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How Education Programs, Training and Technology are Rebuilding Specialty Contractors’ Workforces
While at the AHR Expo in Orlando, Fla. last month, I struck up a conversation with a younger gentleman who just completed his first year as an HVAC technician. The gent, who we’ll call David, was disappointed that he was only able to spend one day at the show. His bosses needed him back in Arizona the next day, as two of his coworkers fell ill and there was only one other technician at his smaller (but rapidly growing) heating and air conditioning firm.
David noted his one-year anniversary was the next week. Over the last year, he has been shadowing the owner (who is also his uncle) on jobs, while working toward his HVAC certification program on an accelerated 10-month schedule. After just one year, he was excited about his prospects for the future, even telling me he already has started making plans to start his own heating and air conditioning company because in Arizona, there was no shortage of work – and “there’s a backlog like you wouldn’t freaking believe because there’s not enough techs to do the work.”
An October report from Payscale.com backs that up, noting that the lack of skilled electricians has meant that salaries for electricians today is skyrocketing — in some cases into the six-figure range. And, it’s a trend that could continue. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that employment of electricians is expected to continue growing through 2026. A strong economy, increased construction costs and alternative energy sources are all driving demand for skilled electricians.
ACHRNews, a publication for mechanical contractors, a year ago argued that the skilled trades needed to start pooling their resources to start appealing to the next generations of workers – perhaps even as young as middle school and elementary school. “At this point, it isn’t important whether they choose mechanical, electrical, or plumbing. What’s important is that they see the skilled trades as an opportunity,” the publication said.
The construction industry has been pushing efforts to renew trade skill education and training at all levels for years now. In the past 12 months though, there has been some real, significant movement on this. In our February industry roundup, we pointed to a recent Construction Executive article that highlighted what schools are doing to expose youths to the construction trades. There is growing appeal in recession-proof jobs such plumbers, electricians and construction laborers and high schools are bringing back courses such as shop class and mentoring kids on the benefits of trade-specific schooling.
Earlier this year, there were also a slew of news articles highlighting new education programs across America. In Huntsville, Ala. for instance, the North Alabama Building Academy opened Jan. 16. The facility will offer qualified high-school students (ages 17 or 18 and close to graduating) up to eight weeks of free training and education. Similar programs in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and other communities across the United States have been launched for high school and college-level students over the past six months. Many of these opportunities turn into paid work placement or apprenticeships.
Mentorship programs such as ACE Mentor Program of America are also being promoted to guide youth interested architecture, construction and engineering. Popularity is growing, as the program helped over 8,000 students between 2016 and 2017. There is increasing hope that the next generation of “new-collar workers” will be ready to enter the labor force in just a few years.
Still, it’s not like this is going to be an overnight fix. Those that have already undertaken the opportunity to become electricians, technicians or construction trade professionals — folks like David — still need time and the right resources to effectively learn the ropes. And it’s still going to be a massive challenge to lure younger professionals away from technology companies where they can live on the cutting edge.
That’s why specialty contractors need to continue to invest in modernizing and adopting the latest technologies. Contractors that deploy modern software and technologies realize significantly greater efficiencies, helping achieve more productivity from the skilled workers they already have in their ranks, and subsequently, higher profit margins. These modern tools also provide a leg up in attracting younger, tech-driven professionals to the workforce.
As our own Matt Harris pointed out in a recent Construction Executive article, Attracting and Nurturing the Next Wave of Construction Professionals, these younger, tech-savvy professionals want assurances that they’ll be able to use the latest solutions in their jobs. Whereas construction was seen as an honorable, decent paying and often exciting trade to build a career in among earlier generations, these days the industry is competing with internet and social media companies, technology providers, arts and entertainment outlets, online retail and many more industries driven primarily by technology.
Contractors that have fared well in attracting skilled workers are the same companies that are investing in technologies like integrated software solutions, drones, wearable devices, artificial intelligence, BIM, and connected, collaborative jobsites. Younger professionals don’t want to deal with paper, manual processes, outdated software or spreadsheets. They want to work quickly and efficiently. They want to create, innovate and lead. They want to build careers and grow their skills instead of spending the bulk of their time doing routine tasks that could be addressed with automation.
That’s why selling the construction technology story to younger professionals begins with the software that runs contractors’ businesses. From automated workflows to real-time collaboration to working with the latest cloud solutions to share data, dashboards and more — if contractors aren’t running a streamlined ship, younger workers will jump ship.
Want to learn more about how your company can modernize operations to realize greater productivity, profitability and appeal among future construction professionals? Contact Viewpoint today!