The monumental task of finding energized and qualified workers—especially young workers—in the construction fields has been all over the headlines since the upturn of the economy. Contractors everywhere in the country are clamoring for workers so they can build houses to meet rising demand.
To explore how building contractors can take a more proactive approach to solving their labor woes, we sat down with two enterprising painting contractors, Scott Burt and Todd Pudvar, who started a program with local vo-tech schools to train and recruit the next generation of workers.
What pushed you to start this program?
SB: When we did research in 2012, unemployment was generally about 9%. But we found that the unemployment rate of kids graduating from vocational programs was 30%. They would graduate from the program and couldn’t find a job. On the other side of the coin, there were a million contractors saying, “We can’t find anybody to hire.” So there was a large gap that needed to be bridged.
What prepared you to work with local schools?
SB: I was a high-school English teacher in the 1990s. That’s where Todd and I met. I had painted my way through college and grad school and had an active contracting company while teaching. After 20 years of painting together, Todd and I formed Prep-to-Finish [P2F] and launched a serious outreach effort to schools. The hardest part was getting the schools to understand that it is free skill-building for kids. We don’t sell anything. Once we cleared that hurdle, our backgrounds in public education gave us credibility and access.
How would you describe what P2F does?
SB: We want to reach out to vocational schools and work with the kids, not necessarily to teach them how to paint—that’s just the vehicle because it’s our area of expertise. It’s more to get these kids involved in building and teach them what they need to know to get jobs in the trades. P2F is a program to help them understand other career opportunities in the trades.
What is the format of your programs?
SB: Generally, we run one- to two-day workshops in the schools, sometimes multiple times per year. How a workshop is structured depends on what students are building in their program. Sometimes it is furniture, sometimes a whole house. Student participation is a required part of the curriculum.
Has your approach changed since you began?
SB: At our five-plus-year mark, we’re able to go deeper with the schools—some schools, we’ve worked with every year—and we’re starting to see kids for a second year, working with them their junior and senior years.
Have you hired anyone from the program?
SB: We’ve started taking on one student as an apprentice in their senior year. The work the apprentice did with us in the program last year was the thing that made the biggest impression on him.
How have you seen vocational programs evolve in recent years?
TP: There was a trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s that vocational programs had become a dumping ground. Before schools had IEPs (individualized evaluation plans) for students, if a student didn’t fit the norm that the “square” classroom provided, they were put into vocational programs.
Now they have guys who’ve left the private sector—real carpenters, real plumbers, real electricians—guys who’ve got their degrees. These guys are teaching the classes now, so there’s more authenticity to the programs. As a result, we’re getting better graduates.
How should other JLC readers go about getting involved with vocational schools?
SB: Readers need to realize that teaching is about being a student of the game yourself—being a good listener and providing guidance with patience and reinforcement. We have to be proactive and go out and recruit youth (competing against the appeal and pay structure of the mechanical trades), and we have to be willing to teach and manage the students for it to work.
The best way JLC readers can get involved is by contacting their local tech school and requesting to get on the list for internship placements. Here they can provide a work-experience opportunity for a student. For those who desire to pass on their knowledge and be mentors, it’s win-win.