Attracting Workers To The Trades

I applaud the efforts of the industry groups that John R. Hall mentioned in his column "Do You Believe HVACR Exists in Children?" [Sept. 19] for trying to get kids interested in the construction/service trades. Any exposure they get should help.

But are we naive to think that exposure only to children ages 7 or 8 is the answer? What happened to metal shop and wood shop in high schools? Where are the moms and dads walking around the house showing the kids how to make small home repairs? And, do we really believe the parents today will put a tool belt on their 8-year-old and direct them to a construction job when they graduate? I doubt it.

I have been reading articles such as Hall's for the past 11 years dealing with this issue. The million dollar questions for the construction industry are "How do we attract workers to the construction industry? How do we get kids away from the computer?"

First, we must recognize we are dealing with Generation Xers and Millenniums; kids born after 1965 that were raised with computers, pagers, cell phones, and pocket PCs. These youngsters "work to live," whereas the baby boomers "live to work." There is quite a distinction between the two.

The most important issue that industry and owners never mention is economics. Construction jobs are no longer attractive to today's workforce. These jobs are dangerous, seasonal in nature, and require exposure to the elements.

If the construction industry wants to attract superior people to the industry, they need to provide a good-paying job that provides family health care and a real retirement plan. When industry and owners are serious about this problem, they'll start putting their money where their mouth is. If they don't, we'll be talking about this same problem 20 years from now.

Doug McGee
Business Manager
Sheet Metal Workers Local 54
Houston, Texas

Getting Children Interested

[Editor's note: This letter is in response to John R. Hall's Sept. 19 column "Do You Believe HVACR Exists in Children?"]

Our company has its own coloring book for children, and we too used the "Build Up" tool kit from the AGC [Associated General Contractors] and purchased the Construction Jack figurines. (By the way, the figurines are available in Construction Jill models as well).

In fact, I took all these items along with our ideas to the apprenticeship branch in Manitoba, Canada to see if we could get the trades on board with the concept of reaching out to the kids. We had limited success. We did have a very good contact person who was in charge of marketing, and she embraced the idea and ran with it until she left. Now nothing is happening.

We had hoped that the Canadian HVACR industry would have taken the initiative to place the dollars into such a worthwhile investment. This industry needs skilled labor, and we need to be seen not as a commodity. Look at past history. Is there any little boy who did not have a doctor's kit? Is there any little girl who did not have a nurse's kit? We have carpenter kits for boys and girls, we have toolboxes for boys and girls, but we do not have HVACR tool kits nor do we have thermostats, air filters, refrigerant gauges, etc. Why not?

Well, I am afraid to say it, but here it is: We as an industry just don't get it. Instead, we try to recruit young talent when they are already in trade school. Why? Because, we want them as members of our trade associations. Should we not be training them so that they know nothing else but joining when they get a job in the industry, and our focus should be on educating them early?

How many of us in the trade have spoken to a class of young students? I mean ages 5 to 10. Should our industry not be focused on the development of an interactive, hands-on canned presentation that anyone of us could download from the Internet and send to schools in our areas, requesting a trade day to explain just how we keep them warm, cool, and comfortable with clean, fresh air 24/7/365?

I could go on forever on this point, and I have many great ideas and stories about how our great industry should approach this very big and untapped market.

I leave you with one thought. How many of these small kids would take home information that they learned at school, and how many would talk about it for weeks after if we only took the time to provide them with the information to educate their families?

D. Brian Baker
Custom Vac Limited
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Publication date: 12/12/2005