The passage of Measure M last fall was another boost to the construction boom in Los Angeles. Combined with Measure R, this new initiative funds tens of billions of dollars’ worth of transit construction projects. New commercial and residential development along new transit lines will create even more construction opportunities in addition to other projects of all sizes throughout the region. What’s more, the passage of SB1 is the latest addition of infrastructure funding yielding approximately $5.2B per year throughout California.
Someone has to build these projects, though. The Associated Builders & Contractors estimates our industry needs half a million more workers in the coming years to meet the country’s infrastructure needs. Locally, the problem is particularly urgent, as funded projects will put a strain on everyone from large prime contractors to smaller subcontractors.
What our industry needs is a concerted effort to attract people to the construction industry. From project management staff in the office to the next generations of superintendents and craft hands, there has never been a better time to get into construction. The question is: does the talent we need know that is true?
BACK TO SCHOOL
Our traditional apprenticeship and internship programs do a lot of good, but we need to consider additional tactics to recruit the necessary resources. The effort needs to start early, be persistent and communicated to a large, wide and diverse audience. Students preparing for college have likely already made their choices about careers and, too often, are seeing construction as old-fashioned dirty boots instead of long-term, well-paying careers. Especially here in California, where startup dreams seem to be one-good-idea-for-a-new-appaway, we need to do a better job exposing young men and women to construction early in high school and even in middle school, inspiring them with ways they can apply their unique talents to help provide innovative solutions to building complex projects.
One way we are doing this is through participation in the ACE Mentor Program. Through the local chapters of this national organization, we are able to give high school students hands on experience with the tools of the trade, going through the steps construction teams take on jobsites. They are also exposed to the digital tools we are using that are making various parts of the construction process more safe and efficient, with the hope of connecting interests and driving further innovation in our industry.
Beyond ACE, we need to show that a high school graduate can have a very successful career in construction, particularly in the field. Our industry has a shortage of skilled superintendents and one of the best ways to get there is through work in the field. While there are plenty of pathways into the trades, we need to do a better job of showing the short- and long-term career possibilities for students who do not see college as their next step. While many consider a bachelor’s degree a prerequisite for many jobs, the construction industry is uniquely able to offer high school graduates a well-paying career path.
ATTRACTING TALENT FROM OTHER INDUSTRIES
Changes in our industry also bring new opportunities for people who come from other lines of work. People with civil engineering experience are now developing digital tools ranging from virtual design and construction to virtual reality walkthroughs for stakeholders. People who might have been video game developers at one point in their lives are creating and advancing these tools.
Some of these folks probably never imagined working in construction. Again, we must do a better job of showing the possibilities to a wider audience. Large construction firms have many of the same functions as any large company. When it comes to marketing, accounting, human resources and other support functions, why should we cede the best talent to the companies that are best known for those functions? Putting smart people of all abilities together only leads to better overall thinking.
In one of our markets, we are considering a program that would go as far as to put candidates looking to shift careers through a structured training program that would place them on a project management track. It underscores the greater need in the industry: we need more people and we need to do more to bring them into construction providing them with excellent career opportunities.
We are all competing for the best talent, but that should not hold us back from working together to increase interest in our industry. Programs like ACE provide a model for how we can work together to foster a larger interest in our industry. We need to do even more of it with all of the work on the horizon.
Jay Weisberger is Vice President of Skanska USA.