Forward with NACCE

Constructing a Bright Future: Tackling Worker Shortages through Entrepreneurial Thinking, with Brian Turmail

June 07, 2023 National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
Forward with NACCE
Constructing a Bright Future: Tackling Worker Shortages through Entrepreneurial Thinking, with Brian Turmail
Show Notes Transcript

A career in construction can be very financially rewarding, but many are hesitant to enter the career that doesn't require a college degree. This has led to a shortage of workers, and solving this shortage requires some entrepreneurial thinking. In this episode, Associated General Contractors of America's Brian Turmail provides a look at some of the model community college programs around the nation that encourage students to choose a career in construction and achieve their education goals, too.

This episode was originally released on October 12, 2022.

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Brian: We've got these great programs. We've got a willingness to sort of work with the industry and there any, every community has community colleges and unfortunately some of them are probably underutilized, at least when it comes to their construction programs. So we've been really trying to work to spread the word with other community colleges about, you know, hey, let's sit down together, Let's build relationships with your local AGC chapter and member firms, and see how we can improve these construction programs and really use them as a pipeline for, for filling this void that exists at the high school level or at the sort of training level to prepare the next generation of construction workers.

Becky: Welcome to this episode of Forward with NACCE. I'm very happy to have Brian Turmail here who is the spokesperson for the Association for General Contractors. He also has quite a, a long title, which we'll get into later. But Brian, good morning. I'm, I'm so happy that you could be with us today.

Brian: Well, good morning. Thanks for having me. It's a, it's a pleasure to be here.

Becky: Yeah. So I'm really curious about, about your background. You, have a leadership role within an association. You're focused on general contracting. So, why don't you just start and tell us who is Brian and how did you get to this, type of a career in your life? Maybe, share with us a little bit about your career path. Somebody that maybe, had a great influence on.

Brian: Oh gosh, sure. Well, you know, career path, at one point I was gonna save the world, so right after college I actually entered a program called Teach for America. which places? People in, in, understaffed, either urban or rural public-school systems. And this is actually how I ended up in, in Washington DC I had gone to college in Atlanta, and I'm from South Florida originally, but ended up in DC to teach second grade in DC public schools. This was in the mid-nineties. Teach for America was a relatively early program.

Full disclosure, if I were trying to get into Teach for America today, it's a far more selective program. There's no gotten in, but I lucked out by timing. so I ended up in DC teaching second grade and one of the things I learned is that, I wasn't a particularly good second grade teacher. It's a heck of a lot of work. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers and I, I'd say the best part of the program was I met my wife through it and who is teacher and still teaches fourth grade at our local public school in the District of Columbia.

But, after my teach, for those of who don't know, Teach for America is a two-year commitment. They asked you to spend two years teaching. I did my commitment, I, I tried my hardest to be a good teacher. I don't know if I made any difference. Out of that, I ended up sort of in DC and kind of looking around at what I want to do next, and interviewed a bunch of people about career paths.

And maybe it makes sense in hindsight that the person who worked in public affairs made it sound the most intriguing. It's their job to spin after all. And I thought, well, that's interesting. And so I took a brief internship with a, a public relations firm. Loved the, I'm a bit of a spaz, loved that, you five minutes you're doing something different.

You're working on different clients, you're kind of all kinds of different tasks that fall under public affairs. And then ended up working for a number of years with a public relations firm that actually did a lot of work on education issues. I think they hired me because I sort of spoke the teacher language, worked there for a number of years, and then one of our bosses at, at the firm ended up becoming the head of a, of a not-for-profit called the Fund for the Capital Visitor Center.

If we've been to Washington, there's, the east side of the Capital Building, there's a large underground visitor center. We're originally gonna pay for that, much like the renovation of the Statue of Liberty, half with public funds and half with private sector donations. And the fund was the group that charged with raising those private sector donations. 

And then September 11th happened, Congress appropriated all the money for the visitor center as a security measure. and that left me essentially looking for a position, and ended up coming to Fed. so I kind of, unlike most people, come to Washington to work in government, I came to Washington to teach in the local schools and then, Kind of accidentally fell into a, a fed position.

I, I, I was the spokesperson for a new federal agency called the Transportation Security Administration at the time, and which from a public affairs point of view, being there in the startups, a little bit like drinking water out of a fire hose.

Becky: Right.

