Cover Story/Special Report: Attracting the people you need

Sure, the general economic downturn – particularly housing’s depths – has dealt a hit to construction jobs. But even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 437,000 loss in construction employment over the 12-month period ending in July, the looming labor shortage is not going away. And with the needs of the booming energy sector you could argue it hasn’t even been postponed.

BLS pegs the average construction craft worker’s age at 47. To replace retiring workers and meet expected growth, the Construction Labor Research Council predicts 185,000 new craft workers need to be recruited and retained each year until 2016. No, says the Construction Users Roundtable, the number needed is more like 200,000 to 250,000 new craft workers per year.

Whatever figure you use, the needs are daunting. The good news: the industry is beginning to face this crisis head on, using all the ingenuity it exhibits on the jobsite. In this Special Report, we visit a sampling of the efforts designed to get workers on your jobsites, tell you how you get involved with local image and recruitment efforts and offer some guerilla recruiting tactics.
– Equipment World Editors

Enough, say owners. It’s time to know
1.) just exactly what labor demands we’re facing and
2.) how to attract the people we need.

By Marcia Gruver

You could blame it on Katrina. After the hurricane left the Gulf Coast in shambles, Business Roundtable member companies and others ponied up $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to get workers available for the reconstruction effort. The Business Roundtable formed the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative four months after the storm.

Scheduled to end December 2009, the Gulf Coast initiative has to date put more than 18,000 people through two- to four-week construction introduction training programs (see sidebar below). But a national initiative was needed. That initiative would have to include both the union and non-union sectors, address supply and demand issues and finally figure out just what makes people choose construction.

So the Construction Users Roundtable, an offshoot of the Business Roundtable’s construction committee, re-opened its dormant Construction Workforce Development Center, formed in the mid-90s to address a specific regional issue. Now a separate legal entity from CURT, CWDC is about to unveil a two-pronged approach to construction workforce development it hopes will be “the glue that links everything together,” says executive director Daniel Groves.

Labor supply and demand forecasting: In the United States, this is currently done on a fragmented, regional approach; CWDC wants to create a common, national methodology for measuring need. The goal is pragmatic: if a large utility, for example, wants to start a project in Lafayette, Indiana, that requires 1,000 workers, are there 1,000 workers in the specific trades needed in that area? By early November, CWDC will be rolling out a free, pilot web-based program that allows owners to input and extract data to forecast such labor needs. (Some broad data segments will be available to the public.) CWDC is modeling the program after Canada’s Construction Sector Council website,, and hopes to eventually include government infrastructure projects in the demand picture. The CWDC website,, is scheduled to be fully operational by mid-2009.

Workforce marketing and recruiting: “There has to be a significant change in how people view construction,” Groves says. CWDC plans to pinpoint three groups with a compelling construction recruitment message:

  • Current workers who may be underemployed, unemployed, displaced or looking for a better opportunity.
  • Those preparing for the workforce, from K-12 to post-high school.
  • Influencers, including parents and guidance counselors.

“We know each group needs vastly different approaches,” Groves comments. But what works? Research now being conducted will serve as the basis for a pilot program in Alabama, due to be unveiled by the end of January. The statewide effort, done in cooperation with the Alabama Workforce Development Initiative (comprising state Associated Builders and Contractors and Associated General Contractors of America chapters plus organized labor), will not come cheap. Groves says it will cost “$1 million minimum.” Although CWDC is relying on industry contributions to start, 90 percent of the eventual funding mechanism calls for an owner-required cents-per-hour funding agreement. Owners would require all contractors bidding on a project to include this cost in their bids. “Owners were the drivers of safety,” Groves says, “and we view this as a similar effort.”

CWDC’s plans are ambitious: Once the Alabama pilot is proved, plans are to radiate the program out to neighboring states, and become national within a year, with an anticipated life expectancy of around five to eight years. The timing, however, depends on how strong a grassroots network is built: this will require thousands of volunteers – for example, a retired pipefitter who’s willing to explain his former job to a teenager.

What isn’t included in CWDC’s plans is training – an area where the group felt there was no need to reinvent the wheel. “There are a lot of training programs out there, whether union or non-union, doing a splendid job,” Groves says. “Our job is to get people into the pipeline.”

Footprints in the sand
The challenge is daunting: recruit and train 20,000 new entrants into construction in the Gulf Coast region by the end of 2009. Spearheaded by the Business Roundtable, the public-private partnership Gulf Coast Workforce Initiative is headed by Tim Horst, a now-retired executive on loan from Bechtel Group.

