Let’s Build a Workforce

Jeff Rumer

Jeff Rumer

We all struggle to find skilled and teachable employees. When the economy tanked in 2008, many career construction employees left the industry. As a result, fewer kids are not growing up in construction families, so they don’t see the construction industry as a viable career choice. We are also facing a workforce approaching retirement that is not being replaced by kids coming out of school.

If you ask a high schooler who knows nothing about the construction industry about a career in construction, you will hear a resounding “no.” Why? Part of it is our image. Kids only see our laborers on the street — dirty and working hard in the hot sun. Who wants to sign up for that? Others will tell you it doesn’t pay — and we all know they are wrong about that.

One of the priorities that came out of NUCA’s recent strategic planning meeting is the development of “NUCA University,” which will offer skills, management and leadership training to all levels of members’ employees, from laborers to rising executives. A second, equally important priority is the need to get heavy construction curriculums into vo-tech high schools. A lot of high schools offer a “tech” track for students who want to be hairdressers, chefs and automotive mechanics, but few offer programs for heavy construction.

Warren Tech, located in Colorado, is offering a brand-new track into the construction trades, including utility construction. Its innovative Pre-Apprentice Program will introduce students to skills that we need in our industry now — using heavy-equipment simulators, construction math, surveying, blueprint reading for horizontal construction, rigging, scaffolding, hand and power tools, underground utilities locating, confined space training and safety/OSHA certification. I have seen this program, and it is the gold standard for construction tech in high schools.

Beginning in their junior year, students admitted into the program spend half the day in regular high school and half at Warren Tech. Students participate in summer internships, working on the job with the school’s construction industry partners. During their senior years, students will concentrate on specific areas of interest, including utility and highway construction.

So with that in mind, I am very happy to announce that Joe Shaw, the principal at Warren Tech, will be our Keynote Speaker during our Fall Leadership Conference, Oct. 11-13, in Denver. Shaw will tell us about how the school developed its Pre-Apprentice Program, found industry partners and how the school encourages students to consider a career in construction. On the following day, Shaw will lead attendees on a school tour.

We believe this program could serve as a model for high schools across the country. Very few offer this kind of industry-specific training, and it is up to us, the contractors, with NUCA’s help, to get programs like this started.

Please give serious consideration to attending the Fall Leadership Conference and joining our efforts to rebuild our workforce and shape and develop NUCA University. This issue is not going away, and NUCA is primed to help resolve it. The conference is relatively small and a great place to get involved without spending too much time away from the office. We will also hold our executive roundtables and committee meetings.  Please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at jeff@theuitco.com if you want to discuss how you can help move this important education/workforce effort forward. It may take a few days, but I will get back to you.

Lastly, this issue includes our annual Buyer’s Guide — a listing of NUCA-member companies who support and supply our contractors with the equipment, materials and services we need. Some of these companies have gone above and beyond for me and other members — helping prepare bids, customizing machines for difficult jobs, providing engineering support and more. I always reach for the Buyer’s Guide to be sure, whenever possible, I am working with members. I hope you will do the same. These companies support NUCA in countless ways, and they deserve ours.

Jeff Rumer

NUCA Chairman of the Board

Underground Infrastructure Technologies



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