As you are taking your Labor Day vacation (or day off for Labor Day), take a moment to think about the road you’re driving on, the hotel you’re staying in, the air conditioning system keeping you comfortable during the last days of summer and the plumbing providing you with safe water to drink. All of these things were brought to you by a skilled trades professional.
While many of us think of Labor Day as a chance to grill, visit the pool or spend time with family, it originated as a celebration of workers and their achievements. And, skilled trades professionals deserve recognition now more than ever for keeping up with a demanding workload in the face of a nationwide labor shortage.
Right now, it is estimated that there are 200,000 vacant positions in the U.S construction industry. Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute expect this shortage to get worse with 2.4 million jobs likely going unfilled over the next decade. This could jeopardize more than $2.5 trillion of economic growth. And on a smaller scale, it means longer wait times for home and business owners to get HVAC, appliance, plumbing and disaster relief services.
One way to fill this gap is to encourage more girls and women to pursue a skilled trade.
A recent Associated General Contractors of America report showed construction firms expanded their workforces across much of the country between April 2018 and April 2019. Despite these increases, women represent just 10% of the construction industry workforce, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s lower than any other industry the agency tracks.
Ferguson’s Category Sales Specialist Jordan Moore is no stranger to the skilled trades industry or the effects of its shortage. A former plumber’s apprentice and long-time member of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Jordan wanted to help other women see the same opportunity she did in the industry.
Jordan began her plumber’s apprentice career when she decided to join the workforce instead of finish college. Jordan spent her days going to clients’ houses and working hands-on. “It was very satisfying work,” she says. “Of course, clients sometimes had to get past the initial double-take. ‘Oh, it’s a girl!’ was common to hear. It was almost like giving birth every day.”
After hearing about a summer camp for girls sponsored by the San Diego chapter of NAWIC, an idea was born. As a board member of the Austin, TX chapter, Jordan immediately knew where to turn for support. “The Austin chapter is the fifth largest in the nation,” explained Jordan. “I knew we could pull off something similar.”
In partnership with her local NAWIC chapter president, Jordan designed and wrote the camp curriculum. Word went out to local middle schools, and a total of thirteen girls signed up to participate. Over the course of one week, campers completed hands-on projects and heard from female speakers representing each major trade, OSHA and companies such as DeWalt and Milwaukee Tool. “It was important to us that the girls experience a variety of trades,” said Jordan. “We wanted them to see that there are many opportunities no matter their desired career path.”
The camp was hosted by Crocket High School in Austin. The school was chosen as the camp’s site because it has a dedicated construction technology building. It is the only school program in the district offering dual-credit construction courses in partnership with Austin Community College.
Hands-on projects included:
- Building and wiring lamps
- Pouring concrete
- Building little free libraries for local neighborhoods
Ferguson donated all the materials needed to make the lamps.
“Hearing girls say, ‘Oh my dad does that, I never knew I could do it too.’ was so rewarding,” says Jordan. “My advice: If you discover an interest in something, don’t ever count yourself out simply because you don’t feel you fit the current mold. Remember, anything is achievable with the right amount of dedication and passion!”
Support for the camp is part of the Ferguson Cares mission to rebuild the pipeline of skilled trades professionals in the United States. Ferguson is actively pursuing solutions and working with various community and business partners to address the widening skills gap. The company partners nationally with SkillsUSA and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, along with numerous industry organizations, community colleges and career and technical education programs at the high school level.