Rebranding the Industry, Jan-Feb-March 2008


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National silver award, 2009, Feature Series, American Society of Business Publications Editors Annual Awards of Excellence, 80,000-plus circulation (first of three articles in series)

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Rebranding the Industry, Jan-Feb-March 2008

  1. 1. RebRanding the industRy / PaRt 1 Off the Radar This is the first of three articles about the next- generation remodeling workforce. Next month: more than 30 steps toward a sustainable H workforce. leah thayeR senioR editoR Hundreds of thousands of construction jobs will be created in the U.S. during the next several years. Many remodelers are beginning to won- immigrants,” Reeves says, adding that one der whether they’ll be able to fill even a of his best carpenters is a 47-year-old, few of those positions with the kinds of college-educated math teacher from Mex- employees they feel comfortable sending ico. There’s no trade track at Reeves’ local 62.5% into clients’ homes. high school — no problem, as sexier occu- In El Dorado Hills, Calif., Paul Reeves pations are clicks away. His teenage step- of Reeves Construction struggles to find daughter makes $10 an hour as an intern new hires who can pass the drug tests for Intel, a position she lined up online. required by his insurer. Rarely does the Even Starbucks pays $10.50 an hour plus of the growth in the carpentry workforce from “whiz quiz,” as some remodelers call it, benefits, Reeves says. 1996 to 2006 was among those 35 or older. not reveal methamphetamine, cocaine, or Across the country in Green Bank, 57.1% marijuana, if not also high levels of alco- W.Va., Malinda Meck has a hard time hol, in U.S.-born applicants who might finding well-rounded workers of any age otherwise seem qualified. for Jacob S. Meck Construction. Given Meanwhile, it might be the end of her state’s chronic poverty and high of all U.S. carpenters were 35 or older in the line for the Reeves family of build- unemployment, one might expect droves 2006. 47.2% were 45+, and 9.5% were 65+. ers. Whereas 43-year-old Paul learned of applicants for her steady, well-paying, Source: Current Population Survey; U.S. Census Bureau/ the trade from his father, grandfather, and benefit-rich jobs. Retention is even more Bureau of Labor Statistics great-grandfather, starting as an adoles- challenging; employees seem to drift away cent sweeping the shop after school, his on a whim. Some go to nearby ski resorts own kids and their peers “don’t want to or lumberyards, and some are just “too get dirty,” he says. hung-over or stoned to work,” she says. “I live in an affluent neighborhood, and So dire is the skilled worker shortage Read more about issues involving the next-generation remodeling workforce at other than me, pretty much the only people in Meck’s area that she’s even started new they see working in the trades are Hispanic businesses that supply roll-off garbage 60 Remodeling January 2008
  2. 2. best PRaCtiCes skilled Help Wanted Growing His Own 27.4% W HVaC mechanics and installers e accepted that there were tile and marble setters 25.1% not enough ready-to-go Cost estimators 21.1% skilled people out there to Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters 16.7% meet our needs,” says Jerry Liu of D.G. Liu Contractor. “So one way of coping Cement masons and concrete finishers 15.9% was to say: ‘How do we turn inexperi- brickmasons and blockmasons 14.8% enced people into carpenters?’” electricians 14.2% Among other steps, Liu created a four- year apprenticeship program adapted from Construction managers 14% the union training he had decades ago. Carpenters13.1% And, “we held our own job fair,” he says. Painters 12.7% “We posted an ad, parked trucks around the area with signs on top, rented a hotel Helpers 10.3% room,” and hired “a standout” from among Plasterers and stucco masons 7.7% the few who stopped by. drywall and ceiling tile installers 6.5% Further, Liu learned to spot good work- ers early. One Projected employment growth in the U.S. construction industry, 2004–2014. such recruit, Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics third-year exte- containers and portable toilets. “These jobs own apprenticeship program (see “Grow- riors apprentice don’t require high-level skills,” she says. ing His Own,” this page). Many other Donnie Clayton A different employment dilemma remodelers have found their own ways to (shown), was faces Jerry Liu in the suburbs of Washing- crack the labor code, and we’ll be show- an industrious ton, D.C. He finds that educators and par- casing some of their success stories as well adolescent when ents are major obstacles to reinforcing his in this series. Liu started put- journeymen carpenters — guys in their But the prevailing mood in the indus- ting him to work 40s and 50s whom he calls “the walking try is this: Far too few young