QUESTION: How much of an obstacle is worker unpreparedness in the current fight against the construction industry’s labor shortage? In other words, are a lot of young people trying to come into the trades without even knowing how to swing a hammer?
Mike Fabishak, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee: “Swinging a hammer is not the problem. We have the capacity to teach young men and women what they need to know to be successful. The hard part is the so-called soft skills — work ethic, positive attitude, being to work on time, etc. That’s difficult to teach. Those traits are usually instilled at a young age — usually by family.”
Chris Stamborski, assistant director of municipal services at R.A. Smith National, Brookfield: “I do think this is in part a generational thing, but also an educational thing as well. We need to do a better job promoting the opportunities in labor positions to help the upcoming workforce make an informed decision on what they’d like to do.”
Ken Kraemer, executive director of Building Advantage: “Our apprenticeship numbers are hitting pre-recession levels, and the union construction industry continues to encourage anyone who is willing to work hard and learn the skills required by the trades — regardless of experience level — to start their career in construction. We’ve been training skilled craftspeople for over 100 years.”
Brad Boycks, executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association: “WBA is working with our local associations to highlight programs that are in place to have a presence with high school students so they see the trades as an option as a future career. In fact, during our quarterly member-meeting day, we have three local associations that will be briefing our membership on their current programs with the hopes that other local associations can start programs in more areas of the state to promote the trades as a great career option for students.”
John Schulze, director of legal and government affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin: “This question frames the issue well — the youngest generation entering the workforce is not any more dumb or lazy than previous generations. They are just coming with such very, very different life experiences than previous generations. These differences are exacerbated by the fact that the great recession thinned the ranks of employees between the millennials and baby boomers that serve as a transitional buffer between these groups and help them communicate. The key to success is to harness the millennials’ strengths (preference for meaningful work over status, importance of community, intellectual curiosity) while teaching them the soft skills they need to function on a job site. The ABC of Wisconsin offers a very successful online course that teaches how to use a tape measure because the 20-somethings were not running around with tools when they were kids. However, you can turn to a millennial right away for help with your Wi-Fi.”