Construction is one of the most open employment fields in the United States. According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the construction industry is going to need 1 million new workers by 2012 to build and repair the nation's infrastructure, build new structures, and replace retiring baby boomers.
The gravity of the situation is sinking in: If the average age of a construction worker is 52, with a huge manpower shortage predicted, what is the industry to do?
Answer: Recruit aggressively from outside the construction field while offering extensive training/cross-training and re-training to those who will answer the call.
Construction training and re-training must now be linked to recruitment and retention.
Of necessity, the barriers of advancing age or lack of experience that have kept workers from entering — or remaining — in the field are disappearing. Today's common theme seems to be: "Now is the time to enter or stay in the construction field, and while you're at it, bring a friend ..."
Those looking for construction workers to train and those looking for training to get into the construction industry need to connect. But employers should also consider ways to keep their older workers as long as possible. The avenues for new training, re-training, educating, recruiting, and hiring are numerous. At least five ways come to mind:
1. Offer Construction Training To Former Military Personnel
— Helmets To Hardhats (www.helmutstohardhats.com) and Hire A Hero (www.hireahero.com) are two websites construction employers and military personnel about to be discharged from service ought to visit. This is the logical first stop for the construction industry. Military personnel are a good fit for the industry. The Hire A Hero site sums up the skills of the typical military person about to be discharged into civilian life again:
"Men and women of today's Armed Forces possess impressive credentials. Many have filled positions which closely match private sector occupations. Others have specialized skills ... but have the advantage of basic training in technical principles which permits rapid retraining into civilian occupations. Military life attracts and instills substantial value-added qualities: discipline, commitment, loyalty, resourcefulness, respect for authority — plus the value of teamwork ..."
Helmets to Hardhats is very aggressive in its outreach to former military personnel to match up with construction employers, describing training and apprenticeships, and working conditions in all areas of heavy construction. It also has specific links to trade associations, JATC's and employers.
2. Recruit Young Adults, Educate Middle Schoolers And High Schoolers
Most high schools push college track courses, even though statistics show most students will never get that far. In California, for example, the picture looks like this:
Out of every 100 students who enter our public high schools in this state, 30 will drop out before graduation. Of the 70 who are left, only 21 will go on to college. Of those who attend community colleges, half will drop out in the second semester. Yet, most of our education and counseling resources are geared to encourage young people to enter and complete college, even though few will ever do that. (Source: Building California Construction Careers, www.buildingc3.com ; and California Employment Development Department, www.edd.ca.gov )
It's most likely that many other states have similar statistics.
Now, large construction companies and organizations like Turner Construction Co., Association of General Contractors (www.agc.org), Association of Equipment Manufacturers (www.aem.org), National Association of Women in Construction (www.nawic.org), and many others are educating young people about the importance of the construction industry. They also host or help sponsor Construction Career Days and related seminars.
For example, AEM is sponsoring "National Construction Challenge," a series of regional events aimed at "attracting the best and brightest young people" to the construction industry and related fields, focusing on awareness of construction-related jobs, construction equipment and manufacturing, and infrastructure awareness.
AGC's California Construction Education & Research Foundation (www.ccerf.org) is on the cutting edge of construction education. Its research shows:
Eighty-five percent of all U.S. students and 94 percent of minority students decide in high school if not by eighth grade to get out of advanced math and science courses. Particularly, African Americans, Hispanic and Native Americans generally fail to develop the basic math proficiency needed to excel in the working world. It is these students the construction industry must attract if it hopes to continue to grow.
CCERF is successfully using "Build Up!" and "On Site!" programs geared to youngsters as young as middle school age — on up to high school age. Both programs teach kids how math, science and language skills are used in construction, while having fun with a variety of pertinent activities.
Caterpillar Inc., for example, has its "Think BIG" educational/apprenticeship program, in all regions of the United States. It offers a two-year track in conjunction with local colleges where students from within the company, or from outside, are able to earn an associate's degree while earning and learning. A four-year Think BIG educational track is also offered by the Peoria-based company.
Then there are the various trade organizations, private organizations within every state in the union that have training and apprentice programs available — all just a mouse-click and a Google search away. An excellent source for researching construction training, education, apprenticeships, and certifications can be found at Construction WebLinks (www.constructionweblinks.com). This is perhaps the most comprehensive site linking to virtually every construction organization, industry topic and construction issue in the United States.
3. Keep Older Workers On Board Longer
Employers should think outside the box when dealing with the issue of older construction workers. For example, Jim Ryan, executive vice president of AGC San Diego, wrote on its website (www.agcsd.com), "Consider offering the baby boomers in your office packages to stay a little longer ... perhaps flex hours ... perhaps part-time assignments that focus on one project instead of multiple projects."
Many companies, like ROEL Construction (www.roel.com) offer in-house cross-training into management positions, a good transition for seasoned workers who can now share valuable knowledge with the next generation, rather than retiring completely.
4. Invest In More Operator-Friendly Equipment
From backhoes to the largest bulldozers, older workers can stay longer when a joystick replaces or overrides manual operating systems. The fatigue factor is lessened. Bobcat, for example, has recently introduced a remote-controlled skid steer. Komatsu, CAT and most heavy equipment manufacturers offer the ease of modern operational controls, including climatized, customized cabs. Required training is minimal.
5. Train/Re-Train Older Workers With New Technology
Computer-assisted and GPS-enhanced construction equipment are here to stay.
New technology can be intimidating to some older workers at first. But as one construction company owner said about an older employee reluctant to use GPS on his motor grader:
"I have an experienced operator in his mid- to late-70s who initially said 'I'm old school and want to see stakes. I don't believe this is going to work.' We had to sit him down and show him how it works ... how to change the screens ... where his blade is positioned. And now, he loves it and keeps saying 'This system is amazing, it's incredible.'"
Give older workers the opportunity to experience new technology.
The opportunities to get all the needed training, re-training and cross-training in construction are everywhere for those willing to take advantage of them. The problem is finding enough workers to fill the slots.