Is going to a traditional four-year academic university the only true path for success? To definitively answer that, we have to first understand what success looks like and how we measure it. Merriam-Webster defines success as a “favorable or desired outcome,” as well as the “attainment of wealth or favor.” By this definition, success would be dependent on what we ourselves see as desired or favorable. Are we considering only monetary value or the work-life balance that connects us with family? What do we measure as favorable — a high salary, job security, being able to work with our hands?
Many of us want to know we’re supporting our families to the best of our abilities while doing something we find meaningful. Knowing the company we work for is making some sort of difference in the world — taking pride in what we’re doing — is important. In addition, the security a good job with benefits can bring is significant. But how are we approaching the idea of achieving success with our children or with students? Are we implying the only way to succeed is through a four-year university degree? That, unless they receive scholarships which help soften the cost incurred by going to college, even a public university, the only path to success is one down a road filled with debt and possibly even a struggle to find gainful employment. As Tim Johnson, founder and president of the TJC Group stated, “Today we know that 70% of the jobs that exist in the U.S. economy require something less than a four-year college degree.” Is a four-year academic degree the right path for some people? Yes, of course! Is it the only path to success? Absolutely not!
“I’m not sure who predetermined that success meant that you had to go to a four-year college in order to find opportunities, but that could not be further from the truth,” shares Jennifer Wilkerson, director of marketing at NCCER. “We have to start thinking about success in a whole new way and talk about the many opportunities in construction.” Starting these conversations about the benefits of a career in construction are crucial to the recruitment of the next generation of craft professionals, especially with 80 percent of contractors reporting difficulty in finding hourly skilled workers. We are lacking the trained professionals needed to build our infrastructure and projects and have lost our edge as an innovative, progressive country because at the beginning of everything is construction — from the roof over our heads to the roads we travel.
Starting the Conversation
How do we regain the progress we’ve lost? As “Restoring the Dignity of Work: Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System into a World Leader” points out, one of the first changes we can implement is to “communicate all career paths to students in secondary education and their parents.” Career paths include a wide variety of options, including career and technical education (CTE), technical schools and work-based learning programs such as apprenticeships. Tommy Collins, who entered the industry as a pipefitter and is now the chief operating office of S&B Engineers and Constructors, states, “The construction industry has always been a gateway to limitless professional opportunity for anyone who wants to work hard and commit themselves to lifelong learning and self-improvement — anyone. I know because I’ve walked the walk myself.”
To jumpstart this communication, many states throughout the U.S. are celebrating October as Careers in Construction Month, spearheaded by NCCER’s Build Your Future (BYF) initiative. This month-long celebration begins with representatives from each state requesting their governor proclaim October as Careers in Construction Month (CICM) and continues with career days, recognition of craft professionals and more. CICM is the perfect way to kick off a discussion about what success looks like, and the many ways to achieve it. In addition, BYF provides resources for educators and industry representatives alike, including how-to guides, infographics, posters, craft trading cards and more, to help each state spread awareness of opportunities within the industry.
The benefit of celebrating CICM is immense — from the impact of how many states proclaim to the students learning about construction at career days to the sheer publicity of uniting as a nation to recognize craft professionals. However, we should use the momentum to continue the discussion about the opportunities available in the industry and support the programs that are training the next generation of skilled workers. With the time needed to become fully trained, we must show students the merits of careers in construction and the value of choosing a career path that provides high salaries, growth opportunities and meaningful work.
In fact, the value of craftsmanship and diverse opportunities available in the industry is recognized in an exciting film, “Good Work: Masters of Building Arts,” recently released on PBS (check local listings). Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmakers Marjorie Hunt and Paul Wagner and co-produced with the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Good Work honors American craftsmanship and the men and women working behind the scenes to bring enduring beauty to the built environment.
“Craftsmanship is defined as ‘the beautiful or impressive quality of something that has been made using a lot of skill’. Construction craft professionals exhibit this routinely and every member of our society benefits from this in almost all aspects of their daily life. However, over the past few decades, our society has steadily undervalued their skills and contributions to our built environment,” says Don Whyte, chief executive officer of NCCER. “We must recapture the dignity of work as well as the pride and honor inherent in skilled occupations. As the construction industry builds the world, it must also polish its image and hold all workers in high regard.”
Connecting Industry to Education
As we continue showing students and parents the value of choosing construction, there are multiple ways industry can become involved in building a talent pipeline to the workforce. From volunteering on advisory boards to working directly with schools to offering hands-on training, companies are connecting with education across the nation.
Determined to make an impact on the skilled workforce shortages facing the construction industry in Virginia, a new partnership has been formed by the Virginia chapters of Associated General Contractors (AGCVA) and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABCVA) in conjunction with BYF to be a catalyst for recruiting the next generation of craft professionals. Providing details about salaries in construction, training available in Virginia and companies hiring, BYF Virginia represents a lifeline for parents, teachers, school counselors and students thinking about their future. Designed to help students who are looking into options beyond the traditional university track, this resource highlights pathways to find meaningful, good-paying positions in the construction industry through work-based learning, certifications and credentials.
Northwest Arkansas Community College’s Mobile Construction Labs, equipped with various tools, safety equipment and generators, are engaging students by traveling to various secondary schools. Dawn Stewart, the district’s career and technical education director explains, “It’s not only for career exploration but also those hands-on learning experiences related to construction.” From carpentry to welding, young people are being introduced to new crafts and able to earn NCCER industry-recognized credentials. “It gives students a head start in the workforce,” points out Cori Miller, project Manager with Crossland Construction, “and it gives employers more knowledgeable and invested apprentices.”
Wayne J. Griffin Electric (Griffin Electric) took their apprenticeship program to the next level by partnering with Wentworth Institute of Technology to incorporate technical skills and hands-on, practical education. Graduates of Griffin Electric’s Apprenticeship Training Program have the chance to pursue an Associate of Applied Science degree in Engineering and Technology (AENT). For both Wentworth and Griffin Electric, this partnership presents a rewarding opportunity to share curriculum, deliver in-house training to Griffin employees and assist them in the goal of becoming future leaders within the electrical industry.
These organizations, and others like them, are showing it’s possible to make changes now that are necessary for our continued growth as a country. Not only does construction afford us ease of life and convenience, but it also offers occupations that have been overlooked for far too long. We have encouraged our children to attend traditional academic college paths as the only way to find fulfillment and financial freedom to their detriment — and ours. From secondary to postsecondary students, organizations are providing an introduction to the industry, the ability to earn credentials or the chance to be an apprentice — all demonstrating that success is not measured only by a four-year degree. Students are seeing for themselves the skills that go into working in construction and what their jobs could be — and hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn more about any subject. Through industry and education working together, we can begin rebuilding the workforce with skilled craft professionals and highlight construction as a career of choice