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Building Partners

Not all students are headed for careers in corporate America.

In an effort to raise awareness about the projected shortfall of skilled workers, the National Center for Construction Education and Research has kicked off a new program called Careers in Construction Week. The nonprofit organization in Gainesville, Fla., is encouraging high schools to participate every year during the third week of October by offering construction-related career fairs and fun, interactive activities.

The center has built a network of 500 training sponsors around the country that use their programs. "We want to raise awareness, letting students, instructors and parents know that there are rewarding and positive career opportunities in construction," says Rachael Smith, NCCER's marketing director.

There's going
to be about
one million jobs
by 2012 and not
enough people
to fi ll them.
-Rachael Smith, National
Center for Construction
Education and Research

District Administration recently spoke with Smith about why the program is needed and how it's building awareness of construction careers.

DA: How did the idea of Careers in Construction Week come about?

RS: There's a great need in the construction industry for a [larger] workforce. There's usually about 250,000 jobs available each year in the industry in the US. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there's going to be about one million jobs by 2012 and not enough people to fill them. We felt Career Construction Week would be a national image awareness campaign that branched off of our Build Your Future DVD.

DA: Tell me about the Build Your Future campaign and what the differences are between these two programs?

RS: Build Your Future is a 22-minute career awareness DVD, something that we do every two years funded by the construction industry and as one of our primary sponsors. We go to different construction sites around the country and interview students in construction training programs, craft professionals, superintendents and owners at different construction sites and projects. We ... broadcast it via satellite to two million students across the country.

DA: What specific careers will be affected most by today's shortage of skilled workers?

RS: There's a study by FMI, a management consulting group. It shows the top careers are carpenters, masons, electricians, plumbers and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioner) technicians. These will be affected the most. Right now, the percentage of electricians in 2006 will be [down by] -3%. In 2007, it will go to -9%, in 2008, -14%.

DA: What kinds of activities were offered at the career fair in your community?

RS: Local contractors did construction demonstrations and tours of a construction site at the campus. They had seminars [featuring] students in construction, a craft professional and project superintendent who gave their story on how and why they got into the construction industry and why it's worked for them. They did a nail drive contest seeing who could hammer a nail the fastest.

The Career Development System in Oak Forest, Ill., provided an open house for regional high school students. They went to an actual home built by students in a [local] post secondary program, which sponsored the open house. And at Crest High School in Shelby, N.C., the principal gave a construction fact of the day over the intercom and a trivia question.

DA: How did schools promote the fair to students?

RS: One of the things I thought was cool was the Caddo Career & Technology Center in Shreveport, La., had its construction students construct 38 miniature tool boxes and work with students in the culinary arts program to fill them with cookies. The local homebuilder's association delivered them to the middle and high school guidance counselors with our current construction poster.

DA: What materials did the NCCER provide?

RS: We have an entire Web site devoted to Careers in Construction Week. Our planning guide has outlines for what you can actually do. We give tips on how to work with the media, sample press releases, PSAs [public service announcements] and a sample proclamation that can be customized. There's a sample agenda for construction companies [giving] a job site tour and field trip forms. Next year, we're looking to evolve the Web site even more--have it be more interactive. We'll have success stories from this year's careers in construction week and ideas about what other communities did.

DA: What other resources do you offer to educators throughout the year?

RS: We provide curriculum for more than 40 craft areas, have career path posters and a brochure that goes over different career descriptions and hot industry careers. We've done is join forces with on a co-branded site. It has all sorts of useful tips on building a resume, construction statistics and descriptions of different construction career fairs. There are over 2500 high schools and post secondary schools that are using our program.

DA: Still, budgets are tight for many schools. How can they afford to fund career fairs?

RS: It's really important for schools to build relationships with local contractors and chambers of commerce. The more people involved, the better. Schools will find that contractors are more than willing to help out because there is such an industry shortage. DA

Carol Patton is a contributing editor.