How to Build the Construction Workforce Through School Partnerships

In an effort to meet the growing demand for skilled construction labor, Mortenson Construction Corporation has forged partnerships with local high schools to provide career guidance, job training, and educational experiences for youths attending schools located near its regional offices. These partnerships are vital to ending the drastic skilled labor shortages currently faced by the construction industry.

Mortenson Construction executive Joanna Slominski has spent years building partnerships between her company and the local schools. Slominski has been a personal mentor to several students, organized familiarization trips to construction sites, created hands-on learning opportunities for students, and facilitaed job-shadowing opportunities for students who are interested in the skilled trades. In her article for Prairie Business, Slominski says that ensuring positive, productive partnerships has meant developing a strong, 5-point outreach and implementation strategy.

The first step is to analyze what your business can offer the school and what they need/want in order to formulate a mutually beneficial goal. If you have technological expertise, willing mentors on staff, or an acute sense of what your industry demands from entry-level employees, look for ways to incorporate those assets into the educational curriculum. Introducing students to the building trades is a good start, but helping them understand that cutting-edge technology and universally-sought management skills are part of the business is also important. For example, Mortenson shows students how Oculus Rift technology, usually identified with video games, is used in the design and project management aspects of construction technology.

After you discover what your company has to offer, it’s time to locate schools to partner with. Decide which institutions would benefit from your business’ strengths. Do you work with high schools or focus primarily on the local trade schools? Examine the school’s mission statement and goals to make sure that they align with your company’s core values.

Thirdly, fostering direct, honest communication with potential partners from the outset will help establish mutual objectives and expectations. Before you begin, each party should understand what obligations must be met. Be clear about how much human capital, time, and materials your business can spare for the partnership. In forging the partnership, understand that it entails sharing your business’ intellectual property with the next generation of skilled trades people, to help them learn the business. Have clear guidelines about mutual goals and the resources you are contributing to the schools, and understand your company’s ability to make the necessary assessments and readjustments that may periodically be required.

After that, build a system for getting and incorporating feedback from students and instructors into your partnership from the outset. The school’s leadership may be responsible for committing to the partnership, but the students you are teaching and the instructors you are collaborating with should also be heard. Take their feedback as seriously as you do the administration’s. If students aren’t engaging with your program, be willing to reassess what you are offering and how it is being presented.

Finally, integrate these educational partnerships into your working culture. In order to succeed, educational partnerships must have the support of the entire company. Your employees should know about your organization’s various partnerships, and that they might be called upon to interact with students in an educational support role. This might range from key executives making presentations to student groups, to staff participation in a “career day” even hosted at your company.

Partnerships with educational institutions are a responsibility and a privilege for businesses that choose to create them, but the benefits for the company and the industry are enormous. Investing the time and resources to partner with schools will ensure that the construction trades workforce has well-trained, strong, leadership in years to come.

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