My previous two columns about helping the trade craft have dealt with the evolution of the current problems we have in the construction industry in general and the pipe trades in particular. The response level from readers has been huge. I have received more correspondence on this issue than all the correspondence from the past five years combined! Obviously, the problem is that important. In addition to contractors, I have been contacted by manufacturers, labor advocates and tradesmen. I have not, however, had any word from educators or politicians. Many of the folks who corresponded had novel approaches to solving the problem and many had good ideas worth sharing. All recognize the situation as a dire one. Moving forward, I’ll share their ideas in this column in the hope that some traction might be gained toward a long-term solution to our problem.
We know what the problem is. What we don’t know, or at least can’t seem to quantify, is how to fix it in reality. Some folks, however, have an answer and have been beating their collective heads against the wall for over a decade. Their passion and drive have created a way to tackle the problem, and to make a difference. Despite the apparent indifference of most of the political and educational powers that be, these individuals have, indeed, made a difference. They deserve our gratitude and our support.
Construction career days
Five years ago, I did a column on an approach to generating interest in the construction trades called Construction Career Days. That program, started in March of 1999 by Humberto Martinez, Ross Martinez, Mike La Pointe and Greg Mooney in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, was in response to the lack of qualified labor in their immediate area. The idea was to give the kids a real hands-on feel for the trades by having them actually do some of the work themselves. The first CCD had 1,300 students participate. Within the first year, the program expanded to six other states and hosted more than 11,000 participants.
Within another year, the program expanded to six other states and hosted more than 11,000 participants. Within two years the Federal Highway Administration had been brought on board to partner with the states to sponsor even more of these events. In 2004 the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation got excited by the idea and fully funded the program. By 2008 there were 223 events sponsored nationwide.
Construction Career Days, through the efforts and dedication of people like Humberto Martinez have expanded to encompass 45 states to date and garnered some $14,000,000 in private funding for the program. It has played host to more than 523,000 kids (mostly high schoolers) and includes 215,000 minority participants and 149,000 female participants. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) has partnered with CCD to extend the program even further.
Remember this: the idea for Construction Career Days sprang from a response, in the local area, to the very problem we now face nationwide. Make no mistake, this is a real program, and it is making real progress in bringing entry level prospects into the industry. It is exciting interest in the construction trades at the very level we have been trying to get to. Is it making a difference? Yes. Is it enough to close the gap we face in hiring and retaining qualified trainees? No.
Mr. Martinez, et al, did not wait for a government study to propose a solution, they thought one up, got it going and massaged the program until it became the success it is today. Unfortunately, I recently received an e-mail saying that the funding for the Rhode Island center for the program has gone away. That does not mean that the program will vanish, it merely means that Humberto and his team will continue to work the program on a tighter budget. If you can help, please contact Humberto Martinez, [email protected], to offer your support.
Through their efforts, Construction Career Days, has reached over a half million prospective trainees in 13 years and exposed them to all facets of the construction industry. By partnering with organizations such as the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia, which just released the Georgia winners of the 2013 SkillsUSA competition, CCD is bringing the fight into the very halls of academia, which is where we need to go to get the attention of the education establishment.
We need to know about these programs, and if we are in a position to help, we must do so. We are the only ones who can solve the problem. Waiting for Uncle Sugar to do it is a fool’s errand. While it would be easy to simply provide a list of hyperlinks to sites on this topic, it will serve better to give you, our readers a reason to go to those sites. The main thrust of these articles is to showcase what has been done, is being done and can be done to get the most out of our efforts. The fight has been joined. We need to do everything we can to support these programs. There isn’t any more time to debate. The time for action is here.
My next column will showcase more ideas to confront this issue.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at[email protected].