Most of us by now have personally experienced the labor shortage affecting the construction industry. You would think that with all the talk, recruitment would be a priority. And for many groups and organizations, it is. But a number of school systems, faced with declining enrollments in vocational construction education programs, are exacerbating, rather than helping, the problem.
A recent study by SkillsUSA-VICA, a non-profit organization supporting vocational-technical students, showed that nearly half of the construction courses offered in schools during the last 30 years have shut down. The organization's analysis of Department of Education statistics also showed significant declines in the number of graduates in a variety of trades, including masonry, carpentry and plumbing, between 1982 and 1994.
The fate of school-to-career programs is also in peril as the federal school-to-work program sunsets in October 2001. These trends are alarming at a time when contractors are looking to the schools to help develop the next generation of workers. It is up to us in the construction industry to actively recruit young people to enroll in training programs before it is too late. Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) has a long history of involvement with schools through career fairs, school-to-career and apprenticeship programs and student chapters at colleges and universities. Now ABC has developed a program - called Try Tools - that uses the Internet to convey the association's message to the potential workforce of tomorrow.
Young people usually lead adults when it comes to adapting to new technologies. Adolescents and young adults today have grown up using the computer and are generally highly adept at navigating the Internet.
At a time when we are trying to actively recruit young people to the construction industry, it makes sense that we "speak their language." The centerpiece of ABC's program is the TryTools.org Web site. The site includes more than 250 pages designed to help children, their parents and educators understand what it takes to have a successful career in the construction industry and how to recognize the myriad of opportunities available to them.
Try Tools shows students how to get into construction, acquire training and progress along the career path. The site features a distinctive youth-oriented look with colorful and lively depictions of construction tools and equipment that help visitors navigate the site. Elementary students can download coloring books, high school students can access craft training information and university students can download course syllabi for four-year construction management programs.
In addition to the Web site, the Try Tools program includes bumper stickers, pamphlets, display booths, brochures and radio advertisements - all geared toward attracting students from the elementary school level all the way up to those in university masters programs.
The Try Tools program is just one way ABC is trying to reach out to young people in a medium that they understand. Turning the tide on the closing of vo-tech programs will be an uphill battle. But by harnessing technology to connect to a new generation, the construction industry can create a wave of new craftspeople to build America.