Changing Perceptions: Make Construction Careers the Preferred Choice, Not the Back-up Plan

By Stephanie Staub

As high school students around the country bid farewell to their required schooling, many have plans to attend college; others are unsure where their next chapter will begin. While some parents encourage, if not expect, their child to move on to the collegiate level, the reality of the huge student loan debt most will rack up is driving some to give careers in construction a second look—at least we hope …

Sadly, over the years it has not been uncommon to hear the phrase “he/she isn’t college material so they might as well go into the trades.” I cringe when I hear that. The building trades should not be looked at as a back-up plan. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want schools, office buildings, hospitals, or any building constructed by workers who “aren’t smart enough.” Just because there are physical attributes to construction jobs, doesn’t mean skills and knowledge aren’t necessary.

Perception Versus Reality

Construction, like any career, requires a commitment to learning. While it may not be classroom-centric, education is the cornerstone of a successful construction career. On any given construction site, analytical thinking, problem solving, math and communication skills are used every day. What sets construction apart is the hands-on learning environment which trades, including glaziers, rely on.

One positive consideration that stands out in favor of construction recruiting is technology. The development and utilization of construction technology is occurring at a rapid pace, and it’s important to expose students to tools that drive the industry forward, such as virtual reality, lasers, robots, Building Information Modeling, drones, even artificial intelligence. These tools may not be everywhere (yet), but the knowledge and skills needed for construction technology is certainly keeping up with other careers and the industry can use it to its advantage.

One way to change the perception is by having construction professionals visit classrooms to discuss their own professional journeys. Another way is to bring those students into our offices. Programs such as the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s (FTI-MAR) Vocational Intern Partnership program expose high school juniors and seniors to the trades through hands-on instruction and serve as a stepping-stone for them to progress from classroom to potential apprentices.

Earn While you Learn…and Earn

The “earn while you learn” apprenticeship model allows entry level workers to begin earning a salary simultaneously while completing required craft training. Apprentice glaziers enrolled at FTI-MAR now earn, learn and earn a college degree. FTI-MAR’s glazier apprenticeship curriculum includes the completion of an Associate’s in Specialized Technology degree. Articulation agreements are also in place with several institutions to pursue bachelor’s degrees utilizing all credits earned through their apprenticeship. Additionally, the International Finishing Trades Institute facilitates college degree options for International Union of Painters and Allied Trades members throughout the U.S.

Changing construction’s perception is an industry-wide issue that needs to be solved from a multitude of angles: creating awareness of not just the trades themselves, but progression of roles and responsibilities construction careers offer; promoting the education and credentials received from the classroom, training room and jobsite; embracing the utilization of technology. Let’s all do our part to change the perception and create a new reality.

Stephanie Staub is the director of marketing for the Architectural Glass Institute in Philadelphia. She can be reached at stephanie@theagi.org

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