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Fixing the Applicant Pipeline; How Do We Get More Qualified Workers into Construction?

If you’ve been following our blogging series on women in construction, you’ll know that we take hiring very seriously at Danella, and we are committed to bringing on the best and most diverse work force possible. While we unravel the complex reasons that construction remains very homogenous, one thing becomes clear very quickly: the construction industry has a clog in its pipeline of new workers. To provide insights, we spoke with Jennifer Darkoh, an Account Manager for Danella focused on vehicle and construction equipment.

The Breakdown of Training in the Trades

There once existed a very clear path that young people could follow to begin a fulfilling career in the trades. Interest was piqued in high school shop classes that taught hands-on skills, which could be developed through enrollment at a vocational school or work/study program that provided real on-the-job experience. Students could then pursue a technical certification or apprenticeship to prepare them to enter the trades. These days, those support structures have all but disappeared.

Studies show that there are numerous barriers to completing apprenticeships, while high school students are being universally steered towards university and high-paid construction and trade jobs sit empty. The financial return to debt ratio of seeking a degree dwindles every year. Part of this barrier is due to lingering poor perceptions of the trades—one Canadian study found that “Many parents, employers, and young people incorrectly assume that trades are seasonal, dirty, dangerous, and do not require a high degree of skill or intelligence (Laporte & Mueller, 2011). Negative attitudes such as these persist when teachers, guidance counselors, and community providers lack knowledge of the benefits of apprenticeships.”

In the construction industry, we are therefore faced with the challenge of correcting these negative perceptions of the industry while increasing outreach and training programs that target students early in their career paths.

How Do We Get Young People Interested in the Trades Again?

To gain insights on the solution to this problem, we asked Darkoh what it would take to attract more workers, especially the female and minority workers that are underrepresented in the industry. For her, the solution is hands-on and proactive: “We need programs to encourage more women applicants, such as campaigning in schools and trade shows for those trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. As an example, the military comes out there and makes it known what their options are and what they offer. We need training, mentorship, PR campaigns, and outreach. If we can provide a path that young people can follow to get to these careers, they will see them as an option.”

Darkoh joined Danella in February of 2016 after a twenty-year long career in the military as a logistics specialist. She describes her experience of joining Danella as being an overall positive and welcoming one, where she felt respected and supported as an equal. So how do we extend that welcome to others who still harbor anxieties about the construction industry?

Changing Perceptions Starts Early

Darkoh suggests starting with positive imagery at a very young age. “The images that we see should be inclusive. As a young child, if you see yourself in these inclusive images, you think that that’s something you can be as well, whether in toys, books, posters, TV shows, advertisements, or campaign ads. Even the safety posters that you see, if they include females, girls are going to think they can be a part of it as well.”

As an industry, we need to reaffirm our commitment to making sure that young people see positive and inclusive images associated with construction. We also need to ensure that those with the aptitude have a pathway to receiving the training and guidance they need to consider the trades as a viable career option.

This is an installment of our blog series about how to improve the construction industry. Check back or respond on Facebook to be a part of the conversation.