April 4th was a big day for us at Construction Career Collaborative (C3). We launched our first annual career fair for graduating high school seniors around Houston. School guidance counselors and the C3 People Development team put a lot of effort into preparing the students to meet hiring companies. Arriving at Wheeler Field House, resumes in hand and dress shoes shined, the students were ready. As they wandered around the display booths, I stopped groups of students and asked what I thought would be a simple, logical question to help point them to the right C3 hiring companies. After all, how hard could it be for a student to answer, “What do you want to do after graduation?” Repeatedly, I was given a stunned and bemused look of incredulous disbelief. As students tried not to roll their eyes, they answered, “Hmm, Construction?” How could I not already know that answer, after all, wasn’t I the one who recruited them to come to a “construction” career fair? Students didn’t understand that drywall is not masonry and neither are working in roofing or fire protection. This lack of awareness about the wealth of options construction has to offer its craft professionals is one of the hurdles that our industry must aggressively address in the upcoming years. While the students may not have known the differences between General Contractors and Specialty Contractors, they all shared one thing in common, a desire to work.
I also get similar reactions of awe and disbelief when I talk to their parents. Ears perk up and light bulbs begin to come on when we talk about how the industry can provide a standard of living that is equivalent to what college provides without the debt. The “No Child Left Behind” movement of the last 20 years has parents telling kids that college is the only road to success, and school counselors are echoing that through the halls of the high schools. Honestly, until my work at C3, I would have been right there with them. Even though Texas House Bill 5, which requires all graduates to have a career or college readiness endorsement, has made strides toward educating parents and counselors about non-college routes and preparing students for construction careers, they still think in small limited terms. Watching career fair students interact with companies, either in demonstrations or discussions, it was clear that we cannot give them too much information. Like sponges, they soaked up the idea that masonry was relevant and engaging, working from heights was dangerous but exhilarating, and interiors is more than just hanging drywall and painting. These students and their peers are begging for us to come to them and tell them what they can dare to dream and build.
Wells Fargo’s 2019 Construction Industry Index highlights that 47% of the contractors in their survey indicate their “utmost concern is the ability to hire qualified workers.” Reaching Generation Z as they prepare to enter the workforce, closing the knowledge gap about construction careers for parents and high school counselors, and skilling students in order to mitigate the rising risk of debilitating workforce shortage must become the most important thing for our industry’s long-term survival. FMI executive, Pat Kiley, offers a conservative estimate that the revenue from the built environment will double in the Greater Houston Area by 2045, as long as there are workers to build it. Attracting workers to the industry and educating them on the benefits of a craft profession is at the heart of creating a sustainable workforce. C3 is committed to continuing the dialogue with schools, parents, counselors, and students. To join the conversation and make a difference in the future of the industry, contact C3 today. Together we can influence a generation to build Houston forward using the hands of safe, skilled craft professionals recruited from our very own local high schools.