From Dirty, Dangerous and Dead-End to Safe, Skilled and Sustainable – Changing the Perception of Construction Careers

Bryant Black

Director, Workforce Development
Greater Houston Partnership

According to Meredith Watassek, Director of Career and Technical Education at Fort Bend Independent School District, “A sustainable workforce starts by educating the middle and high school student and their parents and counselors to the viable career options in construction and other career and technical trades.” Construction Career Collaborative and our Accredited Employers realize that Meredith is absolutely correct.  It has motivated C3 companies, Vaughn Construction and TRIO Electric, to create programs that bring high school students to construction sites in Houston to experience the industry first hand while working a summer job. TRIO, a specialty contractor, and Vaughn, a general contractor, have different needs and have designed different programs but each one has the intended outcome of creating more interest and enthusiasm in young workers for a career in the commercial construction industry.

TRIO, a merit shop electrical contractor, has developed a strong relationship with multiple school districts across the state where there are Career and Technical Education programs. The long-term vision of the school relationship is two-fold.  The first benefit is for the school district.  As CTE programs are returning to school’s they need industry input and guidance to create highly engaging and industry relevant curriculums.  As the industry advocate for Spring Branch ISD’s electrical program, TRIO created the TRIO Pre-Apprenticeship Program (TPAP), a DOL approved pre-apprenticeship program that teaches students how to be safe, productive and skilled electricians as well as other employable and soft skills needed in the construction industry.  The pre-apprenticeship program is available to Spring Branch students starting their Junior year and fulfills the 144 hours of related classroom instruction recommended by the DOL. TRIO hopes that as students complete the program it solidifies their resolve and desire to join the construction industry, specifically to join TRIO’s Apprenticeship Program (TAP) offered at TRIO after graduation.  The pre-apprenticeship program provides TRIO with a more robust pipeline of potential electricians and gives students an opportunity to learn more about a career in the construction field.  TRIO’s president, Beau Pollock, said, “The relationship with Spring Branch has yielded great results and is being emulated in other school districts.  Unless we (the construction industry) are getting in front of these kids, their parents and guidance counselors, construction is going to continue to be viewed as dirty, dangerous and dead-end. We have to create a different experience for them if we intend to change the way construction is perceived.”

For Vaughn Construction, a general contractor, the process of recruiting and exposing high school students to the construction trades looks different. Knowing that they would have to create a unique program, Vaughn designed and implemented the Student Training Employment Program (STEP). The program is a short-term summer employment opportunity for high school students who have reached the age of 17 and will be returning to high school for their senior year in the fall or are permanently joining the workforce.  The program is not a student-learner program or apprenticeship program like the TRIO offering.  Instead it is a short-term employment opportunity that provides structure for the young employee to learn from a mentor and be exposed to a variety of construction trade specific work opportunities.  The opportunities range from clerical work to rough carpentry and steel reinforcement.  Additionally, training is provided at the beginning of employment around safety, housekeeping, and hazard awareness. By assigning the high school employees to jobsite mentors, Vaughn is able to assess the student’s ability and desire to pursue more work in the construction trades. This feedback is provided at the end of the 90-day work assignment.  Vaughn’s CEO, Tom Vaughn “believes the STEP program is a good way to start bring on high school students,” and that the “benefits reach farther than the student and Vaughn by creating a stronger image of our industry as a viable choice for a successful career.”

C3 companies are working had to create opportunities in our industry that advance all of us. To learn more about exciting work taking place to connect high school CTE programs with C3 companies or to join the journey toward creating an image of construction as safe, skilled and sustainable career option, contact Angela Robbins at [email protected] or 713.999.1032.  Be part of the solution.  C3 is how.

​Angela Robbins
Associate Director

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