BY DAVID DISNEY
In a business climate where construction labor is not only in short supply, but it is also at a premium, companies must employ original solutions to get ahead of the issue. The industry is facing a shortage in workforce like no other. Generations before us grew up outside, building treehouses doing manual labor, whereas today’s kids tend to be more interested in computer games and mobile devices. No longer are kids choosing to go into construction, but rather professions such as information technology and computer science.
This social phenomenon, combined with the workers fleeing the industry during the Great Recession and baby boomers retiring, is causing a major shortfall in craftsmen and tradesmen, which also trickles down to affect pricing and schedules. That’s where JE Dunn, a member of multiple AGC chapters, is flexing its creative muscle to find ways to not only connect with students, but also to draw interest to a construction career. Dedicated to inform, engage and inspire young minds, JE Dunn is making it a mission to reach tomorrow’s workforce.
“It’s imperative that we reach students at a younger age to get them interested in the construction trades. Educating them that construction is a viable — and lucrative — career is going to be huge for our industry. It’s no secret that much of the current labor force is aging, so we need to find ways to train and attract the next generation of skilled tradesmen and women,” says Gordon Lansford, president and CEO of JE Dunn Construction.
This mindset led JE Dunn employees from divisions across the company to entrench themselves in education, taking advantage of every opportunity to get in front of young people to increase awareness of the industry, options they have in skilled trades, and to give them hands-on experience.
Designed to pique the interest of a younger generation while giving them solid information about industry options, the team created sets of trading cards, which mimic baseball cards and come complete with a sleeved sheet protector. Each card features a different skilled trade and offers necessary skills of those trades on the back as the stats.
“We liked the idea of mimicking trading cards in content and size; they are easy for recipients to carry or save to share with others, so they become a resource for them as well as an educational tool for us to teach them a little bit about their options in the industry,” says Senior Vice President Margaret Bowker.
While the cards offer a great way to keep the trades top of mind for students outside the classroom, getting in front of them at events provides yet another opportunity to educate a captive audience. Together with Turn the Page KC, an organization dedicated to increasing the literacy of grade schoolers in Kansas City, Missouri, JE Dunn helped introduce construction as a career to young children. During the Summer Reading Festival at Sprint Center, Mayor Sly James and author Bridget Heos read Let’s Meet a Construction Worker to 1,000 kids. In addition, attendees participated in other reading and construction-related activities, such as using a hammer and nail and tiling.
Turn the Page Executive Director Mike English talks about the success of the event. “This year’s theme was ‘Building a City of Readers,’ so we wanted to feature a book centered around construction that would educate as well as entertain the audience; Let’s Meet a Construction Worker did just that. We sent the kids home with a bag full of construction-related books, as well as JE Dunn’s trading cards, so this was a great way to not only get a younger generation — six-, seven-, and eight-year-olds — interested in construction, but also to bring the message into their homes in an interactive, engaging way,” says English.
Informing students and young entrepreneurs is only one of the goals of JE Dunn’s efforts —engaging them outside of the classroom is another. Through jobsite tours for Junior Achievement students, Take your Kids to Work day, Explorer Post outings, participation in Camp NAWIC, and Maker Faire activities, JE Dunn wants to get future professionals out into the field to show them that skilled work is just that, a craft that people must hone to make them an invaluable asset to projects around the country.
JE Dunn Program Specialist Paula Boyle is always looking for new, inventive ways to connect with and inspire young people. “We’re very active in many facets of student outreach because there is no all-encompassing solution to influencing and informing students,” says Boyle. “Our goal is that through our collective efforts, in and out of the classroom and office, will translate to a new crop of motivated — and trained—young people eager to reinvigorate the construction industry,” she says.
As the public affairs and community development officer for JE Dunn Construction Company, David Disney works with the leaders of the Construction Operations, Human Resources, and Marketing teams to ensure that diversity outcomes are achieved and that they support the business objectives. He engages with all employees to stress the importance of community involvement to better serve our communities and their people through education, outreach, and career development. He is active in a multitude of civic, educational, and charitable organizations and can often be seen speaking for various professional, community, and engineering groups, including as a guest lecturer on recreational mathematics to schools in the Kansas City area and challenging youth to explore problem solving.