Tips for Engaging a Younger Construction Workforce

Photo credit: ICM

By Rick Goodmay, director of client relations at ICM 

Rick Goodmay

Ask anyone in construction, and they’ll bemoan the lack of new workers entering the industry, which has been causing a labor shortage for the past decade or more, particularly as baby boomers continue to retire. 

Thankfully, the numbers are starting to get better as the Wall Street Journal recently reported that enrollment in vocational training programs is surging, rising 16% last year. Students studying construction trades rose 23%, while HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7%. While these numbers are encouraging, much work remains to be done to effectively fill the gaps, which are both physical and mental, as today’s older generation has a knowledge base that can’t be easily replaced. 

Industrial Constructors/Managers, Inc. (ICM) is a Colorado-based contractor that’s experienced the labor shortage for many years now so we’re actively working with local high schools, trade groups and unions to bring more awareness to today’s youth about what a career in construction means, and why it’s a desirable career path. Below are a few ways that we’ve engaged with these organizations in support of this mission, which could be helpful for other contractors who are experiencing similar challenges.

Awareness Starts in High Schools

Many kids first start thinking about their careers in high school, which is being further fueled by a resurgence in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. CTE programs are available in many high schools, providing middle school, high school and post-secondary students access to a wide range of career pathways that span from agriculture and automotive, to healthcare and construction. 

CTE programs are designed to teach students specific skills that they can apply directly to their careers, and they’ve seen a boost in implementation thanks to a renewed belief in pursuing a career in the trades, which often provides good salaries with minimal debt. 

Such is the case at Brighton High School, which is in the midst of expanding their CTE department thanks to the passage of a 2021 bond. Brighton’s CTE program is currently undergoing a 41,500-square-foot renovation of their current space and adding a new 55,000-square-feet addition. Together they’ll provide space for everything from a construction lab to an assistant/phlebotomy/EKG space, while also containing flex classrooms that will provide students with nearly 30 certifications within six career pathways.

ICM acutely understands the need to create awareness in high schools, which is why our employees regularly give school presentations in and outside of CTE classes and attend high school job fairs to help students understand the various jobs available in construction. 

“The high schools are really where it all needs to start because that’s where you can create that initial awareness. Put people on a path,” said Bill Niday, estimator at ICM. “A lot of kids don’t understand how vast construction is. They don’t readily see the industrial side of it, how big it is and how many paths you can take, so we’re trying to show them what all is out there.” 

Trade Groups and Unions Key for Connecting Students to the Industry

Trade groups are also working hard to support the next generation of workers through initiatives designed to create awareness, support and excitement for a career in the trades. ICM staff work closely with the The American Welding Society (AWS), which is helping guide the next generation of welding professionals by providing access to educational resources, technical information, certifications and scholarships. 

Recently, the Denver chapter of AWS took it upon themselves to hold Colorado’s first-ever high school welding competition as a way to get students exposed to and excited about a career in welding. On an early May morning at Buckeye Welding Supply in Henderson, Colorado, 20 high schoolers completed four welding tests. Winners were awarded scholarship money, and they got to connect with participating vendors who gave out prizes, and with local contractors who were looking for new talent.

ICM employee Vince Staff hatched the competition after brainstorming with Myron Delgado, the operations manager of Buckeye Welding Supply. “I saw it successfully executed in other states so I thought it could be a good way to expose students to the various aspects inherent to welding, while also making it a fun thing to do. We chose to have the competition and awards ceremony at Buckeye because it would give the kids exposure to the larger industry, helping them see which companies exist and more easily pursue an opportunity if one arises.”

In fact, ICM was on hand to evaluate the students, and representatives from the company ended up interviewing and hiring the competition’s first place winner – Trenton Carlson from Rangeview High School/ Pickens Tech. Trenton will start as a welder at ICM this summer, helping to further diversify and amplify the company’s welding team.  

Trade unions are also heavily involved in building the next generation of workers through the implementation of apprenticeships, which provide hands-on training while also connecting their workers to employers in need. 

ICM works with seven different unions to source people who are working on their apprenticeships, which we deploy across our various jobsites. The company helps educate them and if work gets slow, they can go back to the union to work for another contractor, helping to keep the industry afloat, while also keeping apprentices consistently employed. 

“Apprenticeships are great in that they provide a gateway for new talent,” said Niday. “They help feed the trades by providing employers with people who are willing to learn and grow in their careers. They also teach them important things like safety, which is vital in our industry, particularly in the industrial space.” 

The Path Forward

There is no one easy solution for fueling the next generation of construction workers, but several efforts working in tandem can start to create more awareness and interest in the trades, which offer exciting, profitable careers that can be obtained without taking on a lot of debt. 

Contractors across the country should work with their local high schools – many of whom now have growing CTE programs – and find ways to partner with trade groups and unions so that new partnerships and ideas can be developed that engage, inspire and position today’s youth for future career success. 

Rick Goodmay is the director of client relations at Industrial Contractors/Managers, Inc (ICM), a Colorado-based industrial contractor specializing in steel and concrete structures, heavy moving and rigging, machinery installation, modification and maintenance, and more. 

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