What to do about pending labor shortages, part 3

March 1, 2006
WE COVERED alternative hiring practices, such as hiring veterans, women and immigrants in last month's column (February, pg. 24). This is the last of a three-part series about dealing with our dwindling work force. Hire from outside the United States. A very good friend of mine was born in the United States, moved to Germany as a boy of 5, and stayed there until he turned 20 before moving back to

WE COVERED alternative hiring practices, such as hiring veterans, women and immigrants in last month's column (February, pg. 24). This is the last of a three-part series about dealing with our dwindling work force.

Hire from outside the United States. A very good friend of mine was born in the United States, moved to Germany as a boy of 5, and stayed there until he turned 20 before moving back to the United States.

When he was 14, he had a rare opportunity. He was given the chance to become a pipefitter's apprentice. The Germans believe in promoting their trades at an early age. Apprentices in Germany typically serve with their mentor during their whole tenure as an apprentice. During this tenure, they are expected to attend night school and learn their trade exclusively.

My friend is well versed in all aspects of pipefitting for all types of piping materials. There isn't a piping system in the world that he has not worked on or had experience handling. I had the opportunity to work with him for a short stint during a major project for which we had temporarily hired him. It was like a dream. I'd start making a piping schematic of what I wanted done, and when I turned around, he'd already begun putting it together without being told what to do.

He now operates his own business and finds himself needing to hire additional help. He's tried hiring local plumbing talent and was quite dismayed at the skill levels shown and the lack of a work ethic. He is looking into the possibility of bringing some trained, skilled apprentices over here from Germany.

He's run into some hurdles. It seems you must show that no local talent is capable of filling the position before you can import your help. That means that there cannot be any openings in the local newspaper, nor any plumbing positions open in the local govern-ment's labor pool. This may be a tough one to crack but, nonetheless, entirely possible with patience and probably well worth the effort.

Start finding talent extremely early.

An associate of mine, Cathy Rock at Red Rocks Community College, the college at which I teach part time, is the project coordinator for a grant funded by the National Science Foundation. The Technical Education Pathways Project grant team has been working diligently on getting a construction trades class opened on a high school level.

The construction class in high school is co-taught by a rotation of instructors with experience in the construction trades. The students were actually building a hands-on miniature version of a home inside their school at the time of my visit. The structure is complete with plumbing, electrical and heating systems.

I had the opportunity to co-teach one of the classes, and I can tell you that there are some real go-getters in this class of juniors and seniors who will hit the pavement running after their graduation. In talking with the students, I discovered that they realize there is a real good possibility they can get a job right after high school in the construction trades, and that they can start making good money immediately and have their employer pay for their night-school college education.

In addition to this effort, TEPP has been instrumental in getting teachers at the high school level to introduce these students to the trades in their Geometry Principles classes, a high school math class written around the Colorado Student Assessment Program. It is now in its second year. It has been used at seven high schools with 300 students enrolled (up from three schools and 100 students last year).

The course uses blueprints instead of a textbook, and it pulls out applicable math concepts from a building project beginning with design. This is much better than the typical, "A man gets on a train in Lebanon at 11:20 a.m. ..." I wish that someone had come up with this concept when I was in high school. I'm certain I would have been more attentive and would have learned more. These classes will count for credits for a community college math course requirement for an AAS degree.

TEPP helped institute Alternative Energy classes. These classes are being piloted this year at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Colo. The pilot program now has two sections, with a total of 50 students. It is being offered for a choice of career and technical education credits or science credits.

This course is a project-based look at energy conservation, renewable methods of generating electricity including solar, wind, biomass, hydrogen (fuel cells) and geothermal. This group of courses will count for credit for community college ENY 101 for AAS construction technology credits. The students are showing a high degree of interest, which translates into students looking for work right out of high school.

Lesson plans and assessments are available on our Webpage at, www.rrcc.edu/tepp. Cathy Rock can be reached at [email protected]

With budget cuts, changing attitudes and the possibility of getting young teens involved in the trades being fought by high school counselors, the pool of potential applicants is dwindling fast. Shop is not a common class as it was in the '70s and early '80s. Most students are told that if they don't get a college education, regardless of their intentions, that they will never be able to get a good-paying job.

These types of classes need to be conducted throughout the United States in order for us to get a head start on rebuilding supply of recruits. Get involved with your local high schools, and discuss the possibility of having a "Construction Industry Enlightenment Day." It may surprise you the number of potential employees that you run into.

Red Rocks Community College's Construction Tech program has also been involved with Colorado Construction Career Days. This event was sponsored by consortium of local construction organizations, school districts and post-secondary programs as well as individual companies. They have had three annual events. This year's program attracted 1,500 students and teachers over two days for a series of hands-on activities that included masonry, electrical, carpentry, project management, hydroelectric, heavy equipment operating and safety.

The consortium is following up this year with its first job fair hosted by RRCC aimed at offering entry-level and above summer and permanent jobs for graduating high school seniors and RRCC students.

If you choose to ignore this problem in hopes that it will take care of itself, you may find yourself in the position of being without adequate help and needing to close your business down. It's happened before and will continue to happen if we as an industry stand by and let it happen.

Get involved. You can change the course of history if you get involved now. If you are aware of other programs that may help prop up our workforce, by all means, please let me know and I will shine a light on them in a future column.

This world needs more people like Cathy Rock and the TEPP team. Thanks for all of your hard work!

Tune in next month as we take a look at a unique home that was originally located on the banks of the Ohio River. Built in 1872, the home was dismantled, shipped to Colorado, reassembled, retrofitted with state-ofthe-art energy conservation measures and heated with one of the most efficient heating systems know today.

Until then, Happy Work Force Hydronicing.

Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303/778-7772.

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