Companies that have not been thinking down the road in terms of their future workforce must do so now. The construction industry has long battled an inconsistent image. Many people perceive construction-related work as dirty, difficult, dangerous, low-paying, unethical and discriminatory to women. In addition, many people who lost their jobs over the past several years have turned to other lines of work. How will the industry ensure that it can attract the best and the brightest as soon as the economy rebounds and the war for talent reignites? How do we get people interested in the industry now?
One of the best ways to start attracting people to the industry is to make today’s youth aware of the different types of opportunities in the built environment. This is not an easy task. Luckily, a number of programs exist to attract young people to construction. One of the most prominent is the ACE Mentor Program of America, Inc., which is striving to ensure that young people consider careers in architecture, construction and engineering.
ACE MENTORING PROGRAM
The principals of leading design and construction firms founded the ACE Mentor Program in 1994 as an innovative way to introduce high school students to career opportunities in the industry. Today, it is the construction industry’s fastest-growing high school mentoring program, reaching more than 8,000 students annually. Its goal is to introduce students to career possibilities as well as to teach business skills such as effective communication, presentation skills, meeting deadlines, working as team members, etc.
Students learn about the various design professions and the role of each in planning, designing and constructing a project. Project teams are formed within a local ACE affiliate and usually include an owner firm, a design firm, an engineering firm and a construction manager or general contractor as well as participants from a local college or university with programs in architecture, engineering or construction management. Each team mentors approximately 20 to 30 students for part of the school year and meets at least 15 times. Students select a project and go through the entire design process, with help from the mentoring firms. The school year ends with a formal event where the teams present their projects.
The ACE Mentor Program has a presence in more than 200 American cities and is still growing. Thanks to the dedication of ACE’s mentors and staff, and the support of local schools, more than 60,000 students have had the opportunity to explore the building, design and construction industry and consider it as a career choice. To learn more about ACE, please visit its website: http://www.acementor.org/.
BLOCK KIDS BUILDING PROGRAM
In 1989, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) introduced its Block Kids Building Program, which is geared toward elementary school children. The Block Kids program is a national building competition sponsored by local NAWIC chapters. Students from kindergarten to grade 6 are eligible to participate in the competition. They are given a variety of materials such as blocks, string and foil, and have one hour to build a structure of their choice. Winning projects are entered into a regional and national competition. These competitions help these students realize that building is an adventure and requires people in many functions to make it all happen. To learn more about Block Kids, please visit NAWIC’s Education Foundation website: http://nawiceducation.wildapricot.org/.
HOME IMPROVEMENT STORE WORKSHOPS
Some of the national home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot, have also developed classes for school-aged children. Home Depot has offered its Kids Workshop since 1997. Designed for children ages 5–12, the workshops are free and teach a variety of do-it-yourself skills and tool safety. Some of the projects have included the creation of toolboxes, fire trucks, birdhouses and mail organizers. Children who participate get to keep their project and receive a certificate of achievement, workshop apron and a commemorative pin.
Lowe’s Build and Grow Kids Clinics are also free to young children. On Saturday mornings kids get to take a free class and build things such as wooden toys, birdhouses, picture frames, treasure boxes and games. Children get a free project kit, apron and goggles as well.
Founded in 1990, YouthBuild USA is a national nonprofit organization that works with unemployed and undereducated young people ages 16–24 to rebuild their communities and their lives. Those enrolled in this 10-month program work toward their GED or high school diplomas while learning construction skills by building affordable housing for low-income families and the homeless. There are 273 YouthBuild programs nationwide and in the Virgin Islands, with approximately 10,000 participants annually.
One of the main goals of YouthBuild is that participants return to school as well as find jobs in various construction trades. More than 120,000 YouthBuild students have produced more than 22,000 units of affordable (and increasingly green) housing since the organization formed. For more information, visit its website at http://youthbuild.org/.
A popular recruitment strategy for many construction companies and trade associations is to participate in high school career fairs, work with high school career counselors to promote jobs in the construction industry, and advertise construction-related scholarships. These efforts to improve the construction industry’s image and reputation have recently started targeting even younger kids, starting as early as elementary school.
HELMETS TO HARDHATS
Helmets to Hardhats, a program to help military personnel find commercial construction jobs, was launched in January 2003 after a $3.4 million appropriation for the pilot program was approved by Congress as part of the Defense Appropriations Act. While it is not geared toward only the young, many of its participants are in their early- to mid-20s.
According to its website (http://www.helmetstohardhats.org/), “Helmets to Hardhats is a national, nonprofit program that connects National Guard, Reserve, retired and transitioning active-duty military service members with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry. The program is designed to help military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the construction industry.”
Most of the program’s career opportunities are connected to federally approved apprenticeship training programs at no cost to the veteran, and no prior experience is needed; in fact, most successful placements start with virtually no experience in their chosen field. Since these apprenticeship programs are regulated and approved at federal and state levels, veterans can use their Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits to supplement their income while learning new skills and receiving on-the-job training.
The Helmets to Hardhats program is an excellent way for the construction industry to employ new workers who have already acquired the discipline and dependability as well as the leadership skills and the safety training that is emphasized by the military. Another is that these veterans offer the construction industry a steady labor pool, as many of them are looking to begin their careers without having to go to college or through technical training first. It certainly benefits the construction industry by alleviating labor shortages with candidates who have already received training in related skills. And it helps to ease the transition from military to civilian life by providing good career opportunities and benefits to those who have served their country.
There are various ways to attract people to the construction industry. Industry leaders, trade associations and other stakeholders must make efforts to expose today’s young people to a career in construction, and getting involved with some of the organizations and programs mentioned in this article is an excellent way to start.
Kelley Chisholm is editor of FMI Quarterly. She can be reached at 919.782.9215 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.