In my role as the leader of Graniterock's Aggregate Division, I have the opportunity to talk with a wide range of executives in the local construction and construction materials industries.
We talk about the ups and downs of the construction market, the industry's ongoing struggle to secure enough infrastructure funding and a variety of other topics.
But our discussions keep coming back to one critical issue.
Where are we going to find the next generation of skilled construction craft workers?
My local colleagues and I aren't alone in this concern. The Associated General Contractors of America announced recently that 86 percent of the nation's construction firms report trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key roles in their organizations.
While it may seem counter-intuitive that an industry that laid off thousands of workers during the Great Recession now faces a talent shortage, the predicament is real. Today in our region, hundreds more construction craft workers are retiring each year than are entering the workforce.
Why is this happening? In truth, a number of factors have combined to substantially weaken what was once a strong pipeline for new construction workers.
Public vocational and technical education programs have been dismantled or under-funded. Participation in union apprenticeship training has declined. High schools increasingly have pushed students in the direction of college preparatory programs. And the problem is worse for companies like ours, in the heavy civil sector of the construction industry, because to the extent local schools do highlight and offer preparation for construction careers, their emphasis is solely on “sticks and bricks” building construction.
In addition, our experience has been that local unions are not designing effective solutions to the impending construction workforce crisis. Neither are local governments or educational institutions.
So at Graniterock, we decided to take action. We pride ourselves on serving as industry leaders, and in this area we decided to take some creative, independent action to address this workforce shortage problem ourselves. "Why not experiment with something no one else is doing?," we thought.
One upshot of this thinking was The Construction Academy, sponsored by Graniterock.
This year, we have partnered closely with two local high schools – Watsonville High School, and James Lick High School in San Jose – to introduce a construction-focused educational program to more than 50 students.
The purpose of The Construction Academy program is to develop a set of local, young adults who can become a part of the Graniterock workforce (or the local construction workforce) after either their graduation from high school, community college or a university. In addition, we hope The Construction Academy more broadly introduces to a generation of young adults the potential career opportunities in the heavy civil construction and construction materials industries. The students involved have all "self-selected" – in other words, they've expressed serious interest in pursuing a construction-related career.
We plan to accomplish our goal by offering a rich series of hands-on educational experiences to these students. Already, in the 2015-2016 version of The Construction Academy, students have visited a variety of heavy civil construction jobsites, discussed education and career paths with multiple construction professionals and absorbed the wide variety of job opportunities available in the mining and materials research segment of our industry.
In later 2015-2016 Academy sessions, students will tour and understand the operation of our ready-mix concrete, hot mix asphalt and recycle plants, they'll learn how to estimate small concrete and asphalt projects, and they'll get to witness that concrete and asphalt work performed (on their high school campuses) according to the plans and estimates they've put together.
In addition, students in The Construction Academy will review key technologies used in heavy civil construction work, including drones, survey techniques, and GPS controls on heavy equipment.
We've been soliciting input from students throughout The Construction Academy. One of my favorite comments so far was from a young woman who noted, "I've learned that to succeed, you have to have confidence in yourself. People take lots of different college majors before getting into construction, but that doesn't matter. Work hard, and you can do anything you set your mind to."
These are the folks we want to hire as Graniterock's next generation of construction workers. We'll continue to update you on our efforts to recruit and inspire this next generation. We'd appreciate hearing from our customers and colleagues about what is working for you. Contact us at email@example.com.