Part of the American dream is getting a college education. While a college education is a good thing, there are many companies that rely on tradespeople — laborers, carpenters, etc. — and are facing a shortage of those tradespeople under the age of 35.
Wehr Constructors Inc. is doing its part to provide mentoring and apprenticeship to help create interest in a generation of young people whose parents have urged them to work with computers rather than their hands.
“I’m very concerned about the future of the various trades,” says Dale Berry Sr., CEO of Wehr Constructors. “Not just men, but women. I do feel there is going to be a very dire need for tradespeople under the age of 35, and I don’t see where they’re going to be coming from. I don’t know how far down the road that’s going to be.”
Mentoring is the answer
Wehr wants to do something about this and thinks that in-house mentoring is one way to go. Wehr recruits workers from local high school, college, and employment fairs and then pairs them with foremen and superintendents to help them learn specific skills.
Nick Fears, vice president at Wehr Constructors, serves as a board member of ACE (architecture, construction, and engineering) Mentor Program, which aims to teach young people about the many facets of construction and then mentor them as they consider a profession in the construction industry.
“There is a need for development of the construction workforce,” Fears says, “and that can be anyone from a tradesperson swinging a hammer to a project manager in an office.”
Through certified apprentice programs, students can find a trade they enjoy that can lead to bigger and better things. While a tradesperson may start off making $15 per hour, with education and experience, and a willingness to keep moving forward, that laborer can one day be a project manager or superintendent making $100,000 per year.
The Associated Builders and Contractors Indiana/Kentucky Chapter is another organization that serves to match construction professionals with young people, introducing education and apprenticeship programs that foster interest in the various trades associated with construction.
“We have six employees currently in their apprentice program, finishing up their first years,” Fears says. “And we have two more in foreman leadership training classes.”
Incentives offered by Wehr
Wehr doesn’t stop there. The construction company, which was founded in 1945 and has built countless buildings in and around Louisville, from the Humana Building to Frazier Rehabilitation and Neuroscience Center, also encourages staff development and education. Wehr offers financial incentives to employees who finish their master’s degrees or achieve specific construction-related certifications such as LEED (for sustainability in construction projects), CMIT (for construction managers in training), and CCM (to become a certified construction manager).
All of these efforts, Fears and Berry believe, will help build the needed workforce Wehr and other construction companies will need in the coming years. The first step was simply identifying the potential issue.