guys to get cut when the crew goes down, make the guys who don’t pull their weight stay for trim. Make sure these guys know that you appreciate them coming, you will need them over and over again.

You should be in constant communication with your BA/Call Steward to keep them informed about who’s working out and who isn’t. It’s hard to fill large calls, you need to make it easier on whoever is doing it by providing them a long list of talented riggers. You have to learn to evaluate talent quickly, because once these guys get on the rigging list, it’s tough to keep them off your calls no matter what their skill level.

I think it’s a constant battle to get past the point where 10% of the crew is doing 90% of the work, and maybe even a losing one. But you have to at least make sure that, as the current ten percenters move on to $greener$ pastures, you have young talent ready to step into their shoes.

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4 thoughts on “Building a Strong Crew

  1. So glad some one else (you) has publicly picked up on this and continue the path of this wisdom which applies (as I assume you must already realize) to all endeavors human. Truthful, honest, openly shared Knowledge and subsequent Expectations – Heavy Lifting in its’ own right.

  2. 10% v. 90%
    While this is a nearly universal truth in many industries, it is especially true in ours! Some guys are lucky that there are a lot of boxes to push. We can probably push the line to 20% through deliberate teaching. Don’t quit, people!

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