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In any career, education is the pathway to moving up and making oneself more valuable. This is especially true in the construction craft as society in the 21st century changes course with the rise of technology and the advent of the global economy. As it becomes more and more challenging to find people who want to be part of the construction craft, education and training are playing increasingly important roles in the recruiting and employee development processes.

Shapiro & Duncan, which provides cutting-edge mechanical solutions including pre-construction, engineering, construction, design/build, fabrication, installation and maintenance services, has invested substantially in apprenticeship programs and developed a variety of other career development and educational opportunities—not only to bring people into construction, but also to help them advance and stay with Shapiro & Duncan. The company named its program S&D YOUniversity.

Choosing a Career Path in the Construction Trades

In the construction trades—carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC to name a few—people develop skills that are transportable and valuable all over the world. Tactile, hands-on learners are especially well-suited to a construction career, but people who like to work with their minds as well as their hands also find construction satisfying.

Moreover, construction is appealing to those who take pride in being part of a team and enjoy accomplishing something tangible every day. And let’s not forget the appeal of working outside in a variety of environments, as opposed to being stuck inside at a desk. Variety is definitely the spice of working life in construction: every project is unique, with differing locations and differing teams.

The most popular construction trade careers right now are in carpentry, which is less technical, requires a two- or three-year apprenticeship and attracts the most people even though it is not the most lucrative career path. The top trades in terms of income potential are plumbing, electrical and HVAC because they have state-level licensure requirements.

In the licensed trades, the career path starts at apprentice, progresses to licensed journeyman (who can have one apprentice working under him) and culminates with a master’s license. Like the bar exam for lawyers or the medical boards for doctors, a journeyman needs that master’s license to realize the full income potential of the trade. With a master’s license, the tradesman can start his own business.

Increasing Need for Employee Education and Training

In today’s construction industry, employee education and training is all about keeping employee skills current in a business environment where technology is rapidly advancing.

It’s no doubt that construction is not easy work, which makes it even more challenging to bring people on board. Further compounding the problem is the fact that a talent exodus caused by the prolonged recession shows no sign of a turnaround.

Currently, there are half a million positions that can’t be filled in the construction industry because of the workforce shortage. At the same time, increasing numbers of people, especially workers in their 40s and 50s, are abandoning the industry. As a result, the construction jobs deficit is expected to increase to two million by 2022.

At the same time, construction companies have to work hard to demonstrate to Millennials that they offer a great career opportunity and a better place to work. Generally speaking, people born since the early 1980s are expecting advancement opportunities and work/life balance. Millennials are also concerned about career mobility; they don’t want to be stuck in the same position for the next 10 years.

Demonstrating the Value of a Construction Career

Rising educational costs is another key factor related to employee recruitment and development. One of the challenges at Shapiro & Duncan is heightening awareness among prospective and current employees that it is possible for a young person to work hard, earn a living with good benefits and obtain an education that will be of value—without being saddled with five or six figures of student loan debt.

Apprenticeships, in fact, are like obtaining a four-year degree without the cost. The tradeoff is working full-time while going to school one or two days a month. For many, this is an appealing blend of classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Prospective and current employees also need to know that they can have mobility in the construction field. It is important to provide career paths with different levels of skill and education development so people coming into the construction industry know it’s not a dead-end career.

For example, thanks to the education and training provided by S&D YOUniversity, a plumber can become a project manager or an HVAC technician can become an estimator. An apprentice can become a foreman, then an assistant project manager and then a project manager. From there, the career path could lead to project executive and ultimately to vice president. It all depends on the individual’s attitude, ambition and aptitude.

The harsh truth is that companies who do not have the best talent are not going to be successful in today’s heavily competitive environment. But it takes a conscious, committed and consistent effort to develop a skilled workforce.

Shapiro & Duncan provides a tuition reimbursement benefit of six credits per year toward a degree. Over the years, many employees have taken advantage of the tuition assistance program to earn associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees.

Training Resources for the Construction Trades

For merit shop contractors, the largest training provider nationally is Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). This trade group offers 800 programs through 70 chapters nationwide. ABC apprenticeship programs have articulation agreements with many community colleges. This means the community college agrees to award a certain number of college credits to individuals who successfully complete the designated apprenticeship program.

The most popular national training program is the one provided by NCCER. Curricula include more than 70 craft areas and a complete series of more than 70 assessments offered in more than 4,000 NCCER-accredited training and assessment locations across the United States.

S&D’s Workforce Development and Education Programs

In addition to the S&D YOUniversity, Shapiro & Duncan also offers an internship program and actively participates in national apprenticeship programs. Its summer internship rotation program is aimed at young people who are majoring in construction management or engineering. Interns spend a week in each of several different departments, including preconstruction, engineering, fabrication, production and project management.

The company’s apprenticeship programs, meanwhile, currently have 70 participants, and it’s planning to enroll 20 more in the fall of 2017. The program includes a mix of high school graduates, young adults who have separated from the military and adult career changers from other industries. All apprentices have mentors to guide them.

Shapiro & Duncan’s career outreach efforts include going out to high schools and talking to students on career days. Shapiro & Duncan employees also participate in the Big Build, a hands-on festival of tools, trucks, construction and design for children six to 12 years old that’s held every October at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Key Takeaways

Young people can be successful without going off to college after high school. But to succeed in the construction trades, they must have the ambition to advance on their chosen career path with continuing education. Investing in themselves is a must.

Employers in the construction trades must be willing to support employees’ career ambitions by investing in them. Just as a business invests in IT infrastructure, new equipment or facility improvements, it needs to view education, training and development as a strategic investment opportunity.

The bottom line is that employee training and development leads to greater employee satisfaction, which yields higher retention rates and, ultimately, better productivity.

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