The construction industry is facing a massive labor shortage. Baby boomers who have worked in construction their entire lives are reaching retirement age, and there aren't enough skilled laborers available to replace them. In the last two decades, academics have focused primarily on getting into a good college and obtaining a four-year degree as the only path to success, often neglecting the wealth of opportunities available in construction fields.
How can construction companies work more closely with students to train the next generation of construction workers? Here are five strategies.
1. INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY
In spite of being a $1 trillion industry in the United States, the construction field has been slow to adopt new technologies. This means it's not as appealing for younger students who have grown up in a world immersed in tech. Construction dates back to the beginning of human civilization, and while the materials have changed, the processes are much the same.
The construction industry as a whole needs to move to adopt new technologies, both as a way to improve production processes and to entice new young individuals to enter the industry. Members of Generation X and Millennials have both lived through the invention and adoption of many new technologies, giving them a specific home field advantage.
It's just up to construction companies to start using this new equipment and techniques to help bring new blood into the field. The use of project management software, BIM and jobsite technology suggests to students that the industry is well-connected and provides room for further technological advancement.
2. GET INTO CLASSROOMS
Children love working with their hands. It gives them a sense of accomplishment when they can look over a job well done—or even a job partially done, depending on their age. When they get into school, it’s important for adults to foster this interest in an academic setting.
Turner Construction sets an example for this strategy with its YouthForce 2020 program. Turner professionals connect with students from kindergarten to high school to foster their interest in design and engineering. When students head to college, the program provides scholarships to support their studies in the construction industry.
Other construction companies can take a similar approach to working closely with students before they settle on a chosen career. They might host summer schools, provide after-school programs and offer mentorship opportunities with current employees. Though this will require a lot of extra time and effort, it can be a fantastic way to expose young students to the building industry, while providing them with some hands-on experience that can propel them forward.
3. OFFER COLLEGIATE PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMS
Laborers aren't the only ones who are missing from the construction industry. Skilled professionals, such as those who are trained to repair and maintain the heavy equipment, are also lacking in supply. Luckily, many potential recruits can be found in community colleges and universities within a company’s region.
That's why the Mustang CAT company in Texas launched a partnership program with local colleges. In addition to college coursework, students who participate in this program also get weeks of paid work experience, which can be valuable for students who might not have time for a part-time job to earn extra cash while they're in school.
By the end of the partnership program, students have an associates degree in applied science, and enough work experience to find a job in the industry. By partnering with local colleges, companies with recruitment needs can leverage additional workers by introducing college students to the industry as they’re working out their options.
4. DONATE TO CAREER PROGRAMS
College is expensive—the average cost of a single year in college is between $25,290 for an in-state public college and $50,900 for a private one. For students who don't secure scholarships or don't qualify for student loans or grants, higher education might seem out of reach. Even more students are left behind without support for earning a high school diploma, limiting their access to well-paying jobs. That's why some companies have started donating to career programs, which help students who want to build a career but don't have the means to do so on their own.
YouthBuild is one such program. This nonprofit organization teaches former high school dropouts construction skills while building new homes and refurbishing old ones. These skills are provided for free, but count as on-the-job experience for young adults who want to seek out a career in the construction industry.
Companies who want to try to bring new employees into the industry might want to consider donating time, money or projects to one of these local organizations. In Philadelphia, for instance, building materials manufacturer Saint-Gobain sponsored YouthBuild students, providing technology and training on environmental building practices. Not only did students benefit, but the company contributed to the growth of green-focused contractors in the region.
5. NETWORK WITH TEACHERS
Teachers are in the perfect position to introduce students to the construction industry, but they don't always have the opportunity due to a lack of information and strict curriculum rules. Construction company CEOs and supervisors can do a lot for the future of the industry workforce by networking with local teachers at every grade level.
While elementary school students won't be building a house, teachers and company representatives can introduce them to the concept of construction by making dollhouses or birdhouses or toy boxes. Field trips and class presentations are another great way to introduce curious students to the built environment.
The goal is to familiarize students with the idea of working with their hands and the joy and satisfaction that comes from completing a job well done. Start talking to local teachers and see when and where they can help you connect with the next generation of construction workers and technicians.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE FOR STUDENTS
Most industries are expected to grow dramatically in the next few years, and construction is key among them. Currently, the existing workforce just isn't enough to make up for the number of professionals retiring from the field.
It's up to construction company executives to figure out new ways to get young adults and recent graduates excited about construction as a possible career, and modeling successful outreach programs and partnerships can be a great start.
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