Brian: And the two years I was there spent, felt like it was like dog years, felt like 14 years of work. And then from that ended up as the number two and the number one spokesperson for the US Department of Transportation. And then that was kind of a political gig, and it ended at, at the end of 2008 with the W Bush administration and sort of looking around for a job after the government and the, the chief council at the Department of Transportation at the time, his first job in Washington, had been with the guy who ended up becoming the CEO of Agency of America.

My boss, Steve Sanders. he called up Steve and said, you should talk to this Brian Guy. I guess he said some nice things and I interviewed at AGC, and was offered the job and it's a good fit. You know, the largest single federal construction investment every year is in transportation. The, the Federal Highway and transit bill funds, you know, is the, represents the largest federal government investment in construction.

So the fact that I had a strong transportation background meant that, you know, my learning curve at the Associated General contractors was a little less steep than someone who was coming in without any kind of background in the industry.

Becky: Well, it sounds like too, Brian, you, you're open to new experiences, You're kind of ahead of your time. Right? what

Brian: I, I don't know. My kids would argue behind my time, but sure.

Becky: About, young people these days, as we, we say, be prepared. You're not going to have the same career. You're gonna have multiple iterations. And I think the work that you've done is fascinating on a number of levels.

You mentioned, early on that you, you started with, Teach for America and actually, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, where, as we call it, NACCE, the organization that I run, participated in a Maker Fellow program, which was modeled after Teach for America. it was the same kind of a, a way that gives young people that opportunity to give back and to learn, although that is in sort of the making space and, and ultimately, your political appointments, I bet that would be a whole episode.

We could talk about what you learned there. But I think the association world or, or the nonprofit world, I've often thought people don't realize how many varied careers and how people can do very, very well. And you can do really impactful things because you're working sort of at that point where, especially with you being in DC at the national level, you're looking at, at models, you're really having a lot of leverage over things in the industry.

And while you're not teaching in the classroom, you're, you're, you're impacting hundreds of thousands of lives through the work that you do. So I wanna dig into that a little bit. For some of our listeners, we have listeners actually in 51 countries and 750 cities around the world. So people think about construction differently.

So maybe tell us, in terms of your association, what kind of construction do you represent? Is it, is it residential? Is it business? Is it, you know, just give us a flavor for what that looks.

Brian: Sure. And, and the name is a bit of a, a misnomer. It's Associated General Contractors. Originally we were, we were the, the, the trade association that represented general contractors. We're actually the, the construction association for the commercial construction industry. So our members, we're actually the largest subcontractor association of the country as well.

Our members built everything except for single family. Highways, dams, bridges, airports, apartment buildings, condo buildings, anything that requires a hard hat except for sort of a wooden framed single-family house in like the Mandarin Muse development. But even in that development, our guys are the ones we're putting in the utility lines and building the strip mall right outside of the front gate that's got the, the grocery store and the, the, the pizza place.

Becky: So, so tell us about the workforce. that's one of the things that we work on a lot with community colleges is, is looking at not only just transfer institutions or two-year associate degrees, but getting people prepared for work. So tell us a little bit about what is the, the demand for workers, within the contracting, industry. What are some of the trends that you're seeing?

Brian: Sure. So the number one worry for our members is actually availability of qualified workers to hire. 91% of our members in a survey we did this summer said that they are having a hard time filling vacant positions for craft workers. In the construction industry, we tend to talk about sort of salaried workers versus craft workers. Salaried workers or the, the, the, the men and women who work in the front office or the men and women who are in like boots and khakis who spend most, some of their time in a trailer, some of their times walking the job site.

And then the craft workers or the men and women are actually out doing the construction work, the equipment operators, the laborers, the carpenters, the steel workers, you name it, who are out there building the American economy every day. And, and, and one of the challenges is, is probably up until about 40 years ago, we had it robust, they used to call it vocational education system in most public-school districts in the country, and, and that, that served, I think, three important roles. 

One, it, it exposed many high school students to the fact that construction was an option to consider. Two, it gave high school students some basic awareness and skills that would keep them from harming themselves or others when they started a career in construction. And then three, it signaled to families that construction was on the kind of career menu to consider. And then as we were moved into this postindustrial phase and decided that, you know, to be successful in, in the United States, you needed to go to college, you needed to work in an office or kind of job, we, we essentially dismantled a lot of that, not all, but a lot of that vocational education system.

And, and that had kind of the exact consequence you might expect. Fewer students knew that construction was a career path. Fewer students had skills needed to be hirable, and fewer families thought of construction as a career path that was something that their children or loved ones should follow.

