The survey in a trade industry magazine confirmed what Jerry Fox already knew fewer people are interested in construction jobs. The survey asked more than 300 students what they wanted to do professionally when they grew up.
There were something like 256 jobs listed, explains Fox, executive vice president at Patio Enclosures Inc. And (No.) 239 was construction worker. That was right behind cowboy.
Its a sad fact that there are very few young people getting into the construction business today, Fox says.
With the rise of computers, people are not attracted to wearing a tool belt and swinging a hammer, he says. And this is the worst time for it to happen because construction is going crazy. So everybody in the remodeling industry and the construction industry is suffering.
Last year, Patio Enclosures was short 39 two-man crews for the amount of work available to it. That translates into $5.5 million in lost revenue. With the construction industry in desperate need of workers, executives at Patio Enclosures decided the only way to fill the void was to aggressively recruit, then train, young workers.
They developed a formal plan called the Apprentice Development Program, which shows new employees exactly how much they will make and when they will get pay raises and promotions.
Employees get a four-page form to keep track of their progress. New employees go through a standard 30-, 60- and 90-day review process, and also must be involved in 20 installation jobs.
At the subsequent levels apprentice I, apprentice II and installer they must be involved in more jobs of increasing variety and complexity. And they must pass a corporate certification test. It typically takes from 1-1/2 to 2 years to complete the program, which was founded in early 1998, Fox says.
Currently, 50 apprentices are in Patio Enclosures program. A few who were already with the company were grandfathered in. So far, 15 have achieved installer status.
This is so much different from what we did in the past, Fox says. In the past, you hired an apprentice and he worked and worked and worked. At some point in time in the future, when maybe there was an opening for an installer, and maybe the (installation supervisor) felt he was qualified enough, hed be pushed up there. It could be a year-and-a-half, two years, three years.
Sometimes apprentices waited four years for an opening.
But all thats changed.
Here, you dont wait for an opening; its an automatic progression, he says. And the employee has no questions on where he stands on the whole program. With this, we feel we have a way of showing a young person coming in at entry level with limited skills and limited experience a way of developing an installer for this company.
And the program is working. According to Fox, the company is only down seven crews from a year ago.
But training and keeping the workers is only half the battle. First Patio Enclosures has to get them in the door. And the first step is educating the franchise managers.
In the old days, youd place an ad in the paper and youd sit around the phone and wait for it to ring, says Fox. That doesnt get it done anymore. You have to be very proactive. We like to see someone come aboard who has a little bit of construction experience. But if not, if you possess a good work record and you have good references, then we may put you into the apprentice program.
Fox is always on the look out for the right kind of worker it may even be the stock boy at the local grocery who gives you exceptional service. You give them a card and invite them to the office to find out more about the program, he says.
Patio Enclosures also invested time retraining the trainers.
We told them that you are now company owners (Patio Enclosures became an ESOP two years ago), Fox says. In the past, they might have treated these kids as meat, as fetch-it type people, and may not have gotten them involved in learning. What we try to tell our installers is that as company owners, you have to understand the high cost of turnover.
So it is your responsibility to make sure that the young apprentices are given adequate training at the job, that theyre not just broom people to sweep up after things.
They have to be treated with respect, too. Theyre not just helpers, theyre apprentices. And that means they are in the process of learning. And you are the teacher. And you as a company owner should understand the value of being a teacher and retaining this young person.
The program has worked so well that the company is planning to develop a second tier for the installers. In addition, Patio Enclosures encourages trainees to learn carpentry skills to complement what they are getting from the company. Its about making this a career, not just a job, Fox says.
Young people today are not thinking of getting into construction. We have to change that. We have to show them that there is a definite need and it is a good life.