Industry Highlight: ABC/WMC Addresses Construction’s Labor Shortage (Part 2)

In our most recent blog post, the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter’s (ABC/WMC) explained how the labor shortage is impacting the construction sector. Norm Brady, Jen Schottke, and Aubrey Meikle explain how ABC/WMC is taking action to address this issue.


Education Efforts

For ABC/WMC, reaching out to schools and piquing students’ interest in construction careers early is key. Making sure that construction professionals have a presence in students’ lives is one way that the organization increases career awareness. “Children are going to gravitate towards a career of someone they know,” explains Jen Schottke. “So, if we don’t have a presence in education, simply being in the schools, students will never choose our career pathway.”

ABC/WM ensures that construction has a presence in schools by partnering tradespeople with teachers. “We wanted to go into the classroom and help students understand how what they’re learning is used in the construction field,” says Schottke. In one case, a carpenter visited a classroom in full construction gear and provided tape measures for the students. He brought their math lesson to life by helping students see how adding and subtracting fractions is used in the world of work. The lesson was both engaging and exciting for students and aligned with the established curriculum standards for the teacher.

The organization engages with several programs and opportunities to connect construction with education. In addition to classroom visits, ABC/WMC takes students on field trips to construction sites, funds construction summer camps for middle schoolers with GRCC, and takes teachers and counselors into the field to try to change their perceptions and show how academics are used in the field. “They might think construction is dirty, unsafe, low-skill,” explains Schottke. “Bringing them into the industry helps reshape their perceptions, and ultimately advocate for us in the classroom.”

ABC/WMC also created the Jump Start program in partnership with GRCC. Jump Start is a four-week intensive training aimed at 18-24-year-olds interested in construction. Jump Start helps to shift the recruitment process from targeting any student who is not attending a four-year university to what Schottke calls “the right student for the right program for the right reason.”

Lastly, ABC/WMC coordinates partnerships to help construction employees advance their skills and better serve their companies through GRCC. “We will coordinate a specific trade, identify the curriculum, and, through a partnership with the college, offer the program,” Norm Brady explains. Though these programs can be sporadic, Brady has noted that in-house training has increased in recent years.


How Diversity Influences the Talent Pool

Diversity in the workforce is another issue for the construction sector, although for reasons that may not immediately come to mind for those unfamiliar with the industry. Brady explains that historically, hiring in construction is based on a tradition of referring friends and family to the job. He says that for many of ABC/WMC’s member companies, this results in a homogenous group of employees. “I think it’s a fair statement that because the construction industry hasn’t made inroads in [minority] communities, we’re missing out,” he explains. “So, it’s intentional to try to develop those relationships and employ people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

Reaching out to schools is again a solution to this problem. Schottke says that in order to make connections with minorities, focusing on schools with higher minority populations is a priority.

Additionally, ABC/WMC entered ArtPrize 9 with a series of photographs highlighting diversity in the construction industry. Titled “We Are Construction,” the photos are an effort to help “all people be able to see themselves in construction,” says Schottke. “Whether the color of your skin, or your gender, or—what you can’t see in some of these photos—your background, you can work in construction.”

To learn more about ABC/WMC, visit their website.

This is Part 2 in our series about the construction industry in West Michigan. Check out Part 1 here.


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