"With a bit of work ethic and any kind of training or certification in our construction trades, you can be employed in days, ranging from a paid apprenticeship learning a craft up to starting salaries in the $80,000 a year range," Michael Dunham, CEO, Associated General Contractors of Georgia, Inc. (AGC).
In a near full employment economy, spot shortages, often in key industries are bound to develop. Georgia, and particularly metro Atlanta, have economic growth tied in many ways to real estate, development and construction. An ongoing shortage of skilled craftsman, licensed plumbers, electricians, welders and other trades also drive up costs as well as contributing invariably to construction delays.
Though comparatively a good economic problem to have, general contractors, their sub-contractors and construction industry leadership across the state are not sitting on the sidelines, waiting for shifts in the job market. They have instead chosen to work to re-build the jobs and prospective employee pipelines into their industries.
During 2018, for the first time, aggregate college loan debt obligations surpassed aggregate household credit card debt. And the college debt is pulling away from the pack. A societal trend over the last generation has been that increasingly a college education or diploma is considered best and appropriate for everyone. However an undeniable truth, for many reasons and on many levels, is that college and university simply are not the best path for everyone.
Kevin Kuntz, president of the southeast division of McCarthy, a 155-year old, employee-owned construction firm, remembers well being taken under wing at the age of 16 by a construction industry executive, steered towards a construction industry college scholarship, completing his studies and then returning to an industry that he already considered family.
"It's also our job, in the communities we serve, to be looking around and identifying and encouraging interest, finding the stars, mentoring these young men and young women and re-building the jobs pipeline into our industries and trades," said Kevin Kuntz, board president of the AGC.
Georgia contractors, and construction industry leaders, like dozens of other groups, converge on the State Capitol during the legislative session, to raise the profile of their issues and industries with the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and legislative leadership in our State House and Senate. The strategy and tactics are not particularly rare or newsworthy. However, like the exploding film and entertainment industry, the AGC and its peer groups can offer something which few other industries can...almost instantaneous, well-paid employment.
Licensed and certified plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs and many other certified craftsman easily earn into six figures just a few years into their respective trades. Starting salaries, particularly in high demand metro areas, are generally in the range of $70-80,000 for licensed construction industry trade professionals.
Yes, there is also still a demand for unskilled labor as well, but the industry is also more concerned about its 'graying' mid-management. The industry recession, some say depression, of the late 2000s wiped out nearly a decade of recruitment. The typical construction site or project manager is now in his or her mid-50s, with a comfortable retirement possibly already in view. As these Baby Boomers age out, the industry almost cannot re-build that qualified pipeline fast enough to keep up with demand.
Thankfully, Georgia government leaders hear and understand these pleas, and have been expanding a wealth of programs in Georgia's trade and vocational schools as well as the Technical College System of Georgia, QuickStart job training, YouScience online career assessment tools for high schoolers and the broader availability of HOPE scholar dollars for trade degrees - all to buttress the foundation of one of the state's fundamental industries.
Jerry Horton of Collins & Arnold Construction in Sandy Springs points out that the industry is now beginning their recruitment efforts in many elementary schools with Toolbox Clubs. The industry exec is clear that the competition is fierce, and telling their story falls on the back of those in the industry today.
"We have to be constantly scanning the classrooms in our community and continually hiring with purpose," said Horton.
No industry of type of employment can guarantee satisfaction or a life of success, but this industry is certainly applying more than a bit of sweat equity to construct a solid pathway and pipeline for their successors to follow. We can only hope that the Millenials in classrooms today will look up from their phones and pay a bit of attention.