The initiative concluded the best way to serve the region was to provide front-end recruitment and back-end job placement. “We treated it like a construction project, with a schedule, budget and oversight,” Horst says. First up: the “I’m GREAT” marketing program, which stands for “Get Rewarded for Education and Advancement Training,” designed to draw attention to the free training. The campaign used all media resources: newspaper, magazines, TV and radio ads and job fairs, but found the most popular avenue was word of mouth. “People told us they heard about it from a relative,” Horst says.

After contacting a 24/7 call center, respondents are connected with a local training partner, typically a community college. If he or she takes the two- to four-week introduction to construction class, then the initiative works to get them placed in construction. “We’re looking to place people into their first jobs in the industry,” Horst says. “Once they become confident they like construction, they can work with their employer to use one of the many ongoing training programs available.”

In addition to contributions by Business Roundtable member companies, the effort required several public grants to fund the estimated $1,250 per student training cost. Through July, the effort had logged 18,967 training completions, and had a current enrollment of 2,120. The U.S. Department of Labor tracks course graduates, and is finding approximately 60 percent of the trainees end up working in construction 90 days after their training. Even at a 60-percent initial return, the program should go over its goal, assuming it continues to recruit at the same levels.

Lessons learned? “We’re looking to leave footprints in the sand,” Horst says. “We can accomplish so much more with a single recruitment campaign. A great example is the independent milk producers who got together for the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign. We can find an avenue for collaboration and do the same thing.”

For more information, visit

In this sampling of programs across the nation, you’ll see that several approaches make the cut. One might work in your area.

By Marcia Gruver and Amy Materson

How one Kansas contractor made the high school connection
With more than 1,000 employees, an eight-member dedicated education department and offices in four states, it might be easy for smaller contractors to dismiss Crossland Construction’s recruitment and training efforts as big-boy territory. Think again. When it comes to education, Crossland, based in Columbus, Kansas, has the materials to show how they think these efforts pay dividends for their company. And they are yours for the asking.

“Everything we’ve got, we’re willing to share,” says Brandon Brill, one of two Crossland education coordinators, who’s charged with promoting construction in grades 5 through 12 in a program called Crossland Connection. Brill goes to partner schools to simply, as he puts it, “give them the facts. The trick is not to sway them one way or another, just tell them what the opportunities are.”

Crossland Connection is just one facet of the company’s emphasis on workforce development. The company credits founder Ivan Crossland, Sr., who died in 2002, with establishing its education mission, now carried on by his six sons – Ivan Jr., Curt, Bennie, Mike, Christopher and Patrick. Four years ago, Crossland established an education department. One of its missions: help high schools expose students to construction in a positive way.

The company made an enticing offer to these schools: If you want to offer construction training in your vocational programs, we’ll supply the NCCER curriculum materials, give you a tool allowance and serve as your mentor. “We monitor their programs, perform audits, set up field trips to company projects and send in our employees to talk about the industry,” Brill says. To date, 15 high schools in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas have taken them up on this offer.

But Crossland Connection starts way before high school. It distributes a construction-themed activity book to 5th graders and takes classes on jobsite field trips. For 7th graders, the company sponsors two-week exploration labs on construction. Eighth graders start to see some serious action, which kicks off with an equipment rodeo, offering hands-on craft and equipment demos. These students can then be enrolled in the NCCER curriculum through high school.

Graduating high school students who’ve been through Crossland Connections can take a variety of paths. “We want the best of the best, whether they want to go to college or not,” Brill says.

Chad Gobl, Arma, Kansas, who started at Pittsburg State this fall majoring in construction management, is an example of the type of student the company seeks to influence. At the urging of a family friend, a Crossland employee, Gobl signed up for the construction classes at Frontenac High School, Frontenac, Kansas. “I could actually learn something I could use,” Gobl now says. He started working as a laborer for Crossland in the summer of his junior year and will continue to do so part time through college. “I knew a long time ago I wasn’t going to be an office guy,” he says. “With construction, when you’re done, you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was part of that.'”

To learn more about any of Crossland’s workforce development initiatives, contact Brill at (620) 429-1414 or

Getting boots on the ground
Dan Graham, president, calls the Northwest College of Construction, Portland, Oregon, “totally driven by industry.” After realizing their individual education efforts did not have the necessary economies of scale, four local chapters of ABC, AGC, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Utility Contractors Association pooled their resources, bought and remodeled a training facility, and opened the doors to NWCC in 2006.

