Mike Stern has simple advice for young people coming into construction: Get out of the office after hours and take part in activities that’ll help you get acquainted with other people at similar points in their careers.
Too often, says the project manager at J.H. Findorff & Son’s Milwaukee office, new recruits overlook the benefits offered by trades organizations and similar groups. It was Stern’s own participation in the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee’s Construction Leadership Council that eventually led to his becoming the president of the organization’s board at its annual meeting late last month.
“The (Construction Leadership Council) is an amazing venue to get involved in,” he said. “A lot of times you come out of college not knowing a lot of people in the industry. The council provides leadership training. They offer events to help build your personal skills and networking. You also get to meet your peers who are often experiencing the same things you are as a young person.”
Stern’s introduction to the construction industry came just over 10 years ago when he was at Marquette University finishing a degree in civil engineering. Shortly before graduating, he found himself taking on an internship at Findorff – a company he has stayed with ever since. That time has seen him steadily rising up the ranks, going from intern to project engineer to full-on project manager.
Stern’s pathway to the presidency of the AGC of Greater Milwaukee’s board of directors likewise has been a gradual climb. He first joined the board in 2018 and has since served as its secretary treasurer and vice president.
His goals now are to help the AGC of Greater Milwaukee further pursue its current priorities: Working with organizations like Building Advantage to draw young people into construction, help contractors weather the vicissitudes of the COVID-19 pandemic and do whatever he can to promote projects and ensure the industry has a steady flow of work for years to come. He recently sat down with The Daily Reporter to discuss his plans for his coming year as board president and his thoughts on the state of the industry. (This article has been edited to provide brevity and clarity.)
The Daily Reporter: What’s your first priority?
Stern: We need to continue to focus on workforce development. We have a responsibility to our members: We have to help them have the workforce they need continue to do all the work out there. Despite everything that’s happened this past year, it still seems every time you turn around another project pops up. There’s another hotel. It’s really exciting that there is still a lot of activity out there. We need to make sure we have the workforce to tackle those projects.
TDR: What else is on the front burner?
Stern: We need to make sure we continue reaching out to organizations that work with under-represented groups. We want them to understand that we want inclusion, and we want to build this pipeline of talent. There is a breadth of different career opportunities and job opportunities. We need to make sure everybody is aware of those and that everybody has that opportunity and knows this is a great industry to have a career in.
TDR: What do you think of the way the Wisconsin construction industry has responded to COVID-19?
Stern: We’ve found a way to work safely and you can see that in our being deemed essential. There hasn’t been any pushback to the idea that construction needs to keep going. At the AGC’s annual meeting last month, our national economist on the post pandemic put up a slide on construction employment in states in the Midwest. Wisconsin saw an increase in construction employment, whereas all the states around us saw a decrease. So we’ve found a way to be successful and to work safely while some other states have had to deal with decreases and haven’t been able to maintain it.
TDR: What do you think about the rumblings that the Biden Administration might make infrastructure spending a priority in the next few years?
Stern: I think it’s very ambitious in what they want to do. But it’s yet to be seen how successful they will be. We’ll know a lot more once a formal bill comes out.
That said, it can’t hurt our industry; it can only help. It’s going to kickstart a lot of things. There will most likely be a lot of focus on renewable energy. That could really kickstart that sector of our industry. If an infrastructure bill does gets passed and, depending on how fast that is, that’ll just emphasize the need to support such a plan by continuing to focus on bringing young people into our industry. I always think that: Somebody gave me a chance at one point. So let’s make sure we are getting into high schools and showing the kids they can prosper in the skilled trades.