Building a Workforce Through Community Engagement

Callie Morris

By Callie Morris

Many high school students are constantly asked the dreaded question, “What are your plans after high school?” It is a monumental decision that is not to be taken lightly; should they follow in their parents’ footsteps and become doctors? Should they take a year off and travel the world? Should they follow their hearts and pursue a career in the arts? Whatever the path, it can feel very daunting to students, especially if they are not given proper exposure to the variety of in-demand career paths that exist.

It can also be defeating to spend thousands of dollars on an undergraduate degree only to realize you do not enjoy the career path, it is not well paying, or that it may not have the high demand you originally thought it would. Today’s job market is competitive and places a high expectation on students to have a college degree, but also multiple years of experience only to earn a base salary that may barely break the $50,000 a year mark.

As the construction market continues to grow at a rapid pace, the industry is in desperate need of qualified skilled tradespeople. According to Build Colorado, the industry is expected to grow 31 percent by 2027, which equates to roughly 47,000 jobs. There has been a noticeable gap in the younger generation showing interest in those skilled trades, partially due to lack of exposure to construction and understanding what the benefits are for joining this industry. While historically construction firms
worked to showcase these opportunities through traditional postings and college job fairs, they are now recognizing that other avenues are required to provide earlier visibility to meet the demand, one of which includes actively partnering with non-profit organizations who are working at the high school level.

Non-profits like Junior Achievement has helped to bridge the gap that many contractors have been looking for. Junior Achievement partners with schools to teach students about financial literacy and career planning, which is a perfect partnership for construction. They work with schools that offer various types of construction or trade programs to educate students on the basics of construction and then collaborate with construction industry partners to help provide students with hands on experience. This includes in-person or virtual jobsite walks and in-depth interviews with various support departments and field employees.

Before these types of programs, many students were unaware or lacked full understanding of the various avenues within construction. These avenues include field trades and supervision, project management or internal support departments such as scheduling, Building Information Modeling, and preconstruction in addition to the plethora of construction trade opportunities ranging from engineering to masonry. Giving students an early look at the multitude of benefits these professions provide. such as competitive pay and benefit packages, paid training opportunities, and the advantage of always having different day-to-day activities allows them to make informed decisions about their futures.

Some companies have been taking these efforts a step further by supporting local agencies and committees on workforce development initiatives. Organizations such as Colorado Succeeds, the Association of General Contractors Colorado, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and others are helping to advance the mission. Leveraging business leadership and community connectivity to advocate for state policies that create opportunities for learners that lead to expanded career pathways linked to Colorado’s fastest growing, high-wage jobs.

Joel Pennick, JE Dunn vice president and advocate for workforce development, expressed that “It’s important that everyone in the construction industry takes advantage of the education system as it is evolving and promoting early career exploration and work-based learning at the high school level. Engaging with students and exposing them to the exciting and rewarding construction career pathway is vital to the success of our industry and the success of our community’s future.”

The industry is making great strides in an effort to bridge the gap of students getting engaged with construction, but there is still much more to do to meet the expected demand within our market in the next few years. By combining forces with non-profits and other industry organizations, we can all not only give back to our communities but provide a better future workforce as well.

Callie Morris is a senior marketing specialist and community engagement liaison with JE Dunn Construction. She has been in the construction industry for 6.5 years and is originally from Durango, Colorado, where she graduated from Fort Lewis College in 2014 with her Bachelors in Marketing.

Photos courtesy of JE Dunn

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