The college is an example of the construction industry taking responsibility for its own future, says Graham, who served as workforce manager of the local AGC chapter for 10 years prior to his present position. “We’re one way to put boots on the ground – to put real investment in real programs that lead somewhere.”

NWCC’s core business is open-shop apprenticeship programs – around 85 percent of students are working full time, training at nights and on weekends. “Job placement is a big part of what we do,” Graham says, so drug screens are up front, which weeds out about 20 percent of the applicants. “Our reputation rides on our relationship with our contractors,” he says. “We have to send them good workers.”

Course offerings are a mix of NCCER courses – the college offers state-registered apprenticeship training in eight crafts – and AGC Supervisory Training. The school tracks participation by number of enrollments, which counts classes rather than students. There have been 1,900 enrollments this coming school year, including around 250 management class enrollments.

Recruiting is a full time job. One recruiting effort this spring, though, exceeded Graham’s expectations. NWCC put together a week of construction training for high school students – over spring break. “They didn’t have to be there, it wasn’t a day off and we sold out,” Graham says. After getting rave reviews from the students, NWCC followed up with an invitation-only hiring event, where high school vocational students met one-on-one with contractors.

NWCC has a 30 to 50 percent graduation rate, which Graham says tracks in line with local community colleges. Although Graham sees the college becoming profitable in five years, for now it’s depending on the generosity of its founding associations to make up shortfalls in its $1.7 million 2008-09 school year budget. NWCC is projected to be 90 percent self sustaining this year. “We’re really young – this is only our third school year – and there are tons of contractors who haven’t heard of us yet,” Graham says.

For more information, call (503) 256-7300 or visit

A curriculum foundation
You’ll see the NCCER acronym – which stands for National Center for Construction Education and Research – a lot in this report. NCCER calls itself a “not-for-profit educational foundation created to develop industry-driven standardized craft training programs with portable credentials.”

It quite simply has become the foundation for the majority of craft education in the United States. NCCER’s main mission is to provide a defined construction career path with industry-recognized credentials. The group currently has curriculum for more than 40 crafts, plus safety and management education. Recent course additions: green construction and bi-lingual English/Spanish jobsite language skills.

NCCER is hardly an overnight sensation. The group traces its roots to the fall of 1991 when the Associated Builders and Contractors started to standardize curriculum in five crafts. It became independent in 1996, and is affiliated with the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. In addition to its training mission, NCCER created the National Careers in Construction Week (see page 42). Funding comes from several industry sources, including a voluntary cents-per-hour training fund from contractors.

For more information, go to

NCCER National Registry stats*
38,382 craft instructors
3,869 master trainers
4,558,685 module completions

*As of July 2008; NCCER’s National Registry gives credentials for training completions

“Send us the bill”
In 1997, when nine construction associations formed the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, they went to the state legislature with an intriguing proposition: bill us. The group petitioned for a $100 a year increase in contractors’ license fees, which then went into a state educational fund. MCEF gets $600,000 from this fund each year, money that underwrites the groups’ high school thrust.

MCEF oversees providing NCCER credentials for 4,800 students in 186 high school trade programs throughout the state. Every high school construction trade class in Mississippi has an NCCER-certified instruction and issues skill documentation through MCEF and NCCER.

While the high school initiative is the foundation for MCEF, its overall mission is to “lay a career path out,” says Gary Bambauer, president. The group calls apprenticeship the “new four-year degree” and shows students they have a choice. “They can come straight from high school and be an apprentice, they can come through a vocational school, a community college, or get a four-year degree,” Bambauer says. “We can say, here are the pathways and they all connect.'”

In addition to the high school programs, MCEF oversees eight U.S. Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs. “We’ve found that 52 percent of the people in our apprenticeships had high school vocational training,” Bambauer says.

That applies to Chris Winter, now assistant project manager with Mid-States Construction, Jackson, Mississippi. Winter enrolled in an MCEF-sponsored program in his junior year of high school. A score of 100 on a carpentry test lead to an internship with Mid-States, where he has worked for nine years. During that time, Winter continued his education, and moved up from laborer to carpenter to assistant superintendent to his present position. Now he’s working on his MBA.

Nick Apostle got into construction after three years of college. He worked for a year as a helper with Moses Electric, Jackson, Mississippi, before he enrolled in an apprenticeship program. “I dug pole bases, bent pipe, everything to try to learn,” he says. Now a journeyman electrician, Apostle is trying out the office side, serving as a junior estimator. But he has his eye on becoming a master electrician, which he estimates will take him another two years. Moses Electric has paid for all of his training.

