A recent article in the American Conservative talked up the merits and challenges of second-career farming, where middle age professionals drop the white collar life and take up small-scale, often organic, farming as a vocation.
Many of these urban refugees find it tough slogging, to nobody’s surprise. But the popularity of the trend would indicate some people don’t want to spend the rest of their lives pushing paper, selling toothpaste or twiddling on a computer.
To help prepare these newborn farmers, Virginia Tech, the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Loudoun Office, and the Loudoun Department of Economic Development are developing educational models to serve this growing need.
Could the construction industry do the same? I don’t see why not.
Construction and farming have a lot in common. Both require a good mix of brains and brawn. Both bring the satisfaction of doing something significant and elemental. And for a smart person, willing to learn construction, age is no barrier. The education is already available. In addition to vocational skills, many vocational schools offer two-year construction management degrees.
And as we all know, construction desperately needs new workers.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to this happening in the construction arena is the difficulty of adults obtaining the relevant education. Unless you’re willing to go back to school full time, and that’s almost always during daytime hours, you’re out of luck. Most mid-career professionals can’t afford to drop out for two years with no income to learn a new trade.
Vocational schools today operate as if 18- to 20-year-olds are the only people in the country who need vocational training. I would wager they could double or triple their enrollments if they would develop programs for working adults. That means a lot of night courses, distance learning, flexible schedules, and online and self-guided learning.
From what instructors tell me, kids 18 to 20 years old, who aren’t already in college, generally make mediocre students. But take somebody 25, 30 or even in their 40s who has become dissatisfied with their path in life and offer them the skills to a better and more fulfilling career—you can’t get a better student than that.
The need from the construction industry is there. The desire on the part of many people to learn a valuable, high-demand trade is there. It’s time for the schools to catch up to the needs.