Exploding steam pipes. Crumbling bridges. Overcrowded roadways. Daily, the signs that the infrastructure is straining to meet the demands of the U.S. population are becoming painfully apparent. U.S. government estimates put the total cost of modernizing the nation’s water systems, dams, runways, roads and bridges through new construction or repair at nearly $1.6 trillion over a five-year period. Canada also faces infrastructure issues.
Maintaining the infrastructure is an economic challenge. More than that, it’s a construction challenge. There are simply not enough workers entering the field to support current and future needs of the construction industry.
The North American-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) announced a new program — the Construction Challenge — that uses a fun approach to introduce teenagers to construction and position the industry as a preferred career choice. The challenge activities will emphasize the importance of infrastructure renewal to our daily lives.
Career Choices Based
Although various branches of government on both national and local levels have set aside funding for construction education and training, many of these programs are structured for adults. Career choices are generally formed earlier. They are often formed during the teenage years, and are often based on familiar options.
AEM initiated the Construction Challenge competition specifically to engage the interest of teens through a hands-on, educational experience. According to Nicole Hallada, AEM marketing director, the Construction Challenge will help teenagers learn more about construction careers and construction equipment as well as the importance of construction’s contributions to a quality infrastructure.
“With this program, AEM is helping set the stage for future workforce development by allowing teenagers to actively explore construction as a career option. And, by bringing attention to these issues we hope to also increase the likelihood that teachers, counselors, parents and other adults who influence teens’ career choices will promote industry careers and benefits,” Hallada stated.
AEM is based in Milwaukee, Wis., but also has offices in Canada and China as well as Washington D.C. and a presence in the European Union. Its members produce equipment, products and services for the off-road equipment manufacturing industry (agriculture, construction, forestry, mining and utility).
“We’ve done extensive research on our industry and its image and grabbing a ’share of mind.’ We found that more often than not, it had no image at all. It just wasn’t on the radar screen for teens or their parents and other adults who can steer career choices,” Hallada explained.
Partnering With World Leader Creativity Organization
AEM has partnered with another non-profit organization to make the Construction Challenge a reality. Destination ImagiNation Inc., based out of Glassboro, N.J., works directly with an international volunteer network made up of educators and parents to develop and implement programs that teach creative problem solving and teamwork. Its annual Global Finals competition is the largest creativity competition of its kind held anywhere in the world.
The opportunity to work with Destination ImagiNation came about quickly, said Hallada, when she was researching “out of the box” options at the behest of AEM’s Construction Equipment Advisory Committee of association member companies.
“Destination ImagiNation had similar ideas and enthusiasm about attracting the ’best and the brightest,’ and the willingness to tailor a special creativity-enhancing program focused on construction. This is a unique program for them and a good fit between our two organizations,” noted Hallada.
The Construction Challenge idea moved to the forefront and became a reality in early 2007, even as the association continues to focus broadly as well on the double and intertwined issues of promoting awareness of infrastructure needs and workforce development.
“Member companies in all our industry segments have been seeking solutions to the ongoing problem of recruiting new employees into the industry. We’ve participated in the past in career development programs by allied industry and business groups and continue to lend support, and we even helped initiate and still manage an industry Web site that promotes construction careers. However the needs continue to grow, and our members more than ever are looking to us to expand our efforts,” according to Hallada.
Many Careers to Choose — High-Tech Manufacturing and Machines
AEM deliberately took a broad approach in defining the scope of construction, and in undertaking a broad awareness approach.
“There are many excellent local and regional targeted initiatives that, for example, look specifically at job apprenticeships and school support. We felt there was a need to also promote general awareness of the industry,” said Hallada.
Among the career options in construction that the Construction Challenge spotlights are construction equipment manufacturing and the many types of manufacturing related jobs that need to be filled. There also is a growing shortage of technicians to repair and maintain construction equipment and keep it running on the work site, and of skilled people to operate the machinery.
AEM noted that there are more than 70 different careers in construction, including machinist, welder, distribution branch manager, construction project engineer, civil engineer, general contractor, superintendent, foreman, heavy equipment operator and field technician.
“We want teens, educators and parents to better understand the breadth of careers in construction and in manufacturing and that this is increasingly a high-tech industry with sophisticated manufacturing processes and machine operation,” Hallada explained.
Construction Challenge Details — Regional and National Events
Working together, AEM and Destination ImagiNation have set up the Construction Challenge as a team-based event for high school students in grades 9 to 12 or equivalent vocational/technical schools. Each team can have between five and seven members and are led by a volunteer adult team advisor or leader.
