Career-prep: Madison Construction Academy, Turner Construction Prepare Students for Skills-based Trades

MADISON — To discover local construction career opportunities, students from James Clemons and Bob Jones high schools took a walking tour of the new Rocket City Trash Pandas stadium at Town Madison.

The tour was part of a workforce development effort by Turner Construction Co., which is building the stadium.

Turner Construction officials give the students an up-close look at the work on the new Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball stadium. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Students dressed in full site safety gear including bright yellow vests, hardhats and goggles got an up-close look at the entire construction site followed by lunch and a 15-minute presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry and its many related skills-based trades.

Students in their schools’ Construction Academy are taking classes in planning, design and construction. They were selected for the trip by their building sciences instructors for showing the most interest in, or curiosity about a career in building engineering and the many skills-based careers related to the construction industry. These can be carpentry, welding, electrical, heating and air conditioning (HVAC), plumbing, cabinetry, and the like.

“We are recognizing industrywide that the construction industry can’t build at the pace of growth due to a shortage in skilled labor,” said Dani Latham, human resources generalist for Turner Construction. “This skills gap means we are not replacing the aging workforce with young workers, a problem that seems to stem from the old stigma attached to the business as being dangerous and abrasive.

“That is no longer so today where safety is a top priority. Workers themselves are skilled craftsmen making very good money, and we are seeing more women in the business, often in supervisory positions that has helped to change the culture.”

Latham is implementing a workforce development strategy for Turner Construction designed to bring together educators and partners such as North Alabama Works!; Associated Builders and Contractors; and the North Alabama Craft Training Foundation. The goal is to help kids develop the skills needed for a career in construction while introducing them to the many advantages of the construction industry.

“We find that many high school juniors and seniors are just not college-ready,” said Latham. “They aren’t yet sure what they want to do, some have no interest in going to college, while others can’t afford it, but that shouldn’t take them out of the workforce or leave them without opportunities.

“Our goal is to get them career-ready, rather than college-ready by introducing them to a skills-based trade where they can learn a skill that will stay with them forever, even if they pursue other professions.”

After the tour, the students were shown a presentation about career opportunities in the construction industry. (Photo/Steve Babin)

She said a job in construction doesn’t have to lead to a career in construction, but it can provide a living wage while they are going to school or deciding what they want to do. Latham said some people find their calling, while others branch off into other areas such as carpentry or welding.

“The great thing about it is that many of them can make a good living working construction while pursuing something else altogether; and it can help pay for a higher education like law school or medical school,” she said.

Similar to the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education program for manufacturing, Madison Construction Academy offers a four-year apprenticeship program where students go to school a couple of nights a week, but work full or part-time in the same field they are studying. This allows them to apply what they learn at night in a real-world setting.

This connection between a classroom curriculum and tangible careers in the workforce exposes students to a variety of career opportunities that will ultimately meet the future needs of business and industry.

“In many ways, the construction industry is behind manufacturing in implementing a recruitment strategy for skills-based training,” Latham said. “We found that the old model of holding career fairs with a lot of written literature and an industry recruiter behind a table no longer works.

“There is very little engagement from young people in that process, so we are getting more targeted by going into classrooms and getting in front of students who are taking construction and building trades classes. We make sure they understand their options and, by bringing them out to the stadium site, they can experience it firsthand.”