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Business Q&A

With Dave Anderson - President of the Associated General Contractors Oregon Columbia Chapter, the industry organization for commercial contractors

What would you say is the single biggest challenge for the construction industry right now?

Competition for qualified workers and attracting young, entry-level workers into the trade.

We have to overcome the image of the construction industry as a job that has no future. It actually has a fabulous future. It can go anywhere an individual wants to take it. If they're aggressive and want to pursue a management position, that's certainly available for them. If they want to work with their hands and that's where they're most comfortable, that's certainly available. Just getting into the trade is the entry level. From there, it's up to the individual to take it wherever they desire.

We recognize there's a lot of competition for workers out in the marketplace. We've determined that we have to demonstrate to these potential young workers that construction is a viable alternative.

What is AGC doing to encourage younger workers in enter the construction industry?

We've started pursuing them at a young age ... with a program in schools for fifth graders. We've created a Build-Up Kit, which is a tool kit for teachers to use in teaching kids about construction. The teacher can use it as part of their curriculum.

For high school, we start a school-to-work effort to show kids who are ready to get out of school that there's an option they may want to consider, which is going into the (construction) trade.

We also have the Construction Academy, which we hold for two to four weeks following the senior year of high school. The idea there is to expose kids to an opportunity. The Academy gives them the chance to experience all sorts of construction. We do wood framing, concrete work, electrical, mechanical. All aspects of it, essentially, so they get a snapshot of everything. From there they can go right into the trades through an apprenticeship program.

We also show them the wage and benefit package that construction workers make. Typical construction worker wage in the state of Oregon is $35,000, plus benefits.

What is AGC doing to support the workers in the construction industry right now?

We're constantly trying to improve the work force. Technology is changing constantly. Construction technology, as it improves and progress, we have to improve the workers. We're not only improving them in terms of construction techniques, but a big part of education anymore are things like diversity and how to work with diversity in the work force - sexual discrimination, gender discrimination issues. Also how to work safely and as part of a team.

As computer technology has become more economical in construction, we're putting it out in the field.

The newer people coming in, the younger workers, seem to be the more computer literate, so it's kind of a natural thing for them.