The construction industry faces a stark shortage of workers, but programs and people across the country are working at the local level to solve the problem. This series highlights the grassroots efforts helping to recruit the next generation of construction pros. Read previous entries here.
A Salisbury, Maryland-based general contractor is taking a different approach to its recruitment literature.
To better inform young people about a career in the trades, Chris Eccleston, founder and CEO of Delmarva Veteran Builders, and Jenny Kerr Schroen, the firm’s creative developer and graphic designer, have written and are publishing a children’s adventure book.
“Grit Leads to Greatness” uses the same title as Delmarva Veteran Builders’ tagline, one Eccleston and Schroen say captures the way the company approaches its work. Seeing the large labor gap the industry continues to face while the GC’s subcontractor base started to diminish spurred Eccleston to act, he said.
“We decided we need to do something about this to engage people, get them interested in the construction trades where we are,” he told Construction Dive.
Geared toward kids aged 6 to 12 years old, “Grit Leads to Greatness” tells the story of Trig and Teigan, siblings who live in a decaying city that has forgotten how to build, as its citizens are hypnotized by glowing stones they carry.
Over the course of about 40 pages, the siblings go on an adventure, encountering an ogre mason, a snow gnome (or snome) carpenter, an amphibious plumber and “the electrician magician.”
Penned by Eccleston and Schroen with illustrations by Justin Donaldson and Rachel Danae, the book seeks to get kids from 2nd to 5th grade excited about various jobs in the construction trades.
Schroen said she took inspiration from projects from her childhood.
“When I was 10 years old, there was a whole push to teach about saving the planet … so they actually used cartoons to convey the message and to show kids that they actually could save the world,” she said. “There were cartoons called ‘Captain Planet’ and movies like ‘FernGully’ that worked really trying to shape the way kids solve the planet, and I personally was moved by that. And I actually took that idea about how I felt as a 10-year-old and applied it to this.”
Thus far, the book has been read in front of about 2,000 elementary school kids, and Eccleston and Schroen are pleased with the reception and feedback from teachers and parents, they said.
In addition to the reading events, they hired live action characters and a costume company to make what Eccleston called “movie-quality costumes” for actors to wear and interact with kids.
The book is available for pre-order, and will go on sale in June. Schroen and Eccleston used a hybrid self-publishing model, partnering with Mascot Books in Herndon, Virginia.
“I think the industry has an image problem, and it’s not with kids; kids love construction,” Eccleston said.
He, like many, has seen decades of educational institutions pushing students toward college or other higher education, while construction has become “second class” or “an alternative route,” he said.
An important aspect to the effort, Schroen said, isn’t trying to make each kid suddenly pursue construction as their dream job, but rather ensure it doesn’t become merely a backup option.
“We’re not just trying to create new construction workers, we’re trying to make advocates for the industry,” she said.