So today the, our biggest obstacle is that, that that dining room table or kitchen table where Junior or Juniorette comes home and says, I wanna work in construction. And mom and dad say, no, no, no, no, going to college and you're gonna get an office job. You know, we didn't work hard so that you'd go, you know, to stand with a shovel on your hand.

Which as a father I get, cuz we've probably thought similar things with our, our, our children. Yet when you look at the economics of a career in construction, especially, let's just take craft workers for a second. and there are so many other opportunities available, most craft positions do not require a four-year college degree. There are a lot of pathways, and we can get into this through community colleges that offer some incredible training programs. 

And we've got some great partnerships. Our members have great partnerships with a lot of community colleges are doing some really innovative things when it comes to craft training and then providing kind of a you know, associate's degree that then can, you can go back and get your construction management degree and an affiliated for your institution.

But they don't require a lot of, acquiring a lot of debt to get it the skills you need to work in construction. And the pay is really good. It pays. right now the average hourly wage in construction is over $35 an hour. it's not hard to get to six figures within the first two, three years of working in construction depending on where you are in the country.

And again, you're not coming to those jobs with a lot of. So the thing we hear often is that when you look at the parking lot of any construction job site and you see all these magnificent pickup trucks, they're all paid for. and frankly, and most of those people are spending their weekends towing the jet skis that are paid for to their lake to go have some fun.

So it's definitely from an economic point of view, a great career opportunity. And then there's a whole group of people who, the thought of being in a, as I'm sitting in one right now of fluorescent lit cube farm all day long is just a nightmare. And you know, one thing that every construction person I've ever talked to, I've talked to many at any level of, in their career path. We'll, we'll tell you is that when they've got friends or family around and they're driving around town and they see something they worked on, they'll look at 'em and say, That's my bridge, that's my office building. You know, that's my, that's my airport.

I have never taken my kids to my office and said, look at this press release I wrote, It's beautiful. Now it is perfect, but nonetheless, like they don't care. And I would never show anyone that, you know. So there's this incredible pride and sense of satisfaction that comes in working any level, any career in construction that is really exciting. But we're, for whatever reason, too many mamas don't want their babies to grow up to be construction workers.

Becky: Right. And I, I think you hit on that and we hear that a lot from people. And, and you know, one of the things that the research bears out, and you know this is if you have work that you're passionate about and it aligns, the chances of you being successful are, are, you know, exponentially increase and.

So, one of the things you had mentioned that, that intrigues me is you, you, you said you had some community colleges that have some innovative programs to kind of build up this pipeline because my, belief is that, you know, sometimes community colleges have a branding problem because people think, well, you're not, good enough to go to, you know, the university right away or whatever, which, you know, it isn't true because sometimes it's a better, better choice.

But let's get into, Brian, give me an example of a few of the innovative pipeline partnerships, maybe the community colleges, where are they and what does it look like?

Brian: Sure. we, you know, the first one that comes to mind, there are several, is, Central Arizona Community College, which is about an hour south of Phoenix. some of our members led in part by Sun Construction, went to that community college. Now, before this partnership created, Central Arizona Community College had a construction program, and I think at best they probably had a dozen students in it.

And it was a money drag on the institution and the folks at Sun said, look, we wanna work with you and we wanna help, you know, work with you to create a construction program that's actually gonna meet our modern workforce needs. Right. We'll, and we'll by the way, we'll send in professional construction trainers to sort of co-teach with you if you want.

Uh, and they had a, they have a president, oh gosh, her name alludes me now, who was just really innovative and said, we need to be working with our partners in the business community. They crafted a special program and enrollment in that construction program went from, I think, a dozen to. 140, 150.

Becky: Oh wow.

Brian: of the number one revenue generating part of Central Arizona Community College. They've got equipment operating, program, they’ve got a pipe fitting program. I think they're doing some electrical work as well. And, you know, they've got a lot of land because it's Central Arizona.

And a lot of their partners, the construction firms that have come onto this program have donated equipment and materials and, through their word they've. You, you know, you've got Sun and, and other construction firms, employees working side by side with Central Arizona community college professors to teach these construction programs.

And the, the deal is that the firms that are supporting Central Arizona College, as long as those students have, I think it's a B minus or above average, they're guaranteed a summer internship at the construction firms they partner with. And every one of 'em was getting hired at the end of their, their two years at Central Arizona Community College.

Once they graduate with that associate's degree, and then it's also stacked through a, a program called NCCER, which I can never remember exactly what it stands for, but it's basically the CRI curriculum developer or one of the curriculum developers for construction materials. You also are, are learning, acquiring, apprenticeship credentials.

