Press Release: 06.15.2015

Construction Careers

Enlightening Young Building Stars Leads to a Brighter Future

The U.S. construction industry added over 300,000 jobs in 2014, reaching the highest employment total since February 2009, according to studies by the Associated General Contractors of America. As activity continues to grow, construction firms are looking for experienced workers in a variety of craft, supervisory and management positions.

Although a rising demand for construction jobs is a welcome change, finding and retaining qualified construction workers are the biggest challenges facing the industry today. Various contributing factors are causing this labor shortfall. In addition to a growing demand for skilled labor due to increased building opportunities and future job projections, the construction industry lost more than a fourth of its workforce during the last recession, and the continued retirement of baby boomers is leaving a hole that needs to be filled. Furthermore, fewer high school graduates are entering the construction industry due in part to the lack of information and training programs offered at the high school level.

To counteract the skilled labor shortage, McCarthy is proactively implementing workforce management strategies, ensuring its employee talent remains among the best in the industry while also coaching employees of the future in every job sector of the industry. Some of these efforts include providing world-class employee benefits and aggressively recruiting new talent, as well as implementing strong safety, training and mentorship programs.

“The future of the construction industry lies in the hands of the next generation of builders,” says McCarthy Project Director Kris Nordbak. “With this in mind, McCarthy employees, like myself, are doing all we can to expose youth to the variety of positions in our industry, and then mentor them so they succeed in their career pursuits.”

Nordbak and others at McCarthy recently joined forces with Laborer’s International Union of North America (LiUNA) to implement a new specialized program at David Starr Jordan High School in Long Beach, Calif. Called STAR, or Successful Training and Apprenticeship Recruiting, the program was launched in the school’s spring semester, with the first class in February 2015.

Jordan High School is one of 13 high schools in the Long Beach Unified School District. Schools in the district incorporate a program of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) and Pathways that integrates rigorous academic instruction with demanding technical proficiencies and field-based learning — all set in the context of one of California’s 15 major industry sectors. Every campus is different, and not all of the industry sectors are represented at each. Jordan High School has eight areas of focus, one of which includes Building Trades and Construction with the ACE (Architecture, Construction and Engineering) Academy.

“Unlike the existing ACE Academy program at Jordan High School, which is generally tailored toward students intending to pursue a college degree, the STAR program offers additional opportunities to students not on the traditional college path,” explained Nordbak. “It also helps solve the ever-growing need of a skilled labor force to support the construction industry.”

In early 2014, LiUNA representatives approached McCarthy personnel in a brainstorming session to see what could be done to inject enthusiasm for construction into high school seniors.

“The idea of a pre-apprenticeship training program was born after we conducted research by speaking to students in Long Beach Unified’s Youth Employment Network program and ACE Academy and discovered there was a need,” said Nordbak.

According to LiUNA representatives, recruiting individuals who are 30 or older isn’t an issue; however, they do not see many recruits fresh out of high school. They said this is primarily due to lack of awareness among high school graduates about opportunities in the construction industry. The STAR program will let students know they have options for a good career and job opportunities in the construction industry, even without a college degree.

To move this initiative forward, LiUNA representatives and Nordbak reached out to Jordan High School Principal Shawn Ashley. Together they formed STAR, the first construction training program of its kind.

“I am excited to see the new STAR program come to fruition and to witness the students fully engaging in this life-changing opportunity,” said Ashley. “This pioneering program allows students who had no vision of their future to see themselves as fully trained employees. Regardless of their future occupation, the practical training and exposure to the construction industry will provide students with tangible skills they can use throughout their lives.”

To kick-off the program, which incorporates a hands-on curriculum, LiUNA, McCarthy and Jordan High School both contributed and reached out to the community for construction gear including tool belts, hard hats, boots and other supplies. Additionally, McCarthy committed guidance and support — a natural partnership as the firm is building a major renovation on the school campus.

“We’ve had incredible construction industry support, including specialty trade contractors, suppliers, union representatives, and many McCarthy partners,” according to McCarthy Senior Project Manager Mike Viveros. “Given the chance to help students develop opportunities to enhance their future, many in the industry are willing to assist.”

Already working with the ACE Mentor program and SkillsUSA on other high school mentorship endeavors, McCarthy employees wholeheartedly joined the STAR educational team and helped develop its curriculum. Along with a LiUNA representative and Jordan High Construction Teacher Miguel Lopez, McCarthy volunteers teach the two-and-a-half-hour class twice a week. McCarthy Project Engineers Eric Speik and Alex Wright, along with Nordbak and Viveros, regularly lead the lessons.

Currently 29 students are enrolled in the inaugural STAR program, offered to seniors at Jordan High School and Jordan-Plus, the affiliated continuation high school.

“Eligibility requirements simply include good attendance, behavior and judgement as well as an interest in construction,” explained Nordbak.

Based on a Construction Craft Laborer and Intro to Construction Course, participants in the program learn about items such as basic safety, construction math, hand tools, blueprints, basic rigging, building materials, fasteners and adhesives, distance measuring and leveling, and concrete and reinforcing materials and forms, as well as basic communication and employment skills.

Students are also exposed to various construction careers from guest speakers working in those roles and have the opportunity to tour construction jobsites for a firsthand look at workers in the field. Recently, Nordbak took STAR students on a tour of a new 294,000-square-foot conference and guest center McCarthy is building on the UCLA campus, hosted by the on-site McCarthy project team. The students also visited Twining Inc. a commercial engineering, testing and inspection company in Long Beach, and another field trip is planned toward the end of the semester.

“The STAR program is a perfect blend of schools, private industry and the unions working together to prepare students for their future,” said Ashley.

During the program, STAR students earn their OSHA 10-Hour Safety Certification and upon graduation and successful completion of the class may be eligible to attend a LiUNA boot camp, the first step toward entrance into LiUNA’s apprentice program. Those deciding to pursue a different construction career are referred to college aides or career center staff who provide information and access to other unions and opportunities in the construction field.

“It’s extremely rewarding helping high school students discover a new passion and career path they may have otherwise overlooked,” said Nordbak. “We are not only opening the door to promising career opportunities for STAR program students, but we are also positively impacting our industry’s workforce by providing skilled workers who will surely brighten our future with the projects they build.”

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