The Future of Construction Depends on High-School Students

By partnering with schools and reaching out to students, contractors can capitalize on the next generation of “new-collar workers” who have the technical aptitude and soft skills to lead the construction industry into the future.
By Meredith Love
October 31, 2019

Across the country, the demand for construction labor is continuing to grow—and the supply is continuing to dwindle. From a continued flood of retiring construction workers to a significant decrease in the availability of immigrant labor, numerous factors are affecting the construction labor pool and making it more difficult for companies to hire top talent.

While all levels of the construction industry are affected by the labor shortage, the trades have been hit especially hard. As a result, construction companies need an infusion of so-called “new-collar workers,” who have pursued less traditional and more targeted training and education opportunities. The industry is starting by reaching out to an unexpected source for help: young students.

Bringing Back Shop Class

After years of being cut from educational budgets at the high school and community college levels, shop classes are making a comeback. For example, high schools in the Dallas, Texas, area are developing courses to bring awareness to the construction industry and how much it can offer up-and-coming workers.

Many students are unaware that they can make a living in trade jobs or through construction labor—without racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt by pursuing a four-year degree. In fact, the reality is that much of the technology and many of the programs taught in four-year construction programs are obsolete by the time students graduate. Trade-specific high school and community college programs, which are often taught by industry professionals, may be more practical and a better value.

Shop classes are helping educate students on what it really means to work in the construction industry. They’re also exposing students to the knowledge that STEM careers exist outside of software development and other high-profile tech fields. And unlike many STEM careers, jobs in the trades are recession-proof: No matter how the economy is doing, people will always need skilled plumbers, electricians and construction laborers.

Reaching Them While They’re Young

In an effort to reach students before their confidence and interest levels in this type of education drop, some programs are even reaching out at the elementary level. The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program and The Museum of Science in Boston have started providing funding and educational resources to elementary schools throughout the country, to assist in training teachers to teach basic engineering concepts to their students.

This is particularly valuable for girls and children of color; studies show that after middle school, these groups are less likely to pursue hands-on or STEM-related subjects due to a lack of confidence. But in elementary school, there’s a level playing field, so instilling confidence and interest at a young age can increase the chances that underrepresented students will participate in high school shop classes and pursue construction careers in the future.

Given that women currently represent only about 10% of the construction industry, tapping into that demographic can pay significant dividends to the industry over multiple generations. Studies show that children are more likely to pursue careers where they see themselves represented, particularly by influential adults such as their teachers, parents and neighbors. So every woman and person of color who enters the industry can serve as a mentor to the next generation’s youth, who see that anybody can be successful in the construction industry.

Developing Partnerships

The construction industry is recognizing the need to be hands-on with these educational partners in order to successfully bring interested students into the industry. Mentorship programs such as the ACE Mentor Program of America are designed to help students who are interested in architecture, construction and engineering realize their potential. More than 8,000 students benefited from that program alone in 2016 to 2017.

Other ways to partner with local high schools and community colleges include developing apprenticeship programs that allow students to gain hands-on experience, and offering scholarships or tuition reimbursement to students who want to pursue technical certifications or other trade degrees while working for a company.

In every industry, children are the future, but that’s especially true of the construction industry. By partnering with schools and reaching out to students, construction companies can capitalize on the next generation of “new-collar workers” who have the technical aptitude and soft skills to lead the construction industry into the future.

by Meredith Love
Meredith began her career with Kimmel & Associates as an Associate in 2002. She has a BA from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Western Carolina University. As the Division Leader in the Owner/Developer Division, Meredith’s industry knowledge and expertise have made her one of the top recruiters in the construction industry.

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