During the recession of a decade ago, construction craftsmen left the field in droves. “A lot of them held on for a while, but after a period of time they realized that construction was not going to pick up again anytime soon,” says Gregg Scholtens Executive VP of Nabholz Construction—Springfield. Many skilled craftsmen left for other careers entirely and never came back even when the construction market rebounded.
Nabholz weathered the recession and not only grew during that time, but also retained its skilled craftsmen. But Scholtens says the demand for skilled craftsmen in the construction industry continues to grow. The problem is there are fewer people going into the construction trades. “Our industry as a whole has not done a good job of developing our next level of tradesmen so there’s currently a big gap,” he says.
Of the 1,200 employees at Nabholz, roughly half are craftsmen in the field, from general laborers to carpenters to electricians. “Craftsmen are the heart and soul of our business. Without them we’d be nobody,” says Scholtens.
At Nabholz a concerted effort is made to invest in employees. Nabholz University not only trains project managers and estimators, but also craftsmen in the field. “We want to take a young person that maybe starts with us as a laborer or carpenter and we want to develop that person into our next superintendent or project manager,” says Scholtens.
Nabholz sets itself apart by training and developing those craftsmen so there’s no need to subcontract out any specific work on a project. This is a point of pride for Scholtens who says, “If we’re just a general contractor and we don’t self perform work, then we’re really just paper pushers. Being able to self perform that work really separates us from that general contractor world.”
Scholtens says when cultivating and training someone as a trade craftsmen, he looks for someone who’s going to go that extra mile and take pride in the work. “They’ve got to know that the end product is going to be a showpiece. There will literally be hundreds of thousands of people that are not only going to see it, but in most places, also touch it. So they have to know that the quality is there. At the end of the day our guys really care about that end product.”
Always looking to find that next generation of skilled craftsmen, Nabholz is currently engaging with high school students to get them excited about the building industry. “When I graduated from high school, the focus was that you had to go to college if you wanted to make anything of yourself,” says Scholtens. “I think folks are realizing now that’s not necessarily true. The key is to find out what drives you, what you love to do and then making a living will come along with that.”
The key is to find young people and get them excited about that opportunity. Nabholz will help potential craftspeople pay for trade or vocational school. These students graduate as apprentices to their chosen trade, are debt free, and go straight into a good paying job. And it’s not over when the person becomes a skilled craftsman. “We’re going to continue to show you opportunities to develop,” says Scholtens.
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