people are doing odd jobs. A few years later, when wounded,” and who he predicts will soon being groomed for remodeling careers. Clayton was an honor roll student in one of be able to command salaries of $100,000 It’s going to take far more than an ad in the the area’s few remaining high school con- or more in the competitive market. paper and a decent hourly wage to find and struction programs, “we got him for a sum- As in many metropolitan regions, retain skilled and committed employees. mer and said, ‘We need to make this kid school systems in Liu’s area have down- feel special,’” Liu says. “We sent him home sized vocational education. Sadly, some Reality and PeRcePtions with a tool bag and tools. We wanted him to construction programs that remain seem The talent deficit isn’t new; a declining feel he had no other choice.” to be a dumping ground for low achiev- emphasis on vocational training in the Clayton, now 20, remembers being ers that the schools don’t know where U.S. — the traditional breeding ground surprised by the opportunity. A job that he else to put. “Our schools define success of skilled tradespeople — has been under expected to consist of “digging holes, or as ‘percentage college-ready,’” says the way for decades. “We’ve been talk- whatever,” turned out to be one of continu- owner of D.G. Liu Contractor, in Dick- ing about the labor shortage for the last ing responsibility and clear expectations. erson, Md. “It’s an inherently prejudiced 25 years,” says Mark Richardson, presi- “It was obvious they wanted me to pros- system” because it implies that trade pro- dent of Case Design/Remodeling. per,” he says. “Instead of flying blindly and fessionals aren’t smart, he says. “Where Neither the shortage nor a major shift hoping that maybe there will be a raise do you get construction workers when to Hispanic workers ever really material- around the corner, I get an outline of what everybody’s raised as keyboarders?” ized at Case, in part because of the well- I should be able to do to advance to differ- Determined to avert “crisis in 10 years,” known company’s magnet-like allure to ent levels,” Clayton says. “We’re not just Liu has been proactive about workforce experienced workers from shuttered com- winging it.” —L.T. development, going so far as to develop his panies (see “Into the Fold,” page 62). Remodeling January 2008 61
  3. 3. RebRanding best PRaCtiCes the industRy / PaRt 1 “Demand for skilled workers Into the Fold What Case is start- ing to experience — in the construc- “We’re all asking where the next generation is com- W hen small remodeling compa- and what seems to tion industry is as ing from,” says Dave Bor- nies struggle, big companies be the root of what high as it’s been in gatti, a carpentry instructor often benefit. “In the last 12 to many believe to be an anyone’s memory.” at The Wood Construction 18 months, I would say we’ve had 50 small impending labor crisis Eric Gearhart, SkillsUSA Center at Seattle Central remodelers tell us they want to work for nationwide — is an Community College. He us,” says Mark Richardson, president of aging workforce. The median age of work- and others agree that a key sticking point Case Design/ ers in construction occupations is 38.9, is society’s wholesale devaluing of blue- Remodeling, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta- collar work, which has spurred severe one of the larg- tistics. Citing job growth and worker loss cutbacks in construction education and an est remodeling data from the Bureau, “the construction otherwise unflattering image of a profes- companies in industry will be short 2.3 million work- sion that many remodelers know can be the U.S. “Our ers by 2025,” says Brindley Byrd, a for- lucrative, intellectually challenging, and biggest crop mer remodeler who is executive director personally gratifying. of talent hasn’t of the Capital Area Construction Council “The problem is part image and part been young of Lansing, Mich. “Demand is increas- awareness,” says Jim Carr, a professor of fellows coming ing, and the workforce is being depleted,” construction management at the Univer- out of voca- even in depressed economies like his own, sity of Arkansas, in Little Rock. He cites tional school, he says. a Wall Street Journal survey that ranks but owners who are surrendering” — who still love the craft but are worn down, in Construction education in decline many cases, by the stresses of running a business in a softening market. 