The teams first compete in regional qualifying rallies, with 60 regional winning teams advancing to the finals at AEM’s ConExpo-Con/AGG 2008 trade show in Las Vegas, Nev., which will be held March 11 to 15, 2008. A variety of challenges are being developed for the regional rallies that spotlight creativity and problem solving with an introduction to construction awareness. Each rally is expected to have approximately 36 teams, and all teams must compete in a regional rally in order to advance to the finals tournament.
Regional rallies will take place on Jan. 12, 2008, in six cities across the United States: San Francisco, Calif.; Atlanta, Ga.; Glassboro, N.J.; Cincinnati, Ohio: Dallas, Texas; and Milwaukee, Wis.
Exposure to Real-World Issues and Solutions
The AEM Construction Challenge has three components on which the teams will be scored, including head-to-head debate, a hands-on task related to a construction solution and a science-fair type competition.
Between the regional rallies and the finals tournament, the student teams will work on the three components of the Construction Challenge, all involved with implementing a solution to a simulated infrastructure problem by using their knowledge of construction equipment.
“We want to expose the students to real world issues and want them to use teamwork, creativity and problem solving skills to develop real world solutions. And, at the show, they will have first hand exposure to the equipment and industry leaders,” said Hallada.
The debate or “Dialogue” component involves research-based talks and moderated discussion/debate of infrastructure issues with a focus on their relationship to quality of life, calling attention to the importance of the issue and lack of adequate funding mechanisms.
In the hands-on task or “Road Warrior” segment, each team is given a box of “parts and pieces” and is to explore infrastructure issues and implement a solution with team-created “construction equipment” — helping to illustrate the creative problem solving skills used in the industry.
The science fair or “Product Development” competition focuses on research, design and development of marketing/communications that manufacturers can use to promote the industry and companies.
There will be three full days of challenge competition and closing recognition ceremonies, plus teams will have the opportunity to tour the show and meet with exhibitors.
“What better forum than ConExpo-Con/AGG to host the Construction Challenge, since the show is one of the largest construction trade expositions in the world and brings together the industry’s global leaders,” noted Hallada.
Winning teams at the finals will be recognized in a variety of ways. There will be first, second and third place finishers designated as Overall Construction Challenge Champions, as well as first through third place winners in the Dialog and Road Warrior components. There will be special awards for Product Development, including Daily People’s Choice, Best in Show, Most Unique and Meets an Immediate Need.
“The winning teams will earn recognition for their achievements, but that is not the most important aspect of the Construction Challenge,” said Hallada. “They are being offered a unique opportunity to ’try on’ a new career while ’trying out’ talents they might not know they have. They are learning about our industry while developing critical life and job skills.”
Industry Companies Step Up as Challenge Sponsors
“Workforce development is a huge issue and AEM has enormous support from our members,” said Hallada.
She added that partnering with an education-based organization like Destination ImagiNation augments the credibility of what they are trying to accomplish.
A key area of support will be financial assistance for the teams advancing to the Construction Challenge finals in Las Vegas. After the regional winning teams have been selected, they will be assigned an AEM sponsor, whose sponsorship funds cover the travel, room and board associated with the trip to the finals competition at ConExpo-Con/AGG.
“We commend these sponsors for their involvement in and support of this program. Many have pointed out that they look forward to the mentoring aspect of being a sponsor. For the teams, this relationship allows them to be able to interface with industry professionals and have the opportunity to see the breadth and depth of the construction market first hand,” stated Hallada.
AEM Future Workforce Development Plans — Construction Challenge
Although AEM membership encompasses off-road equipment manufacturing companies across a variety of market segments, the focus of the first Construction Challenge will be infrastructure and construction workforce issues.
With the staging of the triennial ConExpo-Con/AGG trade show set for 2008, it was a natural to lead off with a construction focus, but AEM also plans to address workforce and industry issues related to agriculture, mining and other industry segments.
Hallada related that AEM is in the process of developing a more formalized and far reaching workforce development agenda in conjunction with the association’s new strategic plan initiated in 2006. The AEM workforce development initiative will seek to raise awareness of the association’s five industry segments among students, educators and parents, and also create awareness in the government sector of the need to support technical education and training programs.
And, the association will extend its partnering philosophy in this area as well.
“We want to bring other groups to the table and unite and move forward. It’s an extraordinary commitment but illustrates the scope of the issue and stakes are high,” Hallada said.
In a business climate where the lack of experienced, skilled workers is just beginning to be a problem for all industries, AEM is working hard to stay ahead of the curve and position construction to get a fair share of the talent that will be available.
“With the Construction Challenge, we’re developing skills and abilities within our greatest resource … our youth,” stated Hallada. “We’re showing them how their strengths and talents can be used in a growing, exciting industry. And finally, we’re exposing them to important, high-paying careers in an area that they probably didn’t consider … the construction industry.”
For more information, visit www.ConstructionChallenge.org.