A huge challenge in matching qualified candidates with jobs as craft professionals revolves around misconceptions about exactly what’s required of someone seeking such a career. People will say things to themselves like “well, I don’t have any experience” or “I have a felony on my record” and so those folks won’t even apply. Many people also think women have no place in construction, which is absolutely untrue.
As it turns out, neither lack of experience nor a criminal history will prevent the right person from obtaining a well-paying job as a craft professional. Oh, and women are some of the best candidates for certain jobs in construction because they demonstrate better attention to detail and have more patience than men in many instances, according to industry experts.
Some adult education students got a chance to discover the facts during a question and answer session with construction executives who visited Community Family Centers in Houston’s historic East End this past week. Maritza Guerrero, President and CEO of Community Family Centers said the organization was happy to host the discussion because it’s the kind of boost their students need. "I am thrilled to support this craft professional program because it opens more opportunities to our students that will help them achieve their dreams and hopes for a better future," Guerrero said.
"If you are willing to work, employers don't care about your shape, color, or whatever," said Saied Alavi, Division Operations Manager at Marek in Houston. Alavi told students they don’t necessarily even need any prior experience in construction to start working with the company.
"We will take people with no experience whatsoever," he said. "We have a training program in which you are paired with a coach, a mentor, who will train you on everything you need to know about that skill," Alavi said. "The only thing that's required is you show up and say that you are ready to go to work."
Alavi said a person with no experience can walk in the door making $24,000 for their starting salary. "Within a year, you could be making $15 an hour," Alavi said. Pay can rise to about $70,000 to $80,000 as a person works their way up to supervisor managing people in the field, he said.
Saied Alavi discusses Marek's Workforce Development program and career opportunities
Randy Walker, Vice President Power Group and Home Office Construction Services for S&B Engineers and Constructors, told the students that the need for craft professionals is going to grow exponentially in the next few years. If current trends hold, Walker said industrial construction projects from Texas to Mississippi will see a shortfall of about 50,000 people.
Working for S&B, Walker said people just starting out earn about $10 an hour. After about 90 days, a person is promoted to a “helper” in a craft and is placed in a training program. The wage increases will then quickly go from a dollar an hour to three dollars an hour depending on which craft a person has chosen.
One thing Walker noted as extremely positive was the number of women who attended the panel discussion. The perception that only large men can work in construction is simply false, Walker said. "You'll see that the physical demands of some of the crafts are a lot less than some of the others," he said. "Women fit in particular places and particular jobs much better than men do," he said, adding that women make fantastic heavy equipment operators, for example.
Another one of the executives in the panel discussion, Regional HR Manager at ISC Constructors Geraldine Cabriales, told the group that her story is not unlike some of their experiences. Like many of the students gathered at Community Family Centers, Cabriales did not graduate high school but she did obtain her GED and then attended college. She went to work first as an office helper, then became a time keeper, recruiter, and worked her way up to HR Manager. "If you have a will, there's a way," Cabriales said.
ISC is always looking for people who can start working for them at entry level positions, Cabriales said. The company is happy to help pay for training. "The goal is always to make you a journeyman," Cabriales said, but by no means is that a ceiling. “We’ll help you advance even further if you want to do that,” she said. "You're going to come in green. You will start from the bottom and you're going to have to work your way up."
Some of the students seemed very concerned about whether a criminal history would be a roadblock to a fresh start in a new career. “What if you have a felony?” one student asked bluntly. “How does that work?”
Randy Walker of S&B was candid in his response. When it comes to industrial construction, there are some jobsites where felons can work and there are others where they cannot, he said. There are always ongoing projects that would fit on both of those categories, he said, and so a person should not exclude themselves from the application process.
Saied Alavi of Marek echoed Walker’s comments and said that in commercial construction, there is also flexibility depending on the jobsite and the nature of the criminal background. Much of it depends on how long ago the crime was committed and what kind of crime it was, Walker said.
Alavi, Walker, and Cabriales all agreed that if a student enters the construction field and decides the specific job they’re in isn’t a good fit, they should explore other options.
"What's not unusual in the industry is that you’ll end up wanting a different job than the one you’ve originally chosen,” Walker said. “You shouldn’t feel as though you are locked into a specific job. You can find something within the industry that you like better," he said. "That's fine.”