Go Build Alabama helps boost trade school attendance 30%, redirects ads to teens

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Go Build Alabama teens

Nearly four years into the Go Build Alabama construction career promotion, there’s evidence kids are heeding and acting on its message, says Jason Phelps, executive director of the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute, which heads the program.

“Alabama has seen a 30 percent increase between the past two school years in the number of enrollments in classes related to the skilled trades,” Phelps says, also indicating he feels the Go Build program is just one part of the reason behind the increase.

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Go Build Alabama—which now serves as a template for programs in Georgia, Wisconsin and Oregon—set itself apart from other construction career initiatives from the get go. Contractors in the state backed legislation to fund the effort with an initial employer fee of .009 cents per hour levied on worker wages. (It has since increased to .015 cents per hour, allowed in a one-time adjustment under the legislation.) This provides a $1.5 million per year kitty run by a state agency Alabama Construction Recruitment Initiative and directed by a six-member board that includes four contractors.

Launching on Labor Day, 2010, the group initially tapped Mike Rowe, still in his Dirty Jobs gig, to promote construction careers. “That gave us some legs early on,” Phelps says. But that approach appealed more to parents, and Go Build now concentrates on reaching young people.

It redesigned its website in April, aiming at middle and high school students with photos and infographics. A new ad campaign (see examples below) is designed at expanding the program’s messaging, Phelps says; the group has also launched a mobile platform. However the ads change, however, one thing won’t: the campaign’s presence at the Iron Bowl, which pits fierce in-state rivals Auburn University and the University of Alabama each November.

The main goal, however, has remained constant throughout the program’s life: getting young people into the construction career pipeline. “We want to drive them to our website, which has information on every construction-related training program in the state,” Phelps says. “And then we want to encourage them to enroll.”

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The agency has had success with Facebook, but YouTube has been challenging, since some schools block its use. It’s now exploring Instagram as a touch point. “We want to appear where the young audiences are,” Phelps says.

Having a consistent funding source has been key in moving the effort forward, Phelps asserts. “Educators are approached by so many industries with programs that come and go. Our funding gives us a consistency so educators know we’re going to be there next year.”

This year, Go Build will also issue an e-textbook for middle schoolers that highlights the opportunities in construction, engineering and manufacturing industries. “We’ll have some neat new projects going forward in a few months, so check back,” Phelps promises.