Since I was nine years old, I have been in some form of the construction business. My brothers and sisters and I all started by helping my parents build our house. Little did we know we were learning trade skills that would carry us through some of the more difficult economic times that weren’t so kind to the building industry. At the time, we thought we were just building our house. Some of it was fun and some of it wasn’t. I remember lying in the attic with my brother installing insulation. I hated insulation then and I still hate being around it. But just last week, I found myself installing a bale in a kitchen remodel. I didn’t want to do it, but given my insulator’s workload and it being a small job, I knew I could get it done and save a couple days on the project. My dad taught me not to be afraid to get my hands dirty. It is very rewarding at the end of the day when you can stand back and see something that you created.
Since Sandy and I started Sandmark over 20 years ago, we have seen a steady decline in the number of young people entering the construction trades. The reasons for this are many, but one of the most prominent is the emphasis our high schools make in encouraging every student to obtain a four-year college degree. School guidance counselors barely talk about opportunities in the trades. As a result, trade schools and apprentice programs have fallen by the wayside and community colleges have stopped offering trade skills programs as the demand has dissipated.
Besides, who wants to work outside in the cold or heat, or in the rain or snow? Computers—that’s where the action is! There are companies today that will hire grads right out of college, offering not only high salaries and traditional benefits, but multiple breaks during the day where workers can go to the lounge and play video games.
I spent four years in college getting a degree in government and politics, and it was well worth it. In college, I met my wife and I learned a little bit about organizational and research skills and writing papers. I also learned how to relate to people and to understand different points of view and why people have them.
While those skills are important, I got a jumpstart in my building business from the trade skills I learned from my Dad. I learned how to put on roof shingles, frame a wall, operate heavy equipment, and efficiently dig a ditch. If you don’t like digging ditches, learn to do it efficiently so you can get it done sooner. The same goes for installing insulation.
Our industry is now faced with a problem. There is a shortage of skilled labor needed to build, renovate, repair and maintain homes. We need the younger generations and society as a whole to embrace the idea that a career in construction can be as rewarding for the right person as a career in the computer industry.
My friends at the Northeastern Homebuilder’s Association held a Lego building contest for kids a few weeks ago. I was encouraged that several young girls entered and one took first place in her age group. The projects were inspiring. Encouraging interest in building trades at a young age can give children the skills they need to succeed in life. They need to know that getting dirty is a good thing. I’m a builder. That means I get dirty sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you think there is, then please don’t call me to fix your house.
As a master builder through the North Carolina Homebuilders Association, I know about carpentry, concrete, marketing, roofing, website design, framing, the modulus of elasticity, building codes, tax law, tile work, drywall, contracts, storm water, engineering, organization, politics, trash, zoning issues, strategic planning, electricity, economics, design, plumbing, job safety, pricing, computers, takeoffs, accounting, heavy equipment, making your home safe and comfortable for your family for generations to come, and yes, insulation! So, the next time someone tells you that a career in construction is a dirty job, you can tell them it’s a lot more than that—providing shelter for a family is one of the most rewarding careers you can have.