Money & Business

Construction Industry's Youth Strategy Includes Appealing to Gamers

By / Aug 1, 2014 A screenshot from the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania's "virtual pre-apprenticeship" game, Future Road Builders.

Making a play to add younger faces to the construction workforce, industry trade groups are pointing to the well-honed reflexes of gamers, who they say are perfect for the field’s technical demands.

The bad news is that most jobs don’t let you play video games all day.

The good news, as it turns out, is that there’s one industry where certain skills gained playing video games can come in handy: construction.

“Because they played video games for so long, their hand-eye coordination is very fast and advanced,” Allied Career Training President L.J. Zielke told Advertising Age recently.

A number of trade groups are working to build on that base. Here’s how:

Playing up the tech: As Advertising Age notes, the nature of construction jobs has changed in recent years, with a sizable chunk of the manual labor being replaced by the use of specific technical tools. “There is much more use of laser and GPS-guided equipment, building-information modeling, and other things that require computer skills and use of technology that was not common before the recession,” Ken Simonson, an economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, told the magazine. AGC is one of many groups taking part in a marketing campaign, “Build Your Future,” emphasizing the high-tech nature of the industry (think a guy with a hard hat and an iPad). It also helps that, according to the Build Your Future Initiative, the jobs featured tend to pay decently.

Making a video game of their own: One trade group, the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania (CAWP), has created a “virtual pre-apprenticeship” video game, Future Road Builders, to showcase the skills potential job recruits need. (A sample of the game is shown above.) Beyond being a snazzy way to draw gamers’ attention to the industry, the game serves a more practical purpose. Apprenticeship programs generally require 4,000 hours of on-the-job training, which can be a tall order. Future Road Builders gives potential laborers a taste of what it’s really like, right off the bat. CAWP Executive Director Rich Barcaskey notes that it’s also a good way to reach a younger audience at a time when the age of the average construction worker is in the late 40s. “We said, ‘Let’s not wait till we get to the crisis to solve it.’ We wanted to be ahead of the curve,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pulling out a famous face: The construction industry has at least one bona fide celebrity raising the field’s profile. Mike Rowe, the host of the former Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs” and the upcoming CNN show “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” has frequently worked with trade groups and nonprofits, such as Go Build Alabama. Rowe also has a nonprofit foundation of his own, the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, which attempts to draw attention to the skilled trades. It was in this role that he spoke last year at SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Conference (shown in the video above), helping give a leg up to another nonprofit that works to spur interest in the construction field.

Playing on gaming and pop culture isn’t the only way that the construction industry is combating its age gap. The industry is also working on a long-term plan to build out its training infrastructure.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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