So you graduate that program as a journeyman in equipment operation or pipe fitting, for example, and then if you want, after a couple years working in the craft profession. If you want to go on to be a construction supervisor or superintendent, you can take that two-year degree and go to Northern Arizona College, a four-year institution up in Flagstaff and finish up your degree in construction management.

So for mom and dad or aunt and uncle, it’s kind of, you know, it’s kind of is, makes it easier sell. It'll say, well, I'm gonna do two years here. It's very affordable. I'm gonna make a good amount of money and then I can go back to Northern Arizona and I can get a, I can get a full bachelor's degree in construction management, for example.

Uh, of other programs there, I hate to miss any, but Southeast Community College. In, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is a wonderful program. They've got a, a very strong partnership with our AGC of South Dakota chapters who've actually done a lot of fundraising to support a very technology focused construction training program, and they've also been able to sort of double their enrollment in that program. And then Metro Community College in Omaha, Nebraska,

Becky: Um,

Brian: got a strong partnership with, many of our member firms in our two chapters in Nebraska and they actually, a lot of the campus moved to an old army base.

I guess it's Fort Omaha, I'm not sure. And they were able to build a brand-new construction program thanks to the support of our member firms, and brand-new building. And the building is a teaching facility in and of itself. It's laid out so that all of the equipment, the pipes, the electrical,

Most of the walls are plexiglass. So you can see right into, you know, what, what's all the plumbing that connects to the bathroom? What's all the wiring that connects into the utility room? Then the back of the school is almost set up like a construction firm shop, so that there's a place like at a construction firm where you check out your tools and the materials you need so that the entire experience is very much like working at a construction firm.

And that it's a very much hands on learning program. The students are constantly building, They're not small homes. A lot of these programs will do like small homes, but they're, they're building kind of transitional housing for the needy community. And that's kind of a service based learning and experiential learning.

And again, it's just a wonderful program. And full disclosure of the, the dean, Nate Barry, who, who runs that program is, is on our construction careers task force and is really an important voice in helping us think through our workforce development initiatives. a as is in fact, Bob, Bob. Oh my gosh, I'm gonna get in trouble here.

But the president of, of Southeast, community college as well. Bob, I wanna say Gibbs. I'm having a, a brain freeze. Both are important voices And, and, and I'll tell you why we've invited community college leaders onto our careers task force, our construction careers task force, because we think that community colleges represent this enormous, still relatively untapped potential to sort of help meet the sort of training needs for the construction industry. A lot of these community college programs, the three I just mentioned, not only are teaching community college students, but they're the defacto CTE program for their local high school districts.

So high schools are busing in hundreds, if not thousands of students a year to these community college programs so that they're getting their construction training at the community college. So we we've got these great programs. We've got a willingness to sort of work with the industry and there any, every community has community colleges and unfortunately some of them are probably underutilized, at least when it comes to their construction programs. So we've been really trying to work to spread the word with other community colleges about, you know, hey, let's sit down together, Let's build relationships with your local AGC chapter and member firms, and see how we can improve these construction programs and really use them as a pipeline for, for filling this void that exists at the high school level or at the sort of training level to prepare the next generation of construction workers.

Becky: I, I think you said it so well, Brian, and as our, our time comes to a close, it's intriguing to me that you have really, along with your, your colleagues and association figured out a way to kind of take a, a challenge. You know, you said 91% are, that's a huge number of, of unfilled positions. But you figured out a way, I think, to make it work.

So I would love to continue this conversation with you and try to figure out how NACCE perhaps could help you in your expansion and scale. We work with about 340 community colleges around the country and, Skilled trades is really important to us. In fact, we just had a big competition, $150,000, in prize money for colleges that pitched innovative ideas.

And, and this certainly, has a lot of tenant for that. So I wanna thank you so much for joining us today. And just the last word here, if people wanna learn more about your association and their work, or your work rather, how would they find out more about it.

Brian: Sure. The easiest thing for them to do is just go to our website, which is and all the information's right there, and you can take links to follow. to see our workforce priorities or other priorities, all our contact info, including mine, is on there. And if anyone has any questions or wants to learn more, they're, they're free to reach out. We'd be happy to work with them. And like I said, I, I just think that community colleges offer a real potential and, so we hope to sort of build that relationship.

Becky: Sounds good. So thank you so much for sharing all of those wonderful ideas, and I hope you have a wonderful day and, and same to our listeners around the world. Make it a great day.

Brian: Thank you.