I think we can all agree we have a workforce crisis. We may frame it differently, some with data like the fact that 35% of future jobs need a 4-year degree yet we continue the message that all students should go to college after high school. Others blame a lack of interest of younger workers in construction jobs, and then there is need for much more construction prep classes and exposure in our K12 system. All this leads to a diminished pipeline of skilled workers creating a crisis for the construction industry.
There is not one approach that will provide a solution but there are actions we can take. Today I will focus on the vast potential to be found in the K12 community. I have heard many blame the counselors for not adequately exposing students to registered apprenticeship and construction careers. While I do agree we can take opportunities to share this information with counselors I do not believe the blame lies there, many counselors serve an incomprehensible number of students and often just making sure those students graduate is their main priority.
Also, many of the counselors I have talked with would love to share these career opportunities with their students but they have no idea how or where to start. To be sure, we have not made it easy on them, the registered apprenticeship system is complex and can be daunting if you are not familiar with its pathways.
Schools are often scored by the percentage of graduates going to college, as long as we continue promoting that metric without the inclusion of equally “excellent” metrics like entry into other post-secondary options then high school personnel are not left with much choice but to focus on 4-year college pathways.
Bigger than the current K12 environment that in general has desire but lacks tools and funding for robust construction career and technical education (at the moment there are approximately 100 construction related programs out of approximately 252 public high schools. Of these 100 some are robust and others are more “hobby” courses. Luckily, our current Superintendent of Public Instruction is a strong supporter of CTE and promoting career choices! Watch his inspiring presentation from the 2018 Pacific NW Apprenticeship Education Conference.
On top of that we have an image problem we need to fix and a culture that needs a major attitude adjustment. I would love it if the media would stop portraying construction as an industry for men. Very recently I watched a truck ad promoting its vehicle for the “brotherhood” of construction workers. The construction industry offers amazing career opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc. and has incredible variety in the career paths available. I recently had the opportunity to operate an excavator and absolutely Loved it! What might my career path have been if I had the opportunity to experience that in my youth? Construction is also becoming increasingly impacted by technology…. here is our opportunity reimagine how we portray the industry, just as robotics has done for manufacturing.
Cultural attitudes…. now here comes the hard part. I say this based on my own very personal experience. This job has allowed me to see the amazing value of registered apprenticeship as an educational modality that is valuable and viable as a post-secondary choice. So, when my son started his youth apprenticeship program I was immediately confronted with the cultural attitudes and misinformation by family members. This notion that you won’t be successful or reach your potential without a four-year degree is deeply seated. This is so concerning on multiple levels. Not only does it not guarantee success but it certainly often guarantees college debt. According to Make Lemonade, there are more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone! It broke my heart when my son said he was afraid to share with people that he was choosing apprenticeship instead of university, luckily, I had the knowledge to inform people and advocate for the opportunity - he has at an amazing future. Not all kids have that and it can be scary and discouraging for them to make a choice different than others.
Bottom line…. we have a lot of work to do, in many areas. So let’s roll up our sleeves, join forces and get to it! Who is with me?