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The Many Angles of Workforce Development

by: Steve Swinney, CEO, Kodiak Building Partners
The 2023 inaugural class of Kodiak Building Partner’s Emerging Leaders program.
The 2023 inaugural class of Kodiak Building Partner’s Emerging Leaders program.
Members of Direct Lumber & Door of Colorado, a Kodiak operating company, show participants at Transportation & Construction Girl career week how to construct a window frame.
Members of Direct Lumber & Door of Colorado, a Kodiak operating company, show participants at Transportation & Construction Girl career week how to construct a window frame.
Kodiak interns celebrating with Kodiak team members
Kodiak interns celebrating with Kodiak team members
There is always a need for workforce development and training, but the civil and heavy construction industry has additional reason to place focus on these efforts. According to Associated Builders and Contractors, the demand for labor in the construction industry is expected to necessitate the recruitment of approximately 501,000 extra workers beyond the regular hiring rate in 2024. Much of this growth can be attributed to a strengthening economy and predictions that interest rates will come down, sparking demand for construction across all sectors and ultimately presenting a highly competitive market for available workers.

While there are a lot of jobs to fill, there are not a lot of workers — skilled or unskilled — to fill those positions. Several other obstacles plaguing the potential workforce include transportation challenges, childcare needs, and even advances in automation and technology, which create new challenges when it comes to matching people and jobs.

For these reasons, the industry needs to focus on creative solutions around workforce development. Following are several examples of how to build interest in and encourage professional growth in the construction industry.

Go Back to School
With nearly half of today’s construction workers over the age of 45 (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), there is no time to waste introducing a new generation into the construction workforce. Educating students about the construction industry while they are still in high school — or even middle and elementary school — or when they are attending a vocational school or college is an important step in growing the labor pool.

Job fairs, career days, and other events at schools provide the opportunity to share the wide array of positions available within the world of construction. It’s also a great time to discuss the technologies revolutionizing the industry to capture the interest of a younger generation. For the commitment of a few hours here and there, prioritizing the opportunity to speak with young people about careers in construction will go a long way for the companies involved and the industry at large.

Outside of events at schools, there are several organizations driving awareness about careers in the construction industry, such as Transportation & Construction Girl, an initiative working to educate girls and women on potential career paths. The organization’s annual Transportation and Construction GIRL Day in Denver, Colorado, gathers companies like Kodiak Building Partners who want to increase the number of women in the industry and demonstrate the viability of a successful career in construction.

Provide an Appealing Introduction
There is no better way to get someone hooked on a career in construction than showing by example through an internship. But internship programs need to involve more than fetching coffee, making runs to the hardware store for supplies, and holding up traffic signs. These types of internship responsibilities will quickly turn off anyone to spending more time at the job, let alone imagining a career in the industry.
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In addition to showcasing how a job in the construction industry can be rewarding both personally and professionally, internships should provide a solid foundation in the skills needed to excel. According to an Associated General Contractors survey in 2023, one of the biggest obstacles in hiring is finding people with a skill set that fits the role.

At Kodiak, interns don’t just get a taste of the work — they dive into a fully immersive experience complemented by special perks. The program is designed to be a two-way street, where both parties are evaluating if there is a good fit. The intern journey aligns with that of full-time employees, complete with competitive compensation reflecting that of entry-level positions. Far from being tasked with menial things, interns are integrated into the team, actively contributing to projects.

This hands-on approach not only imparts business and industry knowledge to the interns but also positions Kodiak for long-term success. This scenario also benefits the industry as a whole.

Invest in Career Development
Helping current and prospective employees leave a positive mark on the future of the industry through career development should be on every construction company’s mind. Whether it’s through occasional lunch-and-learns or more formal career development programs, this is an investment that benefits the company and the employee.

Near and dear to my heart is talent development. From the intern program mentioned above to the year-old Emerging Leaders program for entry-level professionals in the company, leadership development is a pillar of the company’s success and its commitment to the industry.

The Emerging Leaders program includes a capstone project completed by each participant related to their specific job, pushing them to find ways to improve the organization. Expanding their knowledge about the business and the industry, while building their confidence, are outcomes valued at the employee and leadership levels.

Over the next few years, Kodiak is set to significantly broaden its range of initiatives, starting with the next class of Emerging Leaders. Moving forward, the Learning and Development department will dedicate itself to crafting development opportunities tailored for employees at every level of their career. This all-encompassing career development strategy aims to provide support for individuals from the onset of their careers all the way to the zenith of their professional lives, offering a diverse array of growth opportunities.

Another aspect career development can address is upskilling to help those in the industry adapt to technology advancements. This, along with other aspects of professional development, is referred to as continuous improvement.

The Future Is Bright
The need for construction professionals across a wide range of positions offers the opportunity for our industry to demonstrate that it’s much more than a hard hat and a jackhammer. Encouraging young professionals to develop an early interest sets them on a path to pursue education tailored to meet workforce demands. Immersive internships, filled with challenges and rewards, become the stepping stones that usher in the next generation of industry leaders. Investing in professional development across all career stages not only fosters skill growth but also cultivates a deep sense of professional pride. Collectively, our industry can change the perception of a career in construction and put an end to workforce shortages.

Steve Swinney is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kodiak Building Partners and is responsible for the overall vision and execution of Kodiak’s strategy as well as guarding the company’s unique culture. In addition to his role as CEO, he serves on Kodiak’s Board of Directors and is Chairman of the Kodiak Building Partners Foundation. He also serves on the Dean’s Council for the Abilene Christian University College of Business Administration, Brush Creek Partners Investment Committee, U.S. Fence Solutions Board of Directors, and as a Senior Advisor to Letterpress Capital. He earned his undergraduate degree in accounting at Abilene Christian University and his MBA in finance from the University of Texas at Austin.

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