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