Craft professionals in construction have the “gift of choice” and the chance to be the author of their own future. That was the main message from Mike Bellaman, President and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors, as he spoke to students graduating from the Workforce Development Program at MAREK this year.
“When you’re making choices it’s about leadership and fortitude,” Bellaman told those gathered at MAREK headquarters in Houston for their annual workforce development dinner and graduation. “When you reflect back on your career or your life you remember moments and these are driven by your choices.” He talked about his own personal experiences – from the highs of playing major league baseball and running large construction firms to the lows of living in his car for a time. In all those situations, his personal choices made all the difference for good or bad.
“There will be moments of truth where your choice will change the trajectory of your career or your life and in those moments, there will be lots of pressures,” he said. “Having fundamental principles that guide you will help make those choices quite easy,” Bellaman said.
What’s an example of those fundamental principles?
During an interview with Construction Citizen before his speech, Bellaman said individuals at companies face tough choices as do the overall organizations. A “moment of truth” for a firm with its reputation might happen when they receive outside pressure to compromise the safety of craft professionals on a jobsite.
“That choice is easy,” Bellaman said, because MAREK and other like-minded companies have the fundamental belief that safety is a top priority. “No matter what other choice I make, I am not going to compromise on that,” Bellaman said. “That will lead to your legacy.”
Each summer, MAREK honors and celebrates their employees who have completed important training milestones during the previous year. Those craft professionals harnessing these skills have all kinds of opportunities in front of them, Bellaman said.
Across the country, there are 440,000 jobs open in construction and the total spend is around $1.3 trillion for the entire industry. That’s up from $1.26 trillion in the prior year, Bellaman noted.
Backlogs are around eight months, which has been “steadily high” and the confidence level across industry leaders is that 90 percent think business will stay steady or increase in the months and years ahead.
Bellman said when they poll the members of ABC across the nation, the percentage of those who think they will need a smaller workforce than they have now is in the single digits.
“We all know that not everyone advertises all their actual job openings,” Bellaman said. “I think that remains in alignment in terms of that demand.”
“If you look at what MAREK does starting with juniors and seniors in the Houston Independent School District, that’s great,” Bellaman said, pointing to recruitment efforts. “You have to make the industry attractive. You have to tell the story,” he said, adding that “people can really realize that they can achieve their dreams.”
Bellaman said recruitment efforts are key, and not just in schools.
“We are trying to touch all the entry points including kids coming out of high school, dropouts coming out of college, and the military,” Bellaman said. He pointed out that many companies have programs working with veterans to maximize their opportunities.
“When they know they’re leaving the military they need to have an idea of where they’re going,” Bellaman said. That’s why there’s a bootcamp program to familiarize veterans with the industry. “We’re pretty confident our members will hire that soldier,” Bellaman said. “If they get through that bootcamp program our members will hire them,” he said. “We’ve got some wonderful stories of those who want to change their lives.”
But despite those programs and others aimed at helping former inmates with their reentry into communities, Bellaman admits the industry could do a better job of spreading the word about opportunities.
“We’re a best kept secret industry,” Bellaman said of the misconceptions about construction. “That’s where we can do a lot better.”