A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Why Not Construction? I Know Why, But You Might Not Like It!

The following article was originally published in Breaking Ground, The NCCER Blog by Jennifer Wilkerson, a Construction Citizen blogger and NCCER’s Director of Marketing, PR, and Build Your Future.  Reprinted with permission.

So why hasn’t the construction industry been able to change the public’s perception of careers in the industry? Why aren’t more young people choosing careers in construction? First, we need to stop having city, state and regional meetings to figure out what we should do. We need to stop patting ourselves on the back because we participated on a committee that produced a report or white paper detailing what should be done to combat the skilled workforce shortage in our industry.

It amazes me when I see outputs from committees all over the U.S. pontificating about the skills gap and discussing ways to connect education and industry, provide local and state support and unite communities, parents and businesses on the topic. They all say the same thing, and what amazes me even more is that these are not new ideas. These are the same ideas that the industry has expounded about for years. The problem is not figuring out what to do and how to do it, it is actually doing it.

People are eager to sit on a committee and give their opinion, but when they leave, they go back to their day jobs and feel proud that they contributed their opinion in hopes that someone else will do something with it. As an industry, acting on our ideas and utilizing our resources should not only be part of our job, it should be our responsibility. There is no need to recreate the wheel, but until we are on the same page and come together as an industry, we will continue to have meetings that result in familiar outputs that are documented as great ideas. We will also continue to lose young talent to other industries that are doing a far better job recruiting and retaining than the construction industry.

Owners and contractors should stop sending people to meetings and instead start implementing best practices that already exist. If you want to figure out how to get your state involved in funding, then follow the example of Mississippi, which just had their second bill signed into law increasing contractor licensing fees to fund construction craft training. If you want to know what needs to be done within in your state’s Department of Education, then look to Alabama, which requires career exploration classes for all ninth graders and recently hired nearly 100 career coaches. Want to know how to involve education at all levels and get a community involved within our industry? Look at how Robins & Morton transformed the community of Millen, Georgia. If you want to know how to unite schools, industry and state workforce development commissions, look at the model that Louisiana created. If you want to see how industry took the lead in educating young people and got the attention of the local school system, then look at the Craft Training Center of Coastal Bend, which has a job placement rate of 95-98 percent.

These are only a few of the success stories that can be duplicated across the nation. In addition to these models, there are also resources that exist too. Want to find out which schools are interested in having someone from your company come and talk to their students about construction opportunities? Go to the NCCER Construction Career Pathways Connection Map and search your local area. There are hundreds of schools that are looking for classroom speakers or companies interested in participating in local career events. In fact, we recently surveyed 1,400 students at career events from across the country and found that 92 percent said the career event made them view construction careers favorably, and nearly 30 percent said that the event made them decide to choose a career in construction.

Build Your Future already has recruitment resources available, including more than 20 craft professional trading cards with craft-specific information for careers ranging from welder to electrician to heavy equipment operator. Build Your Future’s website even has downloadable manuals that provide steps and tips to plan a successful career event.

As an educator for 13 years, daughter of a contractor, wife of a welder, part owner in a small welding firm and a director at NCCER, I know the construction industry offers incredible career opportunities for people everywhere. I think it is time for our industry to take action and let the rest of America know what a great industry we are. Let’s stop talking about it and start doing it!