As an employer, Mike Upchurch, co-owner of Upchurch Plumbing, Greenwood, Mississippi, and a MCEF board member uses MCEF-sponsored materials to train his workers in rural Mississippi. “It’s still a struggle,” he says, “but we try to put our guys on a 4 day/10 hour schedule so they can train for six hours on Friday.” This year, Upchurch started paying each participant $6 for each hour they spent in training. His advice to contractors who are forced into a more DIY approach? “Just keep trying,” he says. “I don’t think a lot of these guys realize how quickly they could advance if they were trained.”

“Parents are starting to recognize construction has a career path,” Bambauer says. “We tell them at the end of four years apprenticeship, their kids will have earned $100,000; with the four-year college route, they will have paid almost that much for their education. And both the journeyman apprentice and the college graduate will be earning about the same wage when they get out.”

For more information, call 800-358-3788, or visit

Construction high school stays rifle focused
In 2004, when her mother talked to her about attending St. Louis’ Construction Careers Center, Gabrielle Fields was skeptical, but she quickly fit in at the nation’s first charter construction high school. A 2008 graduate, Fields now works as a project engineering intern for S.W. Wilson Construction and this fall entered the construction management program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. “Some students don’t understand, saying ‘construction’ is like saying ‘sports,’ it’s so broad,” Fields says.

The brainchild of the St. Louis Associated General Contractors, CCC was the result of a 1999 strategic plan, says Len Toenjis, president. “We knew we had to look outside of the traditional workforce pool to replace the skilled trades workers who were retiring at a rapid rate, and to keep up the demand for qualified workers,” he says. “We decided a construction-related high school was the answer to both challenges.”

The process was complex and expensive. The AGC chapter formed a task force to research state legislation, find a school district to sponsor the program and raise money to get the school off the ground. After the St. Louis public school system agreed to sponsor the school, the chapter raised the $1.5 million needed to open it. The group renovated an abandoned building, and welcomed the first freshman class of 105 students in August 2001.

The school graduated its fourth class June 26, and 75 percent of the class is either already working in the construction trades or beginning college, says Gina Washington, principal. Overall, CCC says 50 percent of graduates pursue either related employment or education, including apprenticeships.

For the 11-month 2007-2008 school year, the CCC had 453 students; 293 males and 160 females with a 20-to-1 student/teacher ratio. Since its inception, the school has required regular substance abuse testing and all students must wear uniforms. The school also has a service learning component – participation in community service learning opportunities is required.

CCC recruits eighth grade students and accepts transfers from area high schools. Fields says the school offers opportunities unavailable in traditional high school settings. “There are numerous networking opportunities and a lot of people who serve as mentors to the students,” she says. “If you show an interest in construction, the faculty will most definitely take an interest in you.”

Scott Wilson, president of S.W. Construction, a St. Louis-based general contracting firm with more than $500 million a year in projects, points to Fields as an example of CCC’s excellence. “She’s been an intern here for two years and is really a shining star,” he says. “If we could get a hundred Gabbys we’d be ahead of the game.”

“Ninety-nine percent of my expectations have been met or exceeded,” Toenjis says. “For the future, we need to stay rifle-focused on educational advancement.”

For more information, visit

Shaping a trend
Others have taken notice of CCC’s success. The school hosts a number of visitors, all looking at how to replicate CCC in their own communities. As a result, construction charter high schools are now operating in New Orleans, Louisiana; Reno, Nevada; Cranston, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

School districts are also getting into the act. This fall, Portland, Oregon’s Architecture, Construction and Engineering Academy – a collaboration of four area school districts – will open to juniors and seniors. In Washington, D.C., renovations are almost complete on Phelps High School, where educators plan to remake vocational education through an offering of construction, architectural, engineering and college-prep courses.

Developing construction’s farm league
“This issue requires putting aside politics and completion,” says Scott Shelar, executive director, Construction Education Foundation of Georgia, “and I think people get that. When we all speak with one voice, construction is a very big industry.”

CEFGA’s mission primarily targets the 370 vocational high school programs in Georgia. Twenty percent of its revenues come from a contract with the Georgia Department of Education, which helps fund the group’s NCCER curriculum oversight. To date, 72 of the 370 programs have been NCCER accredited, with another 25 due to come on board this year.

Another mission is recruitment. The group’s annual Career Expo drew 4,193 attendees this past April, including students from 107 different high schools. Also part of Career Expo is a SkillsUSA student competition, which this year saw 171 students competing in 16 construction-related contests.

