Monthly Archives: January 2015

What are we teaching our kids?

The State of Arizona has just passed a law that a student will not be issued a high school diploma unless they can pass the same Civics test that an immigrant is required to gain citizenship. Why are they doing this? A survey of graduates revealed that only 36% knew there are three branches of government. What does that have to do with construction? It illustrates the lack of attention to basics that infects public school systems throughout the country.

When I was in high school in the mid 60’s, if you were not in the college preparatory program, you were possibly enrolled in a program called Distributive Education (DE), sometimes known elsewhere as Vocational-Technical (VoTec) education where you spent half your school day learning a trade such as carpentry, welding or hair styling. Or, you could be enrolled in classes at the community college taking auto mechanics or auto body repair. And, the high school offered business classes such as typing and shorthand to prepare you to work in an office. Some high schools also offered Jr. ROTC classes to prepare students for a military career. These classes prepared students to be gainfully employed the day after they graduated from high school.

Today, it appears our public schools are turning out graduates that are woefully unprepared to perform an entry level job in construction. They need math. They need to work with fractions. They need to understand geometry. They need to understand shop drawings. They need to be able to read to learn and comprehend OSHA rules and regulations. They need to write legibly in a comprehensible manner so they fill out job reports and time sheets. They need to be able to speak clearly so that co-workers and supervisors can understand.

When I looked at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website, there is a program called CTE (Career & Technical Education). There are a few courses offered that are applicable to construction: Carpentry, Drafting and Core & Sustainable Construction. There are also some courses listed that are available through CPCC (Central Piedmont Community College.) These coursed are not prominent on the website and I only found them on my second attempt. These courses don’t appear to be promoted or have any outreach or placement programs with employers.

CPCC has a Construction Technologies program at its Harper campus. Several years ago, Steve Corriher instituted a training program to teach the basics of construction. In this case, the basics mean how to use a hammer and read a tape measure. At completion, the class can stick build a storage shed with door, windows, siding, shingles, etc. If this type training was available in high school, students might be ready for a good paying job when they graduate.

These are not dead end jobs. Most people who manage or own construction companies worked their way up through the ranks. In my company, below the corporate office level, people with degrees are in the minority. They have advanced because they work hard, work smart and never quit learning. We can teach someone the specific operations of our industry, but only if they have the basic education that is required to perform the job.

There is No Job Shortage – It’s a Training Shortage

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In My Opinion:

Politicians keep shouting “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” but it should be “Training, Training, Training.” If you talk to just about anyone in business management, the number one challenge they identify is the difficulty in finding and retaining qualified employees. In addition, the education system has done a very poor job in preparing students for the jobs and careers that are available.

According to the Associated General Contractors (AGC) Worker Shortage Survey, 83% of construction companies have difficulty recruiting qualified craft workers and 61% cannot find qualified construction professionals (project managers, engineers, draftsmen, etc.). The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected in 2012 that in ten years the number of construction trades workers would increase 22%. This compares to 11% for all trades, 11% for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers. There will be some dislocation and manufacturing and production occupations will only increase by 1%.

The AGC’s Chief Economist, Ken Simonson was quoted as saying, “Construction firms across the country are having a hard time filling available positions. Considering how much the nation’s educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages.”

Due to increasing automation and improvements in production processing, the manufacturing sector is only predicting a 1% increase in the total number of workers. However, in a survey of members by the National Association of Manufacturers, 69% of respondents say they have difficulty filling skilled production positions. As manufacturing plants become more automated, the required skills become more technical and workers need to be familiar with computers and programming. Machine mechanics have become mechanical engineers with far more expertise required.

One industry that affects all aspects of the economy is the trucking industry. There are currently 35,000 job openings across the country for heavy truck and tractor-trailer drivers. My industry, glass and glazing contracting, is already seeing the effects of this shortage. Transporting the raw glass sheets from the manufacturer to the fabricating and distribution centers is highly specialized. The glass is transported in large sheets 11 feet by 18 feet, bundled into four 10,000 pound blocks (stoces), on an a-frame low-boy trailer. The drivers are required to have a minimum number of hours driving experience and special certification. The cargo is top heavy. The route must be considered to avoid low bridges, rough rail crossings and the like to avoid stressing the load. The driver has to stop and inspect the load every 150 miles. The driver is required to inspect the customer’s rigging before unloading begins. As the economy improves, glass deliveries are falling behind and creating delays partly because of the lack of qualified truck drivers.

So, it appears to me that much of the unemployment problem is not due so much to a lack of jobs, but to some of the following:

  1. Lack of technical and career training in high schools. Not everyone needs to, or should, go to college.
  2. College students are getting degrees in fields not applicable to industry’s needs today.
  3. Unwillingness to re-train and switch to a new field
  4. Unwillingness to relocate to where the jobs are. Cars are built in the South by robots, not just in Detroit.
  5. A general unwillingness of people to start and the bottom and work hard.

I will expand on some of the above topics in future postings, but my best advice is to get the education and training to prepare yourself for a career that can sustain you and your dependents. For future college students, one career counselor recently recommended that you get your degree in a career subject such as engineering, computer sciences, geology or chemistry, then minor in business administration or education. Save the arts and social subjects for electives.

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook

Katy Devlin, Glass Magazine, December 2014