Although Runyan’s Los Angeles-area school had a reputation for being gang-infested, he inspired his students and connected with them to a level that they took ownership of the class and, even if Runyan stepped out of the classroom for an extended period, they would continue their work, he says. Discipline was never a problem once they took ownership, Runyan says.
Runyan has seen work ethics deteriorate throughout the generations. “Young people today are great, wonderful people. They are very intelligent in so many ways. They know when something is valuable and is going to benefit them,” he clarifies. “But your average young person today does not have the work ethic you would have found in my generation. Today’s generation is not interested in things unless they happen immediately. They’re hard to stay focused. I don’t think they have thoughts about ethics or about stealing and honesty. They most certainly don’t have an understanding of what the employer is looking for.”
Runyan encourages his students to put themselves in a potential employer’s shoes and to concentrate on the soft skills. Many have found success through that. “They own their success in life,” he says. “That is theirs.”
Many of Runyan’s students apply their skills in everyday life. One student from Guatemala designed house plans for his parents who still live there, then took a year off to build the house. Two other students designed plans for a cabin in 11th grade and by the end of 12th grade had the cabin built. Today, one of those students is a general residential contractor and another is building casinos in Las Vegas. Yet another former student recently completed a build of Niemen Marcus in California, which was close enough to Runyan’s school that he was able to travel to the jobsite with his students. “When you enlighten people, they have capabilities; you unleash their potential,” Runyan says. “There is basically no limit.”
Difficulties and Challenges
Although it’s commonplace to hear of workers losing their jobs and small businesses shutting their doors, the plumber that Long Island remodeler Gary Randone teams with has quite the opposite problem. “His problem isn’t how much work; it’s that he has no one to help him,” Randone says. “His phone rings off the hook but he can’t find competent skilled tradespeople to help him. Instead, he picks the most profitable job and goes from there. Quality guys will always be busy.”
Randone also cites pay scales as being a deterrent toward the trades. “In the ‘80s, carpenters were paid about $18 to $20 per hour,” he says. “But it’s not much more now. It hasn’t gone up. Kids look at that versus what they can make if they get a college degree. They’re not looking to go into a trade, work hard and sweat yet not make a decent salary. If you get into a union that’s one thing, but that’s very difficult.”
Although Randone says it’s difficult to pay his workers well and offer benefits in the private sector, he also says it’s worth it to pay what good workers are worth. “I have a very certain type of clientele I cater to so I need good guys who are smart,” he says. “They appreciate quality work and, on the same side of the coin, they’re willing to pay for it. I need paying clients to pay workers well. I thought last year would be my best year financially, and this year is better.”
Beyond sheer lack of numbers, Randone also sees a problem in the quality of workers. “It seems like people are going into the trades who can’t do anything else or find a decent job, so they swing a hammer,” he asserts. “It’s difficult to find a good guy who’s like a family man — well-rounded, smart and responsible. It’s tough to find that all in one ball.”
Communication Is Key
Frank Taylor, an instructor who works with 10th through 12th graders with Frederick County Career and Technical Center in Frederick, Md., was the instructor for the silver-winning team at this year’s SkillsUSA TeamWorks national competition. The competition required his students build a laundry room, which required technical skills in the areas of carpentry, electricity, masonry and plumbing. They also had to interpret plans and present judges with a critical path schedule of construction.