AGC launches push to diversify construction workforce through high school training

Updated Jan 21, 2019
Photo courtesy of AGC.Photo courtesy of AGC.

On January 14, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) announced the launch of a national campaign aimed at bringing more vocational training to high school students to, hopefully, diversify its workforce by attracting more minorities and women to the construction industry. But, as the Daily News reports, some critics say it could cause low income and minority kids to opt out of college.

“It’s time to be honest about the construction industry here in New York and around the country,” said AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr, according to the news agency. “It’s disproportionately white and dominated by men. We’re launching a nationwide effort to make the industry more diverse and inclusive and seize every possible opportunity to grow our industry to look like the modern American workforce.”

AGC says that, by expanding vocational education in high schools and establishing mentorship programs in colleges, it will help to “develop a pipeline to expand the diversity of the industry.” An AGC survey of construction industry employers notes that 80 percent of them are having trouble finding qualified people.

“There needs to be a change of focus on the high school level,” said Mike Elmendorf, president of AGC’s New York State chapter, according to the news agency. “There’s an institutional resistance to this in our high school education system, because it’s viewed as a less than optimal outcome.”

Skeptics contend that vocational training in high schools has historically resulted in poor and minority students being funneled into trades, while more affluent and white students are readied for college.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, told the news agency that she had serious concerns. “I worry about kids making that decision way too early,” she said, “and I worry about poor and minority kids pushed into a track where they’d lose the option to go to college or pursue higher-skilled jobs.” But she didn’t rule out something positive coming out of the AGC push.