1982: 2.6 million 2005: 2.5 million What attracts ex-owners? Stability, benefits, and growth potential. Identify their real strengths to engage their passions. “It Total number of high school graduates could be their back and knees are shot, but they’re really good at estimating or project 21.6 26.67 MORe aCadeMiCs Less tiMe in COnstRuCtiOn management,” Richardson says. Others are total average credits CLass carpenters, such as Chris Crosser (shown earned by high school average number of above), a home repair specialist in Case’s graduates credits earned in 0.13 Handyman and Remodeling Division. construction classes 0.10 Use technology to extend your reach during high school and visibility, Richardson adds. “In the past, you wouldn’t expect a carpenter to go to or Now usuaLLy nO COn- FeWeR COnstRuCtiOn they do.” Also, leverage your employees’ 7.3% 5.4% stRuCtiOn CLass MaJORs word-of-mouth network. Like a growing 1.5% 1.1% Percentage of high Percentage of high school number of other companies, Case offers school graduates graduates who concen- referral bonuses to employees who help the who earned any con- trated in construction company find others with similar skill sets struction credits (took 3 or more credits) and work ethics. —L.T. Sources: American Institutes for Research, National Center for Education Statistics “We’re at war for talent. We need to overcome the low-skill, low-wage image of remodeling. We’ve got to put our best face forward to let people know of the opportunities and the technology that are embedded throughout the industry.” Brindley Byrd, Capital Area Construction Council 62 Remodeling January 2008
  4. 4. “Not only are there hardly best PRaCtiCes careers: Construction a relative or educator steered any vocational laborer ranked 248, education pro- them toward it, she says. Hire Globally, just after cowboy. “Our image is that grams, but there Increasingly, the opposite seems more likely. Dan Tad- Train Locally T of dirty, stinky men,” are hardly any dei, director of education at he language barrier keeps many says Brett Pressler of teachers. I know NARI National in Chicago, remodelers from hiring foreign-born Timberland Construc- witnessed this first-hand workers. Jeff Santerre of Prestige one who lasted a tion, in Orem, Utah. when one of his sons decided Custom Builders, in Seattle, sees it as an Echoing Reeves and semester before he wanted to go straight opportunity to others, he notes that he left to start his from high school to a career hire hard-work- many kids live in a own company!” in graphic arts. “I got the ing employees virtual world of You- Darius Baker impression the counselors who are eager Tube and Xboxes, D&J Kitchens & Baths wouldn’t even talk to him — and grate- with “PCs and TVs in San Jose, Calif. until he committed to go to ful — to learn. every room. They have college,” Taddei says. He’s Several of his it much easier” — coddled by parents, in heard similar stories from NARI members employees many cases, and given trophies even if nationwide, particularly in affluent areas speak English their team never wins — and often “have where “the parents all want their kids to as a second lan- no sense of delayed gratification.” go to college, or at least the school super- guage (ESL), including paint crew members “I can’t imagine a young person natu- intendents perceive that to be the case.” Malith Tong Malith (shown, at right), who rally being drawn to carpentry. There’s Not that the industry is opposed to survived civil war and a horrific, 900-mile just no emphasis,” says Wanda Poe, higher education. On the contrary, “we desert trek in his native Sudan, and Sergey executive director of the Austin (Texas) love to have workers who are college edu- Rymaruk (left), of Ukraine. chapter of the National Association of the cated,” says John DeCiantis of DeCiantis “We’ve trained them how to work our Remodeling Industry (NARI). Exacerbat- Construction, in Stonington, Conn. “We way, and they’ve been quick studies,” San- ing the problem, Texas bans people under want them to be able to problem-solve terre says of his foreign-born staff. The key 18 from construction jobsites. “Construc- — it’s very important in my line of work,” is education and language development. tion is not on their radar screen” unless and many carpenters at his and other “They know they can’t really be in charge 0 33.7% unless their English is good,” he says. “It’s their ball and chain.” Lesa Keller, Prestige Custom Builders’ human resources manager, screens all hires extensively and requires basic English Projected net growth of the U.S.- Projected net growth rate of the knowledge at a minimum, “just for safety born labor force (ages 25–54) foreign-born Hispanic labor force between 2007 and 2027. between 2004 and 2014. alone,” she says. The company also gives each of its 30 employees a $500 annual are youth more ambitious? ... education allowance, issuing quarterly 111% Growth in number of students taking Advanced Placement reminders to use remaining balances for examinations (from 557,000 to 1,197,000), 1997–2005. classes in English, technology, or other rele- vant topics. Performance evaluations cover 41% Projected college enrollment growth between 1990 and 2014 language training; ESL employees “know (from 13,819,000 to 19,470,000). their compensation will be limited if they’re 92% of middle-school students say they will definitely or probably attend college. not working on it,” Santerre says. —L.T. Sources: Association for Career and Technical Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, Educational Testing Service “When you look at the high percentage of students who are encouraged to be college-bound, and you see that the schools are not providing vocational education, well, what’s their option?” Lucy Katz, Katz Builders, Austin, Texas Remodeling January 2008 63
