Leveling the Career and College Pathway Search Equally

How do we change the mindset and expand the thinking of parents, educators, students, and young adults to consider the benefits of a career in construction?

I bring the perspective from the high school student, recent graduate or young adult who might be a great fit for the construction industry, however has no idea how to evaluate the options or navigate the next steps. By launching a comprehensive overview of the industry, showing both craft trade apprenticeships and traditional college programs in construction, architecture and engineering, we can attract a greater audience of parents and educators who are directing the students and young adults towards their next steps. As reported by many students and parents, stigma, unfortunately still remains for the students who elect to pursue vocational technical high school education. This dual approach to career and college pathways will increase the number of students gaining exposure to this industry.

With the emphasis on college planning throughout the educational system, I suggest that we use that same model that is familiar to create opportunities for students, parents, and educators to explore the construction field. We can start the process for the traditional student who is interested in applying for engineering, architecture, or construction management.

The students are typically counseled to have strong academic courses in math and science, to take the SAT or ACT with extra tutoring, to have a robust application with after school activities including leadership positions, etc. Then they are encouraged to visit the colleges and universities that have their area of interest. During these visits they would be encouraged to take tours, meet with current students, faculty, and alumni, observe classes, learn about what makes each school unique. They have information sessions for the parents aimed at demonstrating the value of the financial expense. Students are guided to think about the best fit as to class size, geographic location, city or suburban campus, opportunities to study abroad, cooperative education and internships. Parents are focused on safety, financial return on investment and if it a match for their student. Students and parents attend high school college fairs and college guidance nights to learn as much as possible on how to navigate each step.

Now let us imagine if we use that same model to attract students, families, and educators specifically to the construction industry. Typically, the students express an interest in a field to work with their hands and do not want to attend additional schooling. At this point armed with industry information, the guidance counselor introduces the construction industry as a possible match emphasizing the need for strong math skills, excellent attendance in school, strong interpersonal skills, involvement in a sport or activity that shows team work. They are then given an explanation and handout about apprenticeships for the craft trades, certification, technical and college programs for the different fields within the construction industry.

In addition, the students are given a list of construction site inspection tours and panel discussions on topics of safety, financial investment (education hours, tools, clothing, certifications), transportation and daily travel expectations, hours, union and open shop options, understanding prevailing wages, competitiveness of each craft trade, education hours and field experience hours. They participate in information sessions on the economic benefits and salary potential as well as unemployment to understand how that factors into money management and decision making. They learn about travel opportunities and career advancement. Parents and students participate in construction industry career fairs, meet with current young adults and seasoned leaders in the industry. They attend high school guidance nights that help students and parents navigate next steps.

This is not the current model, but this model would educate, inform and ignite career passion that would translate into better outcomes both in high school attendance, grades and discipline as well as an increase in applications to union and open shop apprenticeships, technical certifications and college applications for engineering, architecture and construction management.

I had the exciting opportunity to attend a construction site tour with the National Association of Women in Construction, attend a pre-apprenticeship open shop class for Hot Works Certification, observe an overview on a union pre-apprenticeship program, tour training facilities, technical schools and colleges. Each opportunity afforded me another level of understanding of the complexity of this industry. I have spent countless hours interviewing parents, students, educators, and industry leaders to understand that we need to simplify the process and provide accurate, current information to increase the pipeline for the critical needs of the construction industry.

It is with this knowledge, passion and drive, I plan to help create a new sustainable pipeline to the construction industry, to connect the construction industry stakeholders and educators to create a new model that engages, informs and empowers parents and students to embrace a career pathway with the same energy and enthusiasm that is seen for navigating the college pathway.

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