Let's be honest: There's a reason that working in the trades isn't appealing. You work outside regardless of the heat or the rain; you're not protected by air conditioning in the summer or a furnace in the winter. That means you're often sweaty and stinky, or wet and drippy. It's not unusual to be dirty by the end of the day, or have sawdust stuck to your clothes. If you stop by the store on your way home from work, you can look pretty scruffy. It's hard work and far from glamorous.
But if you work in the trades, you know there are positives that outweigh the negatives. The satisfaction when you see a project come together and know your hands made it happen. The knowledge that you're helping improve a community when you build a new home or upgrade an existing home. The joy of facing a challenge and figuring out how to solve it. The contentment of exhaustion after a hard day's work, and the sweetness of crawling into bed. The delight of realizing that you get paid to exercise while others have to buy a gym membership.
It's easy to see the downside of working in the trades, but you have to do the work to realize the positive. One way to attract more young people to construction is by giving them a chance to experience the work.
I've talked before about the program in West Virginia that I was introduced to by Jacob and Malinda Meck. Their local high school requires that all students do a two-week mentorship program between their junior and senior year of high school.
Every summer, the Mecks get to work with one or two young people who will be graduating the following year. They introduce the students to the satisfaction of a career in construction and, at the same time, they have the ability to evaluate their ability, attitude, resourcefulness, and work ethic as future employees. The Mecks have hired many full-time employees from this program.
Over a period of five or six years, you can end up with a good crew through a program like this. You'll be helping young people discover the satisfaction of working in the trades, and your business will gain recognition as a supporter of a worthwhile community program.
There's a good chance your local high school doesn't require internships or promote a future in the skilled trades. Some high schools do require internships, but only for students on a high-tech track. It's time to change that.
On our cruise last January, our friend Bob Williams of Star Construction Company in Massachusetts gave a brief presentation that he's developed to share with high school students the benefits of a skilled trade career path. You can view his PowerPoint here, and you have his permission to edit it and use it for presentations yourself. (If you don't have PowerPoint, the .pdf format is here with notes.)
It's not easy; Bob's having a tough time getting into the local schools. There is a resistance to promoting anything other than college to high school students. He's working with other organizations as well as the schools to get the word out.
Until that happens, you can offer internships on your own. Try to find kids in your area who might fit your criteria and offer them a job over the summer, even if it's only for a few weeks. You'll be able to tell quickly if they have the aptitude or not, and they'll learn quickly whether or not it's something they'd like to pursue.
There's a need for young people to learn trade skills, and we're the best ambassadors for work in the trades. Future homeowners will thank us if we get involved now.
"People are basically the same the world over. Everybody wants the same things - to be happy, to be healthy, to be at least reasonably prosperous, and to be secure. They want friends, peace of mind, good family relationships, and hope that tomorrow is going to be even better than today." -- Zig Ziglar