A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

A Conversation with a Fifth Grader

It was late summer, and I volunteered to bring popsicles for my son’s fifth grade class. We all met on the playground.  Then it happened.

One of my son’s friends asked me, “what do you do for a living?”

“That’s a mature question for a 10-year-old,” I thought to myself.

“We put people people to work in the construction industry,” I said.

A strange, concerned look overtook his face.  I turned my head sideways and took a bite of my popsicle.  He explained the look on his face.

“You’re not one of those companies.”

I turned my head sideways again.

“You know: one of those companies that takes advantage of people, pays low wages and no benefits.  Just trying to make a profit and doesn’t really care about its workers.”

The thought about this being a mature conversation with a fifth grader crossed by mind again.

I explained that can be a problem in construction, but not all construction companies take advantage of their employees.  I told him there are many great construction companies who pay well, offer benefits, career pathways and company-sponsored training.

I could tell this perception was fact in his little mind, and that bothered me.

First, there is an element of truth to this perception.  Sadly, there are construction companies who do take advantage of people.  There are common, well-known labor practices, especially with field-level employees, that give our industry a bad reputation.

Second, if this random fifth grader thinks it, how many others think this way about our industry – and at such a young age!  Ten years old!

Third, there really are great career opportunities in construction, and if this is the perception young people have, will they give our industry fair consideration, or will they rule it out before we even have a chance to make the case?

But in the end, I realized this is one thing that motivates our team at the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) to organize the CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships each year.  This is our 14th year, and once again, we will have record participation from employers, volunteers, students, teachers, counselors and parents from all over the state.  Our anticipated attendance this year is 8,000 people.

The other encouraging thing is that what started as an event for high school and technical college students has evolved into an event that attracts middle school and even elementary school students.  As illustrated in my playground story, we have to share our message with young people, starting as early as possible.

So to our many great construction companies who recognize the need to attract the next generation and who give their money and talent to make this event possible: Thank You!  Thank you for not just talking about the skilled labor shortage, but working hard to do something about it.

To our teachers, counselors, parents, and students: please take time to speak with the more than 300 employers on the CareerExpo floor.  Learn about our industry and the many awesome career opportunities available.  Take this message and help us spread it far and wide: the Construction Industry is a great place to work.  The industry is hungry for new, young talent.  It pays well, is extremely rewarding, and there are multiple opportunities for training and advancement now and in the years ahead.

Photos of the 2018 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships courtesy of CEFGA.