In the November 22 edition of Leadership Perspectives, WHNT’s Steve Johnson sat down with Micah Bullard, the area manager for Turner Construction in north Alabama, to discuss the challenges facing the construction industry.
“The biggest challenge we have now in the construction industry is people,” Bullard said. “But it’s hard getting young people interested in the construction industry. We are trying to change that image now and make it something they would be proud to go into and their parents will be proud for them to go into.”
Bullard said people’s perspective of construction workers discourages them from joining the industry, but he said these perspectives are not an accurate representation of the whole industry.
“It is probably one of the more high tech industries there is in America,” Bullard said. “But people don’t see that side of it, they just see the finished product. Sometimes they see the construction workers and think ‘that’s not something I would like to do.'”
Bullard said the number of large projects has decreased, but Turner Construction is currently building a steel plant on Highway 31 across from Calhoun Community College.
“There’s less government spending on projects, however we are doing Von Braun IV out on the base right now,” Bullard said. “There was a four building complex and we built Von Braun I and Von Braun II, weren’t fortunate enough to build Von Braun III. “
Bullard said for the last several years, he tries to place one construction person in every career training department in the state.
“The state is very aware of the need for workforce development,” Bullard said. “The state is pushing money through the workforce council to the junior colleges, which we partner with to get people interested in the construction industry.”
In order to recruit people into the construction industry, Bullard said he is building construction programs in area high schools.
“We were instrumental four years ago in starting an academy at Grissom High School,” Bullard said. “That program has really taken off. There’s probably about 15 or 16 kids now in that program who are going to advance their education, but they are learning the basics of construction in high school.”
There is another option for entering the construction industry, what Bullard calls Plan B, where people can learn straight from people in the construction trade.
“There’s a big need for electricians, HV/AC people, plumbers, carpenters,” Bullard said. “But kids don’t choose that, they’d rather sit behind a computer. It’s hard attracting them to see where they would fit in.”
Bullard said electricians on Redstone Arsenal may make $34 an hour, but off-base, people make slightly less. Most of the construction businesses start with entrepreneurs, Bullard said.
“You know, not everyone can afford to go to college,” Bullard said. “But I got to looking at the ones who could.”
“That’s what I talk to them about,” Bullard said. “Going to college, coming out and making good money is plan A, but you have to have a plan B.”
Bullard said a good plan B is working to gain experience in the construction industry, with or without a college education.
“There’s a lot of people who didn’t make it to plan A, but fell back on plan B and are making good money,” Bullard said. “A lot of our superintendents don’t have a college degree, but they make well over $100,000 a year.”
Apprenticeship programs train people for certifications. Bullard said when people finish the programs, they are certified in their trade.
“There’s a lot to learn in construction,” Bullard said. “If you could imagine how many millions of pieces go together to make one building and everybody has to know where each piece goes.”
Bullard said construction workers are now able to make models of the buildings before the breaking the ground.
“From that 3D model, you can do scheduling, do cash flow, you can do materials, you can do labor,” Bullard said. “You can do so much on screen.”
Bullard said technology allows the construction industry to do more than people imagine.
“We take kids on construction jobs and walk around to show them what it is like — a day of a construction worker,” Bullard said. “Because something is going to pique their interest. We want them to see all that our industry has to offer.”
Bullard said once people see the construction industry first hand, they are hooked.
“There’s going to be a need, not just for electricians, HV/AC, drywall people, masons,” Bullard said. “They make good money, but there are a very few people who know how to do it.”
Bullard said as long as people are willing to learn, the construction industry will experience a boom.
“It’s not going to take you as long to learn a skill as it is going to take you to go to college,” Bullard said. “And you can make money while you are doing it.”
Bullard said his recruiting efforts are successful in bringing people to the industry. Trade programs are being offered in schools now, because Bullard said the educational system understands the need for these programs.
“The average construction worker is 57 years old,” Bullard said. “You have to replace them. The people you replace them with must be more educated than the guys who are 57 years old.”
Bullard said the replacements must be more trained and more informed in technology. He said there will be a need for both men and women in the construction industry.