Another component is a paid summer internship program, which takes students as young as 16 and puts them on the job for eight weeks. “They get to truly experience what’s going on in the industry,” says W. Kevin Ward, CEFGA director of operations. The four-year-old program has grown from an initial five participants to 68 interns this past year, with plans for 100 next year.

CEFGA is starting to get involved in the next education phase, overseeing NCCER-training certification in four technical schools. The goal: 100 post-secondary NCCER-accredited programs.

Shelar advises those wanting to establish similar efforts to have patience. “It took us 15 years to get to this point, and I anticipate it’s going to take us another 10 years to really build the farm league we want,” he says. “If we could get 200 of the best programs in the nation in the state of Georgia, it will be a pretty remarkable pipeline for feeding people into the industry.”

For more information call (678) 889-4455 or go to

How unions train and keep their operators
Solidarity has its advantages, including extensive training and retention programs, and long term commitments from their workers.

By Tom Jackson

While union equipment operators might not dominate the labor force in many U.S. markets, they nonetheless move a lot of dirt and material in this country.

Yet the International Union of Operating Engineers faces the same demographic pressures as non-union employers do in finding and recruiting young operators and keeping the older operators they have. “We have to bring in 35,000 to 40,000 new people every year, just to keep our heads above water,” says Steve Brown, director of construction training for the union. “That’s how many are leaving every year.”

The IUOE has 400,000 members and 130 locals in the United States and Canada. In that group are approximately 250,000 equipment operators.

What makes union training different from some trade school routes is that applicants who are admitted to the program get a long (three to four year) paid apprenticeship with a mix of classroom studies and on-the-job training with contractors. “We spend a lot of money on equipment for the apprentices to train on and receive a lot of help for this from the major OEMs,” Brown says. “Our goal is to make every one of them a universal equipment operator, so they’re extremely valuable to the contractor.”

You have to be at least 18, have a high school GED or better education and transportation and a driver’s license to enter the program. “A lot of these jobs are out in the boondocks,” says Brown.

The curriculum for the apprenticeship is developed by the union’s Joint Apprenticeship Training Committees, which are made up of union officials and construction company representatives. “They pretty much determine which subjects they’re going to teach,” Brown says, usually divided among “dirt locals” that teach earthmoving equipment skills and those that offer crane operator training. The union’s relationship with the contractors on the training committee is a crucial part of its success, Brown says. “These guys have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on. They know if there are jobs on the book or if there is going to be work and how many people are going to be needed each year. They control the destiny of each apprenticeship program.”

The instructors are almost all paid staff, with a handful of volunteers. Before anybody can instruct, they go through a train-the-trainer program taught by the IUOE. “You have to learn how to teach, how to reach out to these kids,” Brown says. “They don’t want war stories, or to know how you did it in your day.”

None of this comes cheap, and it’s all funded from union dues paid by card-carrying members. Anywhere from 12 cents to $1 per hour for every member who is working goes into the training fund. Most of the programs are assisted with grants, donations or low-cost equipment from manufacturers. “We’ve had many contracts with Caterpillar, Deere, CNH and Liebherr,” Brown says.

And the union is not skimping on the latest in technology training. “We recently did deals with Topcon and Trimble which are working out well,” Brown says. “And we’re heavily into simulation as well,” he says.

These simulators go for up to $100,000 and the IUOE has 28 units, primarily Global Sim crane simulators, across the United States. The simulators not only save on fuel costs, they also give apprentices a lot of experience without any safety risks.

Each of the IUOE locals also puts a lot of emphasis on outreach as well. “We have Hispanic outreach, Helmets to Hardhats and a lot of female participation working with the YWCA. Every local recruits three or four times a year.”

Their pitch, and what helps apprentices stick with the program and become lifelong members, is the pay and benefits and the work environment. “Our pay scales are reasonable. We have medical benefits and retirement that’s paid through collective bargaining. And we work against drugs and alcohol and preach safety till it hurts,” Brown says.

The union really never stops training, despite the upward progress of its members.

Journeymen continue to get training in safety matters such as HAZMAT operations, respiratory hazards and decontamination, Brown says. And as journeymen age, the union recognizes that it needs to provide them with new opportunities that aren’t as hard on the body as say, running a scraper or an artic eight hours a day. So the union offers a continuing education form of training called upgrades. “Some of our upgrade classes have more members than our apprenticeships,” Brown says.

