Today's students can become tomorrow's leaders with direction & coaching from industry professionals
by Ben Ashburn
December 29, 2015

Have you ever been intrigued by the thought of being involved in education, but never considered yourself a teacher? Do you know that you can play a critical role in the development of our industry's future leaders? The construction industry will never be perfect, but getting close to it begins with an earnest desire to invest in our youth. There is no better way to affect change in our industry than to get out of your office and into a classroom for a few hours a month. A culture of leadership and innovation in future generations is best cultivated through close cooperation among educators and industry professionals to mentor this generation.

Engaging students in the classroom is a great opportunity to connect with a specific audience or a group with a particular focus. Most high-school or college educators are happy to turn over the spotlight to a professional who wants to speak to students about his or her career, company or projects. Students are more likely to engage in conversation with an experienced professional, too.

Many contractors fret about the skilled labor shortage and worry about that shortage worsening. Mike Rowe, former host of "Dirty Jobs" and champion of blue-collar workers, describes the root of our problem when he explains that this skills gap is, "\'85bad news for anybody who's addicted to paved roads, electricity or indoor plumbing. Welders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, steamfitters, pipefitters—all across the country there's shortages in these areas, even with unemployment going through the roof\'85 The problem is we just don't value them the way we used to, so we don't encourage people to pursue them. We are so focused on getting into the 'corner office,' we forgot how to build a corner office."

Rowe uses his trademark humor and commonsense approach to communicate a growing problem today. Your approach may be different than his, but the mission is the same: to fill the gap with dedicated young people who take pride in working with their hands. High schools are full of disillusioned, misdirected students who wonder where they fit in and what they can do.

Enter the construction business owner or trade-organization representative who desperately needs to find young talent to grow into professional craftsmen and women. Schedule a time with your local school's guidance counselor to educate them about the opportunities that await their students in construction.

Debunk the outdated stereotype that plagues construction workers and tell them about the salaries, training and benefits you offer good employees. Visit vocational schools and do an information session about your company. Bring student interest forms for them to fill out. Provide job-shadowing opportunities or workshops for students. Host a career day where interested kids can learn about construction careers through trade-specific demonstrations and hands-on activities. Potential opportunities are only limited by your own creativity and drive.

Getting involved with your local college or university construction program can take on many forms as well. Use your knowledge, experience and resources to partner with them and support student competitions, service-learning projects, professional development, mentor programs and site visits. Become a big supporter of a construction-related campus student organization and regularly attend their meetings. Provide real-world consulting opportunities or problem-solving projects for students that help your business. Get involved in summer internships and semester co-op programs that enable you to form solid working relationships with students before they graduate, and then make job offers when they do. Each time you reach out to students, it provides an opportunity to influence our future leaders at one of their most moldable phases in life. Instead of nervously watching your investments ride the Dow Jones roller coaster, witness the steady and predictable returns that come from mentoring your future estimators and project managers—the folks who add profit to your bottom line every day.

Do you fret about the future of our industry? Would you like to see some changes? Here is your solution: take an hour out of your day and go talk to some students. Has the value of hard work been lost on this generation? Ask a student organization to build a Habitat for Humanity house with you. Would you like your workers to be leaders? Talk with a construction management class about leadership. Tired of bid shopping? Do a presentation on how it affects the industry. Need to find good, teachable help? Start an internship or co-op program. Put together a plan and approach a teacher or professor with how you want to get involved with their students.

Don't fool yourself into thinking your hands are tied. Instead, use them to meet students, build relationships, mentor them and pat them on the back. If you don't get involved, someone else will, and you might not like the results.