The difficulty of getting good help—or even any help—is a recurring theme across America these days. And it's not just in the construction industry; farmers, fishers, and factories are all fighting to attract the workers. At the recent CEO Forum hosted by the American Society of Concrete Contractors and sponsored by Concrete Construction and Concrete International, I heard two conversations related to this issue.
First, is the current debate in Washington over how to handle illegal immigrant workers. This issue is extremely political but somehow not partisan. Security is important to all Americans, so throwing open the borders is not feasible. On the other hand, erecting fences to keep out Mexican workers that our country needs and depends on, people whose only crime is wanting to come here and work hard, seems like an odd approach. And it hardly seems fair for the government to make employers responsible for determining everyone's immigration status. As Don Marks says in this month's Contractors to Watch column, “We want to do the right thing, but we don't want to be an enforcement arm of the INS.” We will follow this issue and present a comprehensive report later this summer.
Another interesting conversation I sat in on at the CEO Forum concerned the ongoing problem of attracting the best and brightest to the construction industry—there are some success stories. Byron Klemaske with T.B. Penick described the efforts that construction-related groups are making in the San Diego area. A four-year program in the local high schools teaches construction skills, including fieldwork, project management, and architecture. The annual Construction Expo provides a forum for students, teachers, and career counselors to learn more about why construction is such a good career choice, emphasizing the training available, the high pay scales, and the great opportunities for advancement.
Following up on all this, I came across an outstanding Web site, www.constructmyfuture.com. This very slick site would make any thoughtful young person consider a construction career. It includes profiles of big projects, success stories, and statistics like a skilled journey person earns 100 percent more than the average high-school graduate.
And finally, I learned of the Helmets to Hardhats program (www.helmetstohardhats.org). Recruiting former military personnel into construction seems like a match made in heaven; they come out of the service with discipline and often exceptional leadership skills. This union-based program is doing a great job recruiting skilled craftspeople, but the same approach can be taken for other jobs in the industry.
The problem of getting the people we need to maintain the vitality and ingenuity of the concrete construction business is not overwhelming. It will, however, take imagination and hard work, and we need to start now.
William D. Palmer
Editor in Chief