In a nutshell:

  • Apprentices are brought in early
  • Training is comprehensive (3 to 4 years)
  • Classroom work is supplemented with OJT
  • Union members’ dues pay for training
  • Local contractors decide curriculum
  • Trainers are trained too
  • Older operators learn new skills

Looking for the next generation: Get on YouTube
To find more recruits to fill the ranks of retiring electricians, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association in Portland, Oregon, launched a campaign to encourage high school students to consider careers in the trades. Put together by Pac/West communications, the campaign consists of short videos on the websites YouTube and MySpace.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in one of the videos a young electrician named Brian Couch tells viewers: “You earn while you learn. It’s not like going to college where you go to school for five to eight years and have to work a part-time job.”

To see the videos go to or and type “Brian Couch” in the search box.

How construction is enticing a new workforce to sign up

By Barbara Cox

At least 1 million more construction jobs will be created in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But how to get the word out? Here’s a sampling of the programs created to entice new workers into construction.

Construction Camps
Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania
These week-long construction camps for seventh and eighth graders offer craft training information from Eastern Westmoreland Career and Technology Center instructors. Students then put those skills to use operating machinery, constructing ornamental fountains and visiting heavy/highway projects. Contact: (877) 343-CAWP.

MAGIC Summer Camp
National Association of Women in Construction
The Mentoring a Girl in Construction Summer Camp offers participants a chance to meet women in all areas of construction and take part in training discussions, construction projects and jobsite trips. Contact: Renee Conner, at
Associated Equipment Distributors, Association of Equipment Manufacturers and Associated General Contractors of America
This interactive website offers information on more than 1,600 post-secondary schools’ construction trades and equipment technology programs, construction career descriptions and applications for scholarships and apprenticeships. The site also serves as a forum to connect teachers and construction companies to develop ways to get students involved and interested in construction careers. Contact: AEM’s Erin Babcock at (414) 274-0657 or

Construction Career Days
Associated General Contractors of America
High school students have the opportunity to operate machinery, survey, weld, use crane simulators and more at these locally hosted events. Several AGC chapters have also partnered with other associations for training and education outreach. In one example the AGC of Kansas and the Kansas Contractors Association, along with the Kansas NAWIC chapter hosted the Kansas Construction Learning Center last year at the Kansas State Fair. Contact: Liz Elvin, at (703) 837-5389 or

Engineering and Construction Camps
Society of American Military Engineers

SAME/U.S. Air Force Academy Camp
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Students can experience cadet life firsthand while honing creative skills at the SAME/U.S. Air Force Academy Construction and Engineering Camp. During the week-long event, participants build sprinkler systems, make waste water filters, participate in team-building exercises and problem-solving activities. U.S. Air Force Academy instructors and engineers then perform stress tests and lead a discussion on proper design and performance. Contact: John Mullans at or Lt. Col. Scott Prosuch, U.S. Air Force, at

SAME/U.S. Army Camp
Vicksburg, Mississippi
Supervised by professional engineers and engineering organizations in the lower Mississippi Valley, this one-week program offers campers hands-on engineering and construction activities, with a primary focus on water resources engineering. Contact:

SAME/U.S. Navy Seabees Camp
Port Hueneme, California
Students are introduced to the engineering and construction fields plus the work of military engineers in the Seabee community at this one-week camp at the Venture County Naval Base. SAME members and U.S. Navy leaders teach campers about construction methods and materials, hydraulics and environmental engineering. Contact: Lt. April Lemons, U.S. Navy, at

“It’s Our Future!” campaign
American Road and Transportation Builders Association
ARTBA’s Transportation Development Foundation developed “Recruiting for the Next Generation,” a research-grounded marketing program. The program includes a web-based tool kit for industry firms who want to create job fair materials, provide outreach to high school and college career counselors and a media relations program. Contact: Jeff Solsby at (202) 289-4434 or

Construction Challenge
Association of Equipment
Manufacturers, Destination ImagiNation
Directed at high school and technical school students, this program has students compete in an infrastructure debate, product development and problem-solving.AEM and Destination ImagiNation plan to hold 15 regional qualifying rallies scheduled for February 7, 2009. Advancing teams will compete at the finals on May 20-23, 2009, at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Contact: Peggy Middendorf at (859) 727-2733 or

Careers in Construction Week
National Center for Construction Education and Research
This is an extension of the organization’s Build Your Future campaign and promotes construction careers to students through job fairs, construction site tours, poster contests and more. This year’s event is slated for October 13-17. NCCER also developed the 2008 Build Your Future career awareness video distribution during the week. Free copies of the video are available at Contact: Rachael Smith at or call (888) 622-3720.

