For the past few years, news has been dominated by stories about the economy. Unemployment rates are high, people aren’t spending and housing prices that once tumbled now are beginning a shaky ascent to stabilization.
One area not well publicized, though, is the struggles of construction-related companies finding skilled, dependable workers in the trades. A recent report from McGraw-Hill Construction, titled “Construction Industry Workforce Shortages: Role of Certification, Training and Green Jobs in Filling the Gaps,” revealed 69 percent of architect, engineer and contractor professionals expect skilled workforce shortages in the next three years. More than 40 percent of construction workers are baby boomers who are approaching retirement age.
The Way We Were
Once upon a time, children played outside, took things apart, then spent hours learning how to put them back together, often with personalized touches. Gary Randone, owner of RanTeso Home Improvements LLC, Long Island, N.Y., was one such child. “Kids didn’t go to their parents for money in the ‘60s,” he reflects. “We were always taking our bikes apart and building something. Everybody did that. When I was a kid, I’d take radios apart and make homemade antennas, but kids don’t do that anymore. They want phones and laptops instantly and don’t want to work too hard for it. It’s a different era now.”
Part of today’s era encompasses the widespread emphasis on four-year college degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 21.6 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities in fall of 2012, an increase of 6.2 million students compared to fall of 2000.
Randone, who is at the younger end of the baby boomer generation, expresses concern about the trend away from education in the trades. “I read a statistic somewhere saying that a baby boomer retires every 15 seconds,” he says. “All the experienced trade guys are 50-plus or in their 60s and still working, but the younger generation isn’t there. Who’s going to replace those skilled workers?”
He believes the shortage is directly correlated with the school systems. “Schools aren’t emphasizing that the trades can be a good career,” he says. “They’re told about going to college. I’m not knocking college. I think everyone should go for at least two years to get a broader horizon, but it’s not a cure-all for getting a good job. I know a lot of people with master’s degrees who are out of work.”
Education Moves the World
It’s often said teachers are the professionals who teach other professionals. Good educators can make or break a subject for a student and can inspire a student toward a career or drive them away. Leesburg, Va.-based SkillsUSA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry, teaches necessary skills and inspires students to pursue the trades.
Don Runyan recently retired after 40 years of teaching, 28 of which he spent with SkillsUSA. He taught at Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., and was named 2012 Advisor of the Year. Thousands of students have thrived under his instruction, many of whom went on to pursue careers in their fields.
Runyan, who taught architecture, mechanical drafting and urban planning classes, approached teaching in two parts: One part in the technical area and one part in leadership skills, such as public speaking and other soft skills such as maintaining eye contact and having a confident handshake. “A young person needs to learn how to speak, whether it’s speaking to a single person like in a job interview or speaking to a crowd communicating an idea,” Runyan says.
He believes teachers have a duty to inspire their students. “There’s no such thing as a failure as a student,” he says. “The only time there’s a failure is when the educator fails to communicate and fails to connect. Once you connect, anybody in their right mind is going to desire an education because, fundamentally, education is what moves the world forward.”