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Construction Industry Spotlight logo

November 2, 2017

Now is a great time to get trained for a career in construction: Here's why

  • Opportunities for growth are unlimited and employment is abundant throughout the country.
    Special to the Journal



    Although the construction industry has provided outstanding careers for generations, the emphasis on education changed and there was a push to direct the vast majority of young people toward college rather than the trades.

    That attitude, coupled with the large numbers of construction workers who are retiring, has created high demand for skilled workers. This is exacerbated by the current emphasis on restoring the nation's infrastructure and the devastation of recent natural disasters.

    Once trained in a trade, the opportunities for growth are unlimited and employment opportunities abound throughout the country. But many still don't recognize the value of a construction career.

    Journey level electrician Lara S. with SME Inc. of Seattle said, “Getting trained at CITC got me out of poverty. Prior to my career in construction I was working at least two and sometimes three retail jobs at a time and was barely able to make ends meet.

    “This was the first job that took me seriously and invested in training me,” she said. “Now I'm making a good living and in just two years have been put on the foreman list. I'm challenged on a daily basis and look forward to going to work every day.”

    Jennifer Richards began her construction career as an apprentice carpenter in 1989 and was the first female graduate from the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington.

    “I was a single mom and needed a living-wage job,” Richards said. “While in school and after graduating I worked in the field for about 12 years and then became my employer's safety director.”

    In 2008, Richards founded Safety Matters, a company that assesses work environments to help with compliance with local, state and federal regulations, identify sources of non-compliance, potential or existing hazards, and make recommendations for corrective actions. She has grown the company to 12 employees and plans to hire two more. She also founded the Safety Matters Training Institute with a partner.

    What two groups are doing to boost construction jobs

    • ABC members present annually to UW construction management students and offer internships/jobs.

    • ABC board member Jamie Creek with Rafn Co. sits on the UW Construction Industry Advisory Committee.

    • Two college teams are scheduled to be in ABC National's construction management competition in March.

    • ABC and CITC participate in local career fairs for high school students and military personnel, and work with colleges to create student chapters.

    • CITC sponsors Washington Women in the Trades career event and ANEW Trades Rotation classes.

    • CITC sponsors multiple career events focusing on diversity and inclusiveness.

    • CITC holds events for employers who are interested in training and career development.

    Dave McFerran, vice president of Comfort Systems USA Northwest, began his career in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as an apprentice sheet metal worker. He came to the U.S., got a job with a sheet metal contractor and worked his way up through the field: moving to foreman, superintendent, project manager and then sales account executive prior to his current position of vice president.

    McFerran is now responsible for accounting, training, hiring, profitability, safety and planning the company's organic growth.

    “Once a person has completed an apprenticeship in the trades, they can travel not only nationally, but internationally because training is standardized and potential employers know that credentialed people have the right skills to do a job,” McFerran said.

    A recent study by the Construction Industry Institute found that investing just 1 percent of a project's labor budget in training can have double-digit returns. Employers who train can see a direct effect on their bottom lines through improved productivity as well as decreased turnover, absenteeism and re-work.

    Terianne Brubaker, the human resources director with Walker Construction in Spokane, works with hiring and training new personnel.

    “Our owners care about employees and clients equally so we invest in training both through the formal apprenticeship program at CITC but also though an internal leadership group,” Brubaker said. “The advantages from training include workers who are more fulfilled and committed. The better skilled they are, the better product we can deliver for our clients and ultimately, that makes us a much more successful company.”

    Washington Commercial Painters has apprentices training from throughout Washington and Portland.

    “The demands for skilled workers vary with the highest demand in the Seattle and Portland markets,” said John Noble, vice president of Turman Commercial Painters' Washington Commercial Painters division. “The people we train become our best employees and are committed to their careers.

    “Although it is still hard to find enough people to fill the industry needs, in the last few years there is definitely more awareness and attention of the trades in the discussions on education and careers,” he said. “Educators and administrators are seeing the trades as an option for students not interested in going to college.”

    Halme Builders in Davenport, Lincoln County, is a commercial and light-industrial builder specializing in pre-engineered and public work buildings throughout Eastern Washington.

    “We began apprenticeship training in 2007,” said Dan Halme, CEO of Halme Builders. “Initially, our employees did online training but now with the Spokane facility up and running we have more opportunity for our employees to learn their trade in a classroom and lab setting. Our apprentices work closely with our journeymen who mentor them in the field.

    “Training is about more than the mechanics of the trade but also about maximizing quality control on the jobsite,” he said. “Training enables our crews to plan work around improved efficiencies. We find that through training opportunities, each individual is invested in constant improvement.”

    Shawn Rhode, president and CEO of Rafn Co., began his career as a laborer 34 years ago. He worked his way through all of the field positions — carpenter, foreman, project engineer, superintendent and general superintendent — to COO, then onto president before becoming CEO in 2014.

    “I have done a lot of training along the way,” Rhode said. “One example was a program I attended that was sponsored by ABC National with superintendents and project managers from all over the country. It exposed me to new perspectives, many different from that of my local markets, and gave me a more global view of the industry. I've also had the opportunity to attend local programs and be mentored as part of the company's leadership development program.”

    Like so many others in the industry, Rhode said Rafn is committed to training. In fact, one of Rafn's longterm employees, senior superintendent Greg George, was in CITC's first graduating class in 1987.

    “Training our people results in great career commitment and satisfaction. For the company as a whole, training has helped us grow in both ability and revenue,” Rhode said.

    Wendy Novak, president and CEO of ABC of Western Washington, serves on ABC's National Diversity Committee and is a member of NAIOP, ASAE, WCIC and Washington Policy Center. Halene Sigmund, president of CITC, has worked in construction workforce development for 25 years. She is on the board of ANEW and is a member of the apprenticeship RCW/WAC rule writing committee.

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