Block Kids
The National Association of Women in Construction
NAWIC chapters sponsor preliminary competitions for its national Block Kids building program for children in grades one to six. Local winners advance to regional competitions, and a committee of industry professionals selects regional semi-finalists. Contact: Jamie Shirling at or call the foundation at (866) 277-2883.

National Craft Championships
Associated Builders and Contractors
High school and college craft students from the ABC chapters and member firm training programs participate in the National Craft Championships, representing thirteen trades. Contact: E-mail or call (703) 812-2000.

The pool of people who might be interested in a career in construction is huge, but to find them you need unconventional tactics.

By Tom Jackson

So nobody answers your help-wanted ads. And the guys they send over from the employment office turn out to be duds. What’s a contractor to do?

First, ditch the passive approach. Placing a help-wanted ad in a newspaper and then waiting for crown jewels of the American education system to beat a path to your door isn’t going to work. Most of your peers in the service industries and the white collar world face as big a labor shortage as you do. The ones that succeed in their talent search recruit constantly. Like college football coaches, they’re always on the lookout for talent.

Second, recognize that there are large, well-organized forces in American life that conspire to drive young people away from construction careers. If you’re to prevail over these forces you have to wage asymmetric warfare using unconventional tactics. You have to look for people where others have not and you have to go to them, at least at first, rather than wait for them to find you. That’s how you become a master of guerilla recruiting. Here are some places to start looking:

The military
With all four services combined (army, navy, air force, and marines), the United States military has more than 33,000 active duty personnel working in construction and many more in the guard and reserves.

To help give you an idea of the skills this labor pool offers, here’s a few of the job titles from the army: heavy construction equipment operator, quarrying specialist, construction engineering supervisor, general construction equipment operator, construction equipment supervisor and concrete and asphalt equipment operator.

Understand that military training in every field of endeavor is the best there is, bar none. And the training doesn’t stop after graduation from the schools. To be promoted you have to add to your skills through drills, exercises and on-the-job training. And over time everybody in the military gets cross trained in additional related specialties plus leadership development.

To outsiders, the military may seem like an impenetrable bureaucratic mass, and it is, unless you have the guerilla tactics to penetrate the fog. While some 40 percent of the people who join the military leave it at the end of their first four-year enlistment, these young people will be fairly hard to find. You can wage a much more productive campaign to find military-trained construction specialists by checking out your state guard and reserve programs. People in guard and reserve units train in uniform one weekend a month and one two-week period every year. The rest of the time they hold down regular civilian jobs.

Contact the units in your area (they’ll be in the phone book) and ask if your state’s guard or reserve programs include any construction battalions or companies. If so, talk with that unit’s commanding officer and NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge). Most of these officers and NCOs will welcome the call. A big part of their job is to make sure their guard and reservists succeed in the civilian sector as well. They’ll know who’s looking for work and who will be in the future.

If you’re within driving distance of any of the military installations that train in these construction applications, you might also consider developing a relationship with the schools and instructors. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, is one hotspot, as is the Navy Seabees school in Gulfport, Mississippi. Every military specialty creates its own tight knit community, and these instructors and the schools’ graduates comprise a network of leads and potential employees.

Additionally, many of the best active-duty service men and women in these construction specialties spend their last assignment as instructors at these schools. Most are eligible for retirement after 18 or 20 years, and many will get out and seek a second career at around age 40. If you’re looking for seasoned construction pros for managerial or supervisory positions, you can’t do better than this group.

And don’t forget to tap the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, which can refer former military personnel to programs such as the four-week heavy equipment operators training put on by the Wyoming Contractors Association at the McMurry Training Center in Casper, Wyoming, which draws vets from all over the country.

Homebuilding industry
Most communities have a home builders’ association, typically a chapter of the National Association of Homebuilders, that meets monthly or on a regular basis. It couldn’t hurt to drop in on them and see what’s going on. In better times the homebuilders might resent anybody trying to poach workers, but in today’s climate there are no doubt a few builders who would like to help their laid-off guys and subcontractors find work.

Even in good times, homebuilding can be a volatile industry and many a carpenter has turned to heavy equipment as a way to stay in construction and make better profits. With the industry in the doldrums, now is a great time to pitch the idea of a career in yellow iron to these workers. While residential craft people may not have the level of machine skills you’re looking for, they certainly have everything else. They understand the process, jobsite safety and coordination, early starts, hard work, problem solving, bidding and estimating, and deadlines.

Find NAHB local chapters at:

While men hold more than 90 percent of all jobs in the construction industry, that doesn’t mean that women aren’t capable. What this should say to an astute guerilla recruiter is that a lot of construction companies are blind to this untapped labor pool.