  5. 5. RebRanding best PRaCtiCes the industRy / PaRt 1 “The future genera- tion of workers has A Burn to Learn companies do have advanced degrees. been babied, and high school students in CTE programs in 2004, schools and parents M ost people of this generation How educators up from 9.6 million in are either texting or on their view remodelers may have not held them 1999, according to the computer,” says Mitch Speck of be a different matter. accountable for Association for Career Spectacular Home Remodeling, in Sandy, After a meeting with their actions. ” and Technical Educa- Ore. “So we thought, ‘Let’s catch them educators, DeCiantis Dave Snyder, Career and tion (ACTE). But the where they live.’” heard that “they were Technology Center of CTE umbrella covers One way Speck catches tech-savvy pro- surprised that we were Frederick County diverse fields — car- spective employees, including “awesome” coherent — we had Public Schools pentry and electrical, apprentice carpenter Jenna Miller (shown), our teeth, we spoke yes, but also programs is to advertise on craigslist, an online com- intelligently, and some of us are highly like 3-D animation, physical therapy, and munity in hundreds of cities (www.craigslist educated.” More people need to know emergency medical care. Only 58.1% of .com). His well- “that construction workers aren’t unedu- public schools had a construction class in worded ad for an cated slugs,” he says only half-jokingly. 2002, ACTE reports. entry-level car- “College has its place, but one of the “Every time you turn around, you penter attracted things we’ve forgotten in education is hear about a construction program being 30 responses. It that not everybody learns the same way,” closed down or consolidated,” says Tom also linked to a Taddei says. “Some kids don’t learn by Holdsworth, director of communications job description, book, but by working with their hands. and government relations with SkillsUSA, helping to weed And they’re being left behind.” He adds which prepares students for careers in out candidates. that there’s also a giant skills gap between 130 technical and service occupations. Speck hires novice construction worker and profes- “We’ve seen good, healthy increases in for attitude over aptitude, using a team- sional remodeler. “In order to get the skills programs such as robotics and computer interview process to distinguish candi- required to be a carpenter in remodeling, networking and CAD [computer-aided dates who want to learn and grow from it’s hard to get there from being a laborer.” design],” he says, “whereas the more tra- those with unrealistic expectations or a ditional construction trades have more dif- tendency to blame others. Miller, 30, had Back of the classRoom ficulty in attracting or keeping students.” no prior construction experience other So what of skills training programs? Some newly constructed high schools, than a “great” seven-week class she had Interestingly, vocational education itself if they have a construction program at all, taken with Oregon Tradeswomen. She — today called “career and technical “have a programmed computer for CAD,” also had three years of college, as well as education,” or CTE — seems to be on the Borgatti says. “That’s their nod to it.” a steady but unfulfilling job as a supervi- upswing. There were 15.2 million U.S. There are wonderful construction pro- sor for a phone company. A lead carpen- ter sat in on the interview, “and he said ... Or less realistic? that one of the main things in his life was 444,000 students dropped out of high school in the year ended October 2006. to continue learning,” Miller says. “I thought that was really cool.” 67% of U.S. high school students graduate on time. Miller also appreciates the company’s small size, which has led to close working 38% of U.S. high school students enroll immediately in postsecondary education after graduation. relationships with supervisors. “Even their criticism is constructive,” she says. “Mitch 18% of U.S. high school students go on to receive a bachelor’s degree within six is such a good confidence booster.” —L.T. years or an associate degree within three years. Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Association for Career and Technical Education “A lot of people look down on construction and most of the trades. They see someone working on houses and assume they can’t be very smart. There’s so much science and math involved in this work. We need to show people it’s not what they think.” Donnie Clayton, a 20-year-old apprentice at D.G. Liu Contractor 64 Remodeling January 2008
