HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) It’s not exactly a “dirty job,” but Mike Rowe is helping spearhead a state education and recruiting campaign for the construction industry.
There may appear to be a contradiction for recruiting to an industry that is perhaps the hardest hit by the economic downturn. But, with about a third of skilled tradesmen over the age of 50, “new blood” will be needed when the industry rebounds.
“The need for skilled personnel is a continual problem,” said Jim Maynard, who is in project management with Martin & Cobey Construction of Athens. “This will be prevalent in a couple of years when, hopefully, it turns around.”
The state construction industry is launching Go Build Alabama and is partnering with Rowe, perhaps the nation’s most visible supporter of skilled labor, who will appear in ads and commercials for the campaign.
Go Build also works with the actor’s mikeroweworks.com initiative, which calls attention to the expanding gap in the trades while providing a resource for anyone seeking a career in the industry.
Rowe said the gap is the unintended consequence of society’s focus on the college degree and its devaluation of skilled trade jobs such as electricians, carpenters and plumbers.
“We used to tell our kids that learning a trade was a great way to secure a worthwhile future,” he said. `We don’t tell them that anymore. Today, we tell them if they want to get a really good job they are going to need a four-year degree. We’ve lumped the skilled trades into the ’alternative education’ category and turned the entire field of study into some sort of vocational consolation prize.
“Is it any wonder we have a shortage of qualified tradesmen today?”
Alabama, which is not particularly known for being a trendsetter, is the first state to tackle this issue.
“It’s great to see Alabama make the initial step,” Maynard said. “It’s difficult in keeping the focus [on the trades] in the school systems.
“They’ve got limited resources but we’re starting to see programs.”
The Go Build campaign was conceived by the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), which was created through legislation sponsored this year by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, and co-sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. The ACRI is funded by the construction industry.
The Alabama Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, the Alabama Association of General Contractors and the Alabama AFL-CIO lobbied to create the institute to recruit skilled labor. Other organizations also supported the initiative, including the American Subcontractors Association, the Alabama Construction Trade Unions, the Alabama College System, the Alabama Road Builders Association, and the Alabama Construction Users Roundtable.
“Our mission is to recruit a new generation of craftsmen,” said ACRI Executive Director Tim Alford. “This is a unique partnership that’s not done anywhere in the country.”
The campaign will kick off Labor Day, and the date was not chosen by accident. “We’re using Labor Day as a jumping off point because of the obvious reason and the synergy it brings,” Alford said. “We want to bring honor back to the tradesmen.”
Alford said a goal of the campaign is to let people know about the needs for skilled workers and to “consider this among other options.”
Rowe agreed with Alford, who said it was a “coup” to snag the popular TV star.
“There are opportunities in Alabama right now that most people don’t even know about in construction,” Rowe said. “These opportunities aren’t alternatives to viable careers; they are viable careers. ... I’ve had a front row seat to all different kinds of work, and I’ll tell you something - there’s nothing more important to our country than skilled labor.”
The Go Build campaign will include statewide print, online and television ads referring to the web site (www.gobuildalabama.com), where people can learn about skilled trade careers, find information about training programs and more.
ACRI will also be doing an outreach program with high schools through a partnership with the Alabama chapter of SkillsUSA (www.skillsusa.org).
“I would like to go down the list alphabetically and work with every state to implement this kind of proactive program,” Rowe said. “Look out Alaska.”