Construction Groups Set Out to Fill Industry’s Skills Gap

A group of construction-related associations in Tennessee has launched an initiative to encourage young people to pursue careers in the industry and to fill its thinning ranks.

The good news: Construction is booming in Tennessee. The not-so-good news: The average construction worker in the state is over 50, and for every five workers who leave the industry, only one replacement enters.

We realized that a short-term messaging blitz would never overcome years of stereotypes or cause a paradigm shift in people’s thinking about the trades.

To address Tennessee’s shortage of qualified construction workers, a group of industry associations has launched the Go Build Tennessee initiative, aiming to encourage young people to consider jobs in the field and educate them about opportunities available.

“The number-one issue our industry is facing is the availability of qualified workers,” said Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs at Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

The problem has been exacerbated by the recession and a lack of interest from young people.

“Research indicates that young people simply are not considering the construction trades as a viable career choice,” said Grace Masterson, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Tennessee, one of four associations sponsoring Go Build Tennessee. The others are the Home Builders Association of Tennessee, Tennessee Road Builders Association, and Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Tennessee. The initiative is administered by a nonprofit comprising representatives from commercial, industrial, residential, and road-building contractors and subcontractors. It follows in the footsteps of similar programs in Alabama and Georgia.

Go Build Tennessee includes a robust website, multimedia advertising, social media, outreach to young people through career fairs, and outreach to counselors and educators.

“Our goal is to inspire students to pursue a career in the trades, and then provide them the tools and information they need to seek out training opportunities,” Masterson said. Go Build is trying to complement educators’ and counselors’ work “by helping to further engage students about the trades and provide additional tools they can use in their classrooms.”

The website provides snapshots of many different trades—such as boilermakers, electricians, surveyors, and welders—including a job description, required training, average wages, and videos of people in that trade.

“Our messaging efforts attempt to reach young people as early as 13, when junior high students begin to make decisions about their coursework in the coming years,” Masterson said. Go Build is aimed at young people as well as “influencers”—parents, educators, coaches, pastors, and others, who often have “viewed technical training and careers in the skilled trades as a fallback or less-than-desirable career path,” she added.

This is due in part to misperceptions about the pay, said AGC’s Turmail. Go Build’s website notes that qualified skilled tradesmen earn an average of $50,000 per year.

“A key insight we realized during the development of the campaign was that a short-term messaging blitz would never overcome years of stereotypes or cause a paradigm shift in people’s thinking about the trades,” Masterson said. “Perceptions don’t change overnight, and Go Build is a sustained public relations education effort that reaches and interacts with students at multiple levels to inform and inspire the next generation of skilled workers.”

The general public may be unaware of the breadth of trades that make up the industry, Turmail said. “You could just as easily be holding an iPad as a hammer” at a job site, he said.

Another thing that might not be common knowledge “is the tremendous pride and accomplishment that the workers feel,” Turmail said. “They are pretty proud of what they have built.”


Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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