'Fast Lane to Jobs' Initiative Yielding Results

Thu April 30, 2020 - Southeast Edition #10
Irwin Rapoport – CEG Correspondent


Proudly displayed with this Komatsu WA270 wheel loader are eight great reasons from the GHCA to work in the road construction industry.
Proudly displayed with this Komatsu WA270 wheel loader are eight great reasons from the GHCA to work in the road construction industry.
Proudly displayed with this Komatsu WA270 wheel loader are eight great reasons from the GHCA to work in the road construction industry. A view of the floor at a career expo held by the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia last year. Construction companies across the state attend job fairs and career expos in an attempt to change the narrative about the viability of going into construction as opposed to attending college. The Georgia Highway Construction Association participates in local job fairs that include bringing construction equipment and simulators, remote equipment and lecturers, all with the purpose of engaging attendees.

The ongoing shortage of construction workers is affecting general contractors and subcontractors in many states. This is very much the situation for the membership of the Georgia Highway Construction Association (GHCA), which has the twin challenge of replacing an existing aging workforce, where retirements occur daily, all while seriously increasing the labor pool to meet the demand of increasing amount of work being asked for by the Georgia Department of Transportation, large cities such as Atlanta and by smaller counties.

The concern has been around for many years and the GHCA has participated in many initiatives with various partners. Four years ago, the association took the bull by the horns and started its "Fast Lane To Jobs" initiative and corresponding web page — www.georgiaroadjobs.com — to help turn the tide.

The web page features videos and interviews with construction workers, addresses many FAQs that people interested in a future in construction would ask, and has several key sections such as: Find Highway Construction Jobs in Georgia; Construction Jobs for Women; Find a Job That's Right for You; Meet Real Workers; 8 Good Reasons to Work in Construction; and Take the Quiz – Is a Career in Construction Right For You?

"For years we have been part of all kinds of employment taskforces and initiatives and nothing really got done," said David Moellering, GHCA executive director. "We got to the point where all we wanted to do was a find a way to present our industry as an opportunity for anyone. The core basics to the web site is really connecting with the potential recruit or applicant and help them find where they can fit in and what their opportunities are going forward.

"When they see that, the next question is ‘How do I do this?' and we give them the ability to connect with employers that are hiring today," Moellering added. "The videos help folks envision themselves in a role and the opportunities to rise up through the ranks, including management. Many have come in with no experience in construction and are flourishing."

The need for workers is paramount and many GCs in Georgia and the Carolinas have noted that projects can be affected by the availability of subcontractors, who are engaged in many projects and are also having trouble securing necessary labor.

Addressing Labor Shortage Is Complex

"It's not that we can't find applicants, but we're struggling to find folks can complete the application process and make it to a job," Moellering explained. "Unfortunately, we end up in a situation where many can't pass a drug test or show up for work on time. If people can meet those requirements, we can train them and help them find a job."

Early on, the GHCA noticed that the average applicant was someone in their mid-30s who would look to construction as a last resort after prior job experiences.

"What we're doing now is spending a lot of time and effort in high schools and trying to get students interested in a career at an early age and into our system," Moellering said. "Our goal is to help them become successful early in their careers instead of going into other industries where some may flounder along the way. We want kids that have an aptitude and interest in pursuing a construction career. Many of our companies are working with local high schools to further develop relationships with the teachers and students participating in construction programs. We think it's important to support construction programs in any way we can to see them flourish.

"There are plenty of jobs out there if you're willing to do the work" he added. "We're looking for men and women — we're not turning anyone away. There are people retiring all the time and leaving the industry to go to another one, so jobs are opening up every day. Even now, when you think things would be slow, we're still working every day."

Filling out the questionnaire is the first step, and completed forms are sent to all the companies in the areas the applicant checks off. The GHCA's web page divides the state of Georgia into several geographic areas.

"They also have direct contact to the human resources directors of those companies — we make it really simple to get in touch with our companies," Moellering stated. "We're always looking for women that are interested in our industry. We have a video that features Kate Rieling, who runs many jobs for Vertical Earth Inc., and she is fantastic. Women are just as capable as the men and we have a lot of women that are great leaders.

"This isn't an industry that is just about a strong back anymore, it's one that having an aptitude for electronics, GPS, IT and the internet is important. We have jobs with equipment, often heavy, that are highly computerized and use GPS systems for layout and other crucial aspects of modern-day construction, which continues to evolve. This is not your grandfather's construction job site anymore."

Construction offers a variety of well-paid jobs, that over time can lead to being promoted to superintendent, project manager and other upper management positions that cover estimating, scheduling, planning and purchasing materials and equipment.

"We have folks that have risen through the ranks with high school degrees to run multimillion-dollar companies, which is not uncommon in our industry," Moellering said. "Formal training in construction is fantastic, and with it you are able to utilize that common sense, methods and abilities to organize, motivate and solve problems. It takes the individual a long way and you don't have to go to college and come out with a bunch of degrees. In many cases, our young recruits are making more than what their counterparts out of college are making and they have started on a solid career path."

Outreach in High Schools a Positive

About 160 high schools in Georgia have some type of construction program and one goal of the GHCA is to increase that number in order to access more potential recruits. Part of the outreach has representatives of contractors speaking with principals and teachers to develop programs and having executives, project managers and superintendents lecture in classrooms and assemblies. Sometimes schools have students participate in field trips to construction sites.

"It's all about making connections," Moellering stated. "Typically, these teachers are looking for content and interested in finding more aspects of construction that they could expose their students to. The other part is that you have teachers who say, ‘I feel this kid is a great fit for you, you should pursue him or her.' This is invaluable because you get early feedback and a job reference. Several of our companies have offered kids jobs right out of high school. The real recruiting successes we've had are individual companies working with high school students."

Efforts are ongoing to develop age-appropriate summer job internships for students that meet labor legislation while also ensuring their safety at all times. There also are initiatives to hire ex-military personnel and re-entry workers, which has the GHCA working with the prison system to develop re-entry programs.

"We've just scratched the surface here and it takes a lot of resources to really find people," Moellering said. "We're going at it in the most efficient way that we know."

Several construction associations have been inspired by the web page and have contacted Moellering for ideas to help with their web sites and initiatives.

"As far as I know, we were the first association nation-wide to do anything like this back in 2015," he said. "We couldn't find any other way to connect with people to get them to work. We tell reps from other groups that this is the purest way to tap into and reach out to the work force."

The GHCA also is working with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia to develop and collaborate on programs and initiatives, which involve local high schools

The GHCA also participates in local job fairs that includes bringing construction equipment and simulators, remote control equipment and lecturers, all with the purpose of engaging attendees. One of the fairs, typically held in March, usually attracts close to 10,000 people.

"Construction is tough work and we can't change the conditions in which we work," Moellering said. "But you could change the environment and be very productive. The two can coexist and there's a good living to be made if they want to do it." CEG