October 17, 2006
Vol 1 | Num 19

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Education key to reversing labor shortage

Managers for Harmon Inc. out of Eden Prairie, Minn., often look to colleges and universities when finding new additions to its project teams, says Steve Griest, general manager at the glazier’s Chicago office.

Steve Burnett, president of Walters & Wolf Curtain Wall in Seattle, says his company also pulls many new employees from college and university construction management programs.

However, educational institutions provide more than just an avenue for recruitment, Griest says. Through partnerships with colleges and universities, Harmon increased the amount of trade education among students, hopefully leading to increased interest in the field, Griest says.

“When things are good and everyone is hiring, it’s hard for anyone to find people,” Griest says. “On top of that, the kids coming out of college often lean toward jobs with general contractors, and it gets harder to compete. You have to get people involved at that level to find employees.”

Harmon also operates an internship program with university students to further their interest in glazing, Griest says.

A panel of leaders in the construction industry unanimously agreed during the ENR Top Firm Leaders Forum this past month that developing such relationships in schools to teach students of all ages about careers in construction will be vital to the success of contractors and subcontractors, and will help avert a workforce crisis that could cripple the building industry.

Industry officials at the forum, which took place in Crystal City, Va., attributed the waning interest in construction jobs in part to lack of education about the industry in primary and secondary schools, and inaccurate perceptions that the jobs have low pay and little advancement.

Every company “needs to sell this industry as one where you learn skills, have autonomy and advance rapidly,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America in Arlington, Va. “We provide a career alternative with $28 per hour wages and a sense of accomplishment.”

In addition to recruitment and education among college students, companies should bring construction education to primary and secondary schools, according to forum panelists.

“We need new a vision for employers that begins in middle school and high school and one that helps people move directly into vocational program and trade schools,” said Emily DeRocco, assistant secretary for Employment and Training Administration of the U. S. Department of Labor.

One such program includes a post secondary education option for students at Richfield Senior High in Richfield, Minn., that allows juniors and seniors access to part-time education at a technical college, says Teresa Rosen, assistant principal for the school. “We actually bus students out to Hennepin Technical College to take college-level courses in many things like construction,” she says.

DeRocco recommended company managers contact area schools to find out about their career learning programs.

Click the following links if you missed Part One or Part Two of e-glass weekly’s series on the construction labor shortage.


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