Contractors who have hired women operators will tell you that they’re good with machines. Unlike guys who often overestimate their own mechanical skills, women tend not to bulldog or abuse a machine. They’re more apt to listen to instruction and less likely to leave trash in the cab.

A resource that will be able to help you in your search for women operators is the National Association of Women in Construction. While this group’s focus tends towards the professional end of the career spectrum, they nonetheless include women working in the trades. Go to for more information.

Talk about a labor pool! The United States has the largest prison population and more ex-offenders per capita than any other country in the world. And while many of those will never be productive members of society, a sizable percentage have the potential to become good citizens – especially if they can land a good job. A lot of them would just like to start over with a clean slate.

In many cases construction can be an excellent choice for somebody coming out of prison. It’s satisfying, hard work in fresh air and sunshine, and usually less prone to the small hypocrisies and petty bureaucracy of indoor work or cubicle life. A lot of men coming out of prison will have had some training or familiarity with the skilled trades.

As a contractor you can’t be expected to be a social worker, but there are organizations that can help you find and work with ex-convicts. Many states run work-release programs and a lot of churches run half-way houses for convicts or ex-convicts who have shown themselves to be trustworthy. You can start with a call to your state department of corrections and also put in a call to the state employment office for their guidance. Some states offer tax credits and other incentives to business that hire ex-convicts, so remember to ask the employment office about how you might qualify for any similar programs.

Remember a guerilla recruiter looks where nobody else has bothered to look. And nobody’s more overlooked than ex-cons.

Auto parts stores
Guerilla recruiters never go anywhere without a few business cards. That’s because in the course of a day if somebody impresses them with good service, they drop a card on them and invite them over for a preliminary job interview. Not every burger flipper or cashier is suitable for a construction career, but you may want to pay attention to the people behind the counter the next time you’re in the local auto parts store.

Most of these kids love cars and have a decent mechanical aptitude or they wouldn’t be there. They don’t get paid much, at least not as well as they might in the construction industry. And some of them might be more attracted to the entrepreneurial, small-business environment of the construction company than working for a big, impersonal franchise.

If this sounds a bit iffy, it is; but the guerilla recruiter keeps a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. In these service or retail environments you may not want to aggressively recruit or overpromise the benefits of a construction career. But if somebody impresses you, don’t ignore them either.

Racing events
As with the auto parts stores, if you’re looking for young, enthusiastic kids who love machinery you won’t find a more target rich environment than your local racing scene. Whether its dragsters, bikes, tuners, drifters, motocross, stock cars, funny cars, monster trucks, hill climbing, cart racing, off-road or dirt-track racing – if you’re in construction, these are your people.

The best way to get noticed is to sponsor something. Man a booth, donate a set of tools or prize money, help sponsor a car or a motorcycle, maybe even put together a racing team from your own company. Whatever your strategy, get into this community and get to know them. It isn’t a big stretch to go from a love of cars to a love of yellow iron. And if your company has the street cred of being part of the (legal) fast and furious crowd you’re going to find people coming to you instead of the other way around.

Post online
Newspaper help wanted ads are getting more expensive and keeping one ad going for a week or two can easily run into hundreds of dollars. If the price-to-payback ratio of your local paper isn’t what you’d like, the Internet is the way to go.

The first place you want to check out is

Here you can post a help-wanted ad for free or a small fee. The service has listings for hundreds of cities across the United States. The ads are specific to your city and stay on the site for 30 to 45 days.

Another strategy you should check out is posting jobs on your company’s website. If you don’t have a website, consider having one created for you. For the price of a few weeks’ worth of newspaper ads you could get a website built that not only helps draw tech-savvy young jobs seekers, but advertises your services and puts a nice polish on your public presence. If you don’t know anybody who creates websites, just check in the local telephone yellow pages or ask one of your peers in the business.

Two military-based employment websites
Helmets to Hardhats: Connects transitioning active-duty military, U.S. National Guard and Reservists to careers in union construction. Union contractors can review applicants’ online profiles, and provide information about current jobs. Contact: 866-741-6210, or

Hire a Hero: Brings military job seekers in the U.S. National Guard, Marines Corp and Army together with military-friendly employers. Construction is one of the website’s top three employment categories, based on the amount of job postings and listed employers. Contact:;
– Barbara Cox

Online-only articles in this special report:
Web exclusive–Special Report: Attracting the people you need/Training
Web exclusive–Special Report: Attracting the people you need/Top 10 tips for finding a good career school
Web exclusive–Special Report: Attracting the people you need/Demographics