We have a major problem in our industry: we’re getting old. There aren’t enough young people getting into construction.construction mentor internship

Apprentice programs through the unions are not the answer. More often than not, those programs focus on commercial work of one type or another. The residential housing industry may get some of the graduates, but they may or may not have the skills needed in your company. And only about twelve to fourteen percent of the workforce today belongs to a union.

Tom Rosendahl of Dakota Supply Group, a friend of ours, wrote on the lack of young people a few years ago and allowed us to reprint it on our blog (Part 1 and Part 2). I encourage you to read it, but here is an excerpt:

“. . . young people (and their parents) rarely list ‘contractor’ at the top of their list of career choices. Instead, their family and friends encourage them to go to a university rather than a trade school. While we can always use more good MBAs, I’ve never once had one work on my house. But I sure appreciate the tradespeople who help me with my plumbing, wiring, phone service, etc.! The truth of the matter is this: we need new tradespeople more than we need new MBAs! There’s work to be done, and we need qualified people to do it.

Most of us have PhDs from HKU (Hard Knocks University). That’s an expensive degree, but it makes us that much more qualified to address this issue. After all, who better to address the image problem of tradespeople than tradespeople themselves? We need to make this job attractive to young people. We need to educate kids about the benefits of working in a trade (ever wonder why DSG has a Kids Club?). And we need to charge what our work is worth, so that we can pay ourselves what we are worth.”

I recently visited Green Bank, West Virginia, a small town straight east of Charleston. There, the local high school requires every senior to enter a mentoring program before they graduate. They go out into the business world and seek 40 hours of employment to fulfill the requirement. The pay is the experience, guidance and mentorship of the company owners. I don’t know all the fine details, but our friends Jacob and Malinda Meck participate in this program and have hired a number of young people right out of high school to work for them. Some of these young folks have worked for the Mecks for several years, learning the trade and becoming valuable members of the company and the community.

This mentorship program gives the high schoolers a chance to see if they like the particular business and the work involved. It gives them experience and it gives the owner/mentor a chance to watch the young person and decide if they could be hired after graduating. The school turns out graduates with work experience who are ready to contribute to the work force, even if they choose to head to college first.

It may not be an earth-shaking program, but I think it’s a great way to help our young people gain actual business experience before they graduate. Anything that helps young people and strengthens our industry is a good thing in my book.

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January 7, 2015 4:18 pm

I had an extremely poor industrial arts teacher in junior high school. An affirmative-action hire, he knew very little about building, had a “certificate” and not a degree in industrial arts, and took up most of the time in his classes talking off the cuff about very subjects not related to building. I learned practically nothing in the class and neither did others. The teacher did the above because he didn’t want the students to know what little he knew. In another area, one thing I have noted about college professors is that they like to talk at length about… Read more »

January 7, 2015 4:12 pm

the public & private school teachers and guidance counselors need educating. in our area, for years, they have used the montra “don’t be a hamburger flipper” to somehow encourage people to go to “college”. like that is the only option. for years, the skilled trades and building contractors have done a pitiful job in our area about educating kids as to what is out there and available. I agree with the previous people. you need to get kids out on the job and give them hands-on experience. you may, again, have to start with the teachers and counselors. the ones… Read more »

Malinda Meck
Malinda Meck
November 26, 2014 8:00 am

thanks Michael, for your kind words. The mentorship program our highschool requires is a wonderful program and I think should be implemented nationally.

Dan Baumann
Dan Baumann
November 26, 2014 6:14 am

To make matters even worse (or better depending on how you look at it) I’m seeing many contractors hanging up their contracting licence in favor of becoming a designer. I get calls all the time from those that are just worn out from contracting. We need to put our heads together and address this issue before it gets worse. Construction is a great profession and in many cases will pay better than many of the job the so called “college grads” are getting. I know one young man that went to 5 years of college, racked up 150K in debt… Read more »

April 22, 2015 5:57 am
Reply to  Dan Baumann

Dan, you and I grew up playing outside in the dirt and building tree houses. Today’s kids are stuck in the house playing games on their computers. I make it a habit to discuss what I know carpenters make in terms of salary every time I speak to a young person. Their eyes light up and say you make that much and I say I used to but now I make even more. But here is the kicker, not once have I had a kid ask me how to get into the trades or what it takes to get started,… Read more »

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