At its inaugural National Construction Workforce Summit, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) exhorted contractors to make connections with local schoolteachers, administrators and parents as a way to get kids interested in construction and provide a long-term solution to the skilled trades talent shortage.
“Ultimately, everyone in the construction industry is going to have to get involved to solve this problem,” said Brian Turmail, Vice President for Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives with AGC of America. “No one is going to do it for us.”
One of the speakers at the summit was Eric Fisher, teacher at Hamilton Heights High School just outside of Indianapolis. He spoke with attendees about his construction ed program, saying that local contractors have come into his class multiple times to speak with students and do demonstrations. “Just the other day we had a master mason come in to mix mortar and lay bricks.”
“My encouragement to contractors is to find out who is teaching industrial arts and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to help you?’” Eric said. “It’s about making a connection. The more the kids in high school have positive interactions with a contractor, the more likely they are to consider construction as a career and we can turn around the skilled trades talent shortage.”
The summit was held in St. Louis in October of 2021. The summit brought together AGC chapter staff, contractors, union reps and educators in one room to brainstorm how to create a pipeline of high school kids entering the skilled trades.
Here are some of the ideas that were shared at the summit:
Contractors “adopting” a high school to source speakers, create career fairs, etc.
“We’re talking about connecting with more than just the ‘shop class,’” Brian said. “We want broader penetration. Contractors need to become known by local school officials and teachers so they can understand what construction’s all about. That way, they can include it in their options when they’re discussing career paths with students. All teachers and guidance counselors know about construction is what they see when they drive past a construction site. If you don’t live it, you don’t think about it. This is a way to get into the psyche of school officials.”
Brief summer academy for students
“This is a way to offer students a chance to come into your business and learn about the industry,” Brian said. “You can even work it out that the students can get school credit for coming to the academy. When you get them inside your firm, they can see all the things they could do in construction in addition to building structures.”
Youth apprenticeship for 16- and 17-year-olds
“At the summit, we had a teacher share about his apprenticeship program. He was able to get funding through the Department of Labor. The construction education program was registered with the Department of Labor. This is going to give the kids some formalized training in construction.”
“Educating the educators” through visits to jobs sites and interaction with industry employees
“For example, you’d bring the teachers and guidance counselors out to a project site, show them what’s involved,” Brian said. “Broaden their understanding.”
Partner with school districts to provide credit courses
“This would be similar to the summer academy, but you’d do it at school during the school year. There are all sorts of disciplines that you could teach to—math and science, for example. Construction isn’t just about swinging hammers.”
Exposing grade school kids to construction
“The kids are already doing crafts—Lincoln Logs. This is a way to show them that there is a whole career related to constructing things with your hands. For example, bring them to the equipment warehouse—have a ‘petting zoo’ when they can climb on the equipment.”
Externship program for teachers, parents and students to hear from apprentices, equipment operators and employers
“In an externship program, teachers spend a semester actually working with construction firms and learning about the profession. This is a great way to make sure that what the teacher teaches about construction to the students mirrors what is happening in the real world. There are grants to help make this happen.”
None of these ideas are quick fixes, Brian acknowledged. The industry needs to “play the long game,” he said.
“It’s about making an investment in time and effort to begin building those relationships and getting educators to think of construction as a career path. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we need to start now. If we don’t invest now we won’t have anybody to work our projects for us. We got to put a huge effort in now until the pendulum swings back and schools value careers in construction.”
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