8 Questions with  ABC's National Craft Professional 2015
KBR's Holley Thomas talks with CBO about skilled craftsmanship, the labor shortage and what business owners can do to help

Construction Business Owner partnered with ABC and KBR to bring you a short question and answer session with ABC’s National Craft Professional of the Year, Holley Thomas. Thomas lives in Double Springs, Alabama, and is a certified welding instructor for KBR. She has worked in the industry since 2009.

CBO: What does being named the ABC National Craft Professional of the Year mean to you?

Thomas: When I learned that I had been nominated, I felt like I had already won. It’s such an honor to be awarded Craft Professional of the Year. We go through life, and I think we seek validation from our peers and coworkers, so it’s nice to have that proof that my hard work is noticed.


CBO: What are some of the challenges you face as a female welder? 

Thomas: As a certified welding inspector, there are not many challenges tied specifically to being female – challenges I had to overcome were more of ones I put on myself. Of course, I had to prove my worth, knowledge and work ethic from the beginning, but anyone has to do that.


CBO: What do you see as the biggest contributor to the current labor skill shortage? 

Thomas: When I was growing up, parents and counselors pushed the idea that the only way to be successful was to go to college and get a 4-year degree. Shop classes and technical programs began fading out of high schools. Students are pushed to prepare for the undergraduate path, with no other options. While such a path is wonderful for some, it also means many students are not exposed to different opportunities in skilled trades. This is one of the biggest causes of the skill shortage.


CBO: How can the industry address this contributor and the labor skill shortage overall?

Thomas: There’s a quote I like a lot, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” Recruitment is one of the biggest hurdles for business owners. It’s also hard to justify training because it’s difficult to retain workers. However, the construction industry as a whole is going to have to let go of that mindset. We need companies to invest money in training on the jobsite and in schools. Skilled workers thrive on continued education. If training opportunities are offered, companies are more likely to retain workers. Companies have to band together and support local trade schools and high school shop programs, too.


CBO: How are you addressing this individually?

Thomas: One of the things I have a great passion for is helping others succeed in their careers. Every jobsite I am on, I try to teach welding classes. These employees come to the classes on their own time and are not paid for attending them. I have also spoken at two different summer camps and two Construction Industry Institute conferences to companies on how to recruit and retain young workers.


CBO: What opportunites are there for construction business owners to proactively combat the labor skill shortage?

Thomas: If the majority of business owners would each support one trade program in some way—in the area they are headquartered or where their current jobsite is located—think of the impact they could have on the entire workforce. They could offer something as simple as advice, knowledge or even donate tools to the program. Then, these same companies would have the opportunity to recruit skilled workers straight from the programs.


CBO: What is the most important aspect of your job?

Thomas: Without a doubt, it’s helping others. By teaching what I’ve learned in my years of experience on the jobsite, I am able to help others progress in their careers. I know just within my company, KBR, there is a very strong training department. There are instructors in all different crafts. As a new employee, I tried out safety, rigging and iron-working classes.


CBO: From someone who has worked her way up from welder helper to your current position, what are your tips for success in the industry?


1. Find something you enjoy doing, and work at it.

2. Learn as much as you can about your craft—the more you work and know, the more valuable you are to potential employers.

3. Be patient and persevere. Good things come in time.

4. Most importantly, be humble. Don’t boast or brag about your skills—share them with others.


For more information, visit ABC