  6. 6. “It’s this simple: ‘junk in, junk out.’ best PRaCtiCes grams, to be sure, but others are underfunded As long as CTE is because they don’t test well and educators don’t Open-Book looked down on and underattended. “It’s a numbers game,” as ‘dumbed-down’ want to deal with them. The result can frustrate Ownership W says Dave Snyder, a education, it will even the most dedicated ith four field employees younger school support special- teachers, many of whom than 30, and several employ- produce low- ees with tenures of 14 years or ist and special edu- could be making far more cation teacher at the wage work and money working in the trades longer, Riggs Construction of St. Louis has Career and Technol- our trades will than in the classroom. a clear knack for finding and keeping good ogy Center of Freder- continue to suffer.” A telling example is young workers. They include 29-year-old ick County (Maryland) David Yost in West Virginia, where Dan Kayich (far right, shown with Brian Public Schools, refer- a CTE building David Yost left a fulfilling Marquis, John Schuetz, and Brett Randall), ring to the challenges construction teacher career with the military a project manager who started seven years of maintaining enroll- (and took a $70,000 pay ago as an apprentice. Amie Riggs, vice ment in the center’s carpentry class. “Pub- cut) to teach building construction at the president, lic education is focused on raising test high school he graduated from 40 years attributes a scores due to the unfunded federal mandate ago. He estimates, “conservatively,” that big part of created by No Child Left Behind legisla- 98% of his students can’t read or do math this success tion,” he says. Hands-on classes such as beyond the 7th grade level, and says that to the com- woodworking “are at the bottom of the “they literally have not been taught” even pany’s union totem pole,” beneath “academic” (and, such basic life skills as critical thinking, status. “We it’s worth noting, less space- and mate- work ethic, and integrity. hire union rial-intensive) subjects such as science, To prepare his students for construc- guys who math, and English. tion careers, which do require those skills go through In the meantime, “we’re losing the kids and many others, Yost has a classroom the system — who’ve had thorough training who are sitting at the back of the class- budget that averages $600 a year. “I’ve and chose this to be their career,” she says. room, staring out windows,” DeCiantis had to beg for donations from the local Riggs also does things that even remod- says. In response, he has worked with the home builders’ association and building elers in nonunion towns could embrace Home Builders Association of Connecti- supply companies,” he says. But “the to become more attractive to prospec- cut to develop an accredited two-year thing that really blows my mind is that tive employees. Being open-book is “first degree program in construction technol- we spent $1.4 million on an Astroturf and foremost,” she says. All staff review ogy (stay tuned for more details in next football field and $270,000 on a basket- the company’s finances monthly: balance month’s issue of Remodeling). ball court that we don’t need,” he says. sheets, budgets, P&L statements. “They And the kids who do find themselves “The problem isn’t really the students,” know where the money goes, and they in construction classes? Too often — at Yost says. It’s the adults. “We’re failing know why we have to make the margins we least for now — they seem to be there the students.” R make.” This knowledge makes them “buy into everything,” she says. “They own their Half empty or Half Full? jobs. They’re proud of their trucks, and they 120: Number of the approximately 46,000 high school students in Fairfax County, take care of their tools.” “Being open-book helps me deal with Va., enrolled in its construction program each year. $2.1 million: Recent clients when we face unforeseen issues,” selling price of a home built by students in the program. 23: Percentage of first- says Kayich. “It helps me help clients make generation Latino immigrants who are fluent in English. 88: Percentage of U.S.- the right decisions. born adult children of immigrants who are fluent in English. 28: Percentage of Kayich’s union training focused on field managers U.S. construction companies expect to lose within the next new construction, he notes. “Remodeling requires a little more know-how and flexibil- 10 years. 60,000: Number of high school and college students enrolled in ity,” he says, adding that many apprentices the architecture and construction career cluster of SkillsUSA. don’t last without on-the-job training. —L.T. Sources: Fairfax County Public Schools, Pew Hispanic Center, FMI Corp, SkillsUSA Remodeling January 2008 65
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