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Filling the work force

image Students of the Construction Career Academy put wood paneling on the outside of their project.

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio metro area has the sixth-fastest growth rate in the country, and an obvious product of that is construction.

    While contractors, roofers, electricians and plumbers are constantly busy, a problem that has been around the industry for quite some time has risen to the forefront: the lack of trained laborers.
    According to the Texas Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January of 2011, there were 40,300 construction jobs in the San Antonio-New Braunfels area. Just over four years later, that number has increased by over 15,000.
    Steve Albert is the director of Electrical Systems Technology Technical Apprenticeship Program at MacArthur High School. He has seen first hand the need from businesses for skilled workers.
    “What we’re finding, on our end, because I think it’s a generation thing, is that it’s becoming more difficult to recruit kids that want to pursue a construction trade,” Albert said. “There’s nothing real glamorous about it, you have to work out in the elements, which today’s kids don’t really do at home. When I was growing up, we hardly ever stayed in the house.
    “We’ve got several companies that on a regular basis come and talk to the kids about career opportunities in their businesses.”
    Albert’s program starts with recruiting in middle school for the four-year program,
    “We tell them that you don’t have to be an electrician,” Albert said. “You can work at HEB in their maintenance department making $50,000 a year. You can go to work for Holt Caterpillar. There’s a lot of different areas that you can go into that aren’t really electrical.”
    Some people began pouring cement or working in carpentry in high school as a job, however, those that do not have the chance to work with different programs throughout the city and area.
    “The advantage to the kids is that they are companies that belong to the IEC,” Albert said. “These contractors agree to pay our kids a certain wage. They do a wage survey and they know what the average wage of journeyman electrician is amongst all their members and the kids make 50 percent of that.”
    It is not only many trade schools who are having trouble filling up spots in programs, but businesses are being hindered by not having the right kind of workers available.
    On Indeed.com, there are 1,420 construction jobs listed in just San Antonio. The positions range from carpentry installers to project coordinators to painters.
    Mike Byrnes is an instructor at Construction Careers Academy, associated with the Northside Independent School District at Warren High School.
    CCA is a four-year magnet school that gives kids interested in the construction field a chance to learn and get apprenticeships. CCA gets around 500 applicants a year and can accept just 150.
    “There are students that are finally realizing that construction isn’t just hard hats and digging,” Byrnes said. “Construction means architects, engineering, plumbing, electricians and construction management. They also realize how good the salaries are in the construction trade.”
    Like Albert, Byrnes sees a generational gap being an issue.
    “I think that there’s a disillusionment there also that they think they need to have what their parents have right now,” Byrnes said. “They don’t want to wait 30 years. They want to make it right now. There’s an attitude that they want to make money but not work hard for it.”
    John Massengale, Massengale Armature Works Inc., is an employer of an expanding business and needs people such as the ones coming out of the various trade programs around the area.
    “Our biggest challenge is to find people that want to do hands-on work and to find people that pay attention to detail and have pride in what they do,” Massengale said. “It’s hard to find people that want to work up the ladder. I’m a school board trustee for a local school district here in San Antonio and I’m always trying to get some kind of trade or technical education into local high schools. It’s an area that the future is really going to need.” –cs

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Chris Schoonover chris@constructionnews.net