It is time to tell a new story.
We need to tell a new story about the construction industry. We need to show the pathways for the highly skilled craft trades and the college programs in the construction field, as well as the various entry points and critical pivot points into management and entrepreneurship for a lifelong financially successful construction career.
Four years ago with the opioid crisis at an epidemic state, I attended the Healthy Plymouth Summit in Massachusetts. I learned that the reason students were not participating in healthy decision making was due to a lack of activity during the out of school hours. This prompted my immediate involvement in the Plymouth Youth Development Collaborative (PYDC), listening, searching, and developing programs for ways to engage youth. I learned about the economic, language, and transportation barriers that created roadblocks for students and limited their ability to participate in extracurricular activities. As someone very involved in my community, I was shocked at the reality that I simply did not know existed. This involvement led to my interest in mentoring and helping young adults discover their passions with regard to interests and possible careers. I worked with school personnel to develop programming in the community that would provide opportunities for students to explore different dreams and careers.
Concerned about this growing problem, I decided that there must be more that I could do to help. I thought about my own upbringing, educating my children, and the overwhelming number of career options that exist. I knew for myself that I was a person that needed to be immersed in the setting to really experience it. I needed to “feel and touch” the environment. My mind raced to my Dad who spent years in the construction field, and to my son who enrolled in a comprehensive high school with a vocational program in facilities management. I started to ponder the similarities and differences of each of their pathways.
This is the old story that in many ways still continues today. A guidance counselor astutely identified my father would not only benefit but thrive in a vocational high school since he possessed strong math skills and a natural ability and love of carpentry. When the information was shared with his parents, however, a hard no was their answer. Consequently, he felt extremely frustrated throughout the next two years of high school and he did the absolute minimum. Upon graduation, he was given the opportunity to enroll in the vocational school, but his disappointment and anger of being denied that chance during high school sent him in a different direction. He found his way to working with a carpenter building houses which was a job he loved. Unfortunately, he was not able to continue because the apprenticeship openings were already filled. He jumped from job to job for six years until he found his career at a construction company where he stayed engaged for the next thirty years.
My father is a very smart, caring man, extremely hardworking, with high ethics that wanted to be a carpenter and work with his hands. Although he ended up with a successful career, how could a yes answer from his parents regarding vocational school have better served him? He could have followed his passion for carpentry during his high school years which could have jump-started his career right away after graduation. Also, he would have been happier following his dreams. He wanted to be an entrepreneur and own his own carpentry business. He is a beautifully finished carpenter and has woven that passion throughout his life during the
unemployment periods and retirement.
This is a current story. My son had three different high school options, one of which provided the opportunity to enroll in the facilities management vocational program which included carpentry, plumbing, electrical and masonry. After careful deliberation, we honored his request to attend the high school with the vocational program. By the end of sophomore year, he stated he would not be going to college. We were in agreement as long as he worked during the summer in the field of his choice so he could gain a clearer understanding of what is involved. We started the quest of finding someone who would give him the opportunity to work in the plumbing or automotive field. The answers always came back that this was not possible. Eventually through a friend, an opportunity existed at an auto body shop. After a week, he decided it wasn’t a career plan for him, however he worked the entire summer with staff telling him to go to college. He still wasn’t convinced college was the place for him. He wanted to work with his hands and he was not engaged with the academic coursework.
At the end of junior year, my son still didn’t have a plan to go to college. His friend wanted to be an engineer, so we all went together on a college tour. By happenchance, we participated on a tour for Industrial Design. My son was now sold! There was indeed a college where he could work with his hands. He was accepted and then realized he did not want that major, because he didn’t like art.
We went back to the drawing board. Where could he go to see what opportunities existed in his areas of interest? A construction company might provide the answers. Reaching out to a friend, he was generously granted the opportunity to spend a half a day meeting executives in all the different departments and then shadowing a supervisor on a construction job site. He returned home excited to see himself working in the construction industry. With this new clarity, he applied to different college programs and was accepted. The school he chose focused on practical laboratory work which appealed to my son.
After two years successfully taking his construction management courses, he returned home saying it was not a fit. Although he liked the industry, he did not want to be in management. He still wants to work with his hands. He researched and considered all possibilities and transferred into an engineering program minoring in construction management. He is currently loving the course work and has found his passion with multiple pathways for success.
When I left my current position, my mission was to research, identify and connect the countless opportunities to the students, parents, educators and young adults in Massachusetts. When I began my research, my plan was to focus on the vocational trades and the students who didn’t have a plan past graduation. After interviewing hundreds of individuals and researching endless diverse opportunities within the construction industry, I now know that there is so much more information and guidance that we should offer our young people regarding this field. In addition to helping young people, providing pathways to construction jobs will positively impact the critical shortage of manpower in the construction industry.
With the pre-apprenticeship model emerging to enhance awareness, we need to focus our attention on increasing state approved apprenticeships for both union and open shop employment, thereby increasing the pipeline into the skilled trade. If we work on recruiting more small businesses to become apprenticeship sponsors; providing educators and parents the information they need to become better informed; commit to statewide marketing; providing opportunities for students to become immersed in the field, then young people will be engaged and our construction industry will have the team they desperately need.
In July 2018, I created Specialized Career Guidance LLC to connect the stakeholders, provide meaningful opportunities for our young people and support the construction industry.
I am telling the new story.