Creating a Mural for Our Future Construction Leaders

Each year I get the opportunity to speak to hundreds (maybe thousands) of high school students as I attend recruiting fairs, class presentations, and career exploration events in the Southeast. One of the first questions I ask each class is, “How many students plan to attend a 4-year university after they finish high school?” Inevitably, 95-98% of the students raise their hands, and the other 2-5% either didn’t hear me because they had ear buds in, or had their heads on the desk taking a cat nap (seems like that anyway).

The fact of the matter is that 30% of college freshmen will drop out their first year, and of those remaining, only 66% will graduate. In addition, 43% of those graduates will start jobs that do not require a Bachelor’s degree. So, many of these students will merely follow their friends to universities and colleges just to experience one or two years of college and it will cost them dearly, and most times, mom and dad
as well.

So what do employers say about students coming into their companies? I constantly hear the same statements over and over from veteran professionals – “these kids are lazy,” or, “they only care about their cell phones and social media.” Yes, students today do enjoy using electronics, but I don’t think that makes them lazy. Their desire and passion to outperform competitors in online games is just as real as our desire to complete projects on time and in budget, so they just have different priorities than seasoned professionals.

So how do we attract high school students into our entry level positions who bring with them the same desire and passion they find using electronics? A picture is worth a thousand words…

We, as industry leaders, must take the time to create a mural of our industry and make the student the main subject. A well-painted mural will pique the interest of students who have a strong work ethic, who are driven by increased responsibility, and who enjoy being part of a winning team. Students who have knowledge of their inner motivation can direct action to what they perceive to be fulfilling, so the mural must be action-packed, vivid in colors, and tell the story of a student who enjoys meaningful work, dedication to excellence, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Why a mural and not a painting? Murals are placed on walls and ceilings where the architectural elements of a given space are harmoniously incorporated into the piece. Students today want to bring their creativity, intelligence, dreams, and passions to work with them, so we must give them the opportunity to feel like work is an extension of their home, school, and essentially their own life. Basically, the old saying of “strong backs and weak minds” is no longer valid with today’s students. The “leave your brain at the door” work philosophy will keep a student on the job for only 3-5 days before he or she quits.

How do we, as industry leaders, create this mural? First, make a conscience decision to get involved with school construction related advisory boards and recruiting events so you can get in front of students. Secondly, take a real interest in a student or two and begin telling them about the rewards of being in the industry; great pay, benefits, training, promotion, and increased responsibility – a real career path! Tell the student about having an exciting development plan using their input and explain the training they will receive to increase their knowledge and the variety of task assignments they will be given to give breadth and depth to their experiences.

Tell them about the mentor who will be responsible for keeping them safe and helping them to gain all the competencies needed to be a professional in the field. The mentor who has the drive, charisma, and emotional intelligence to help the student become successful. I mention emotional intelligence here because yelling and cursing at people is disrespectful, and again, the student will quit in 3-5 days.

Finally, tell the student how technology has transformed the construction landscape and how they will be using iPads, cell phones, project and estimating software, and other electronics to run projects and maximize time and minimize inefficiencies.

As we move further away from traditional construction methods and dive headfirst into our continuously improving technology-oriented work environment, we must refine our recruiting pitch for students who enjoy working with their hands, but also enjoy being entertained with new technology. What we want (and need to have) is the same passion and desire students have for electronics directed toward our industry and trades. The only way to continue to attract students is by creating a mural of our technologically savvy industry and making the student the main subject. When you come right down to it, we must all be artists.

Tony Varamo is the workforce development manager of MetroPower Inc. Electrical Contractors and leads company recruiting, hiring, placement, and training of entry-level field technicians and project managers. Varamo oversees apprenticeship programs and monitors the training & development of 177 electrical apprentices and 30 project engineers/managers. Responsible for threading together succession plans for various layers of management, Tony seeks experiential learning opportunities for managers in the leadership pipeline. He facilitates continuing education for all employees in order to ensure mandatory training requirements are met and maximize employees’ potential.

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