Construction industry faces shortage of workers, looks to high school students

Workers needed for streetcar, Bucks arena ect.
Posted at 6:39 PM, Oct 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-12 19:39:19-04

The construction industry is struggling to find skilled employees in Milwaukee and now hopes to encourage high school students to consider that career field. 

The Milwaukee School of Engineering partnered with big name companies Wednesday to show students the jobs available to them. 

Representatives from Kiewit, Mortenson and Gilbane all attended. Kiewit is currently constructing the Milwaukee Streetcar, Mortenson is working on the new Bucks arena and Gilbane is in charge of the Northwestern Mutual building downtown. 

About 80 students from New Berlin West High School attended the event, working in teams to build a structure that produces some kind of energy. 

Industry leaders and MSOE students supervised the project and at the end, the students had to try and "sell" their structure. 

Ben Blair is a high school junior and already considering a career in the construction industry. 

"I'm quite interested in construction," he said. "I'm taking the civil engineering and architecture course at West right now." 

Since the 2008 recession, schools like MSOE have seen a decline in students majoring in construction management while companies face a shortage of workers. 

"You name it, we need them," said Lauren Evans, who represents the Kiewit Corporation. "The industry has an interesting perception that it is only for people that want to work with the tools or want to be out in the field and the reality is we're in the business of building projects." 

According to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, 70 percent of companies can't find qualified workers and 69 percent expect labor conditions to stay tight or get worse in next year. 

That's why Evans says they're reaching out to the younger generation, hoping they'll see the options her industry holds. 

"There's just so much opportunity that many people don't understand outside those of us that wear a hammer and tool belt," said Evans. 

MSOE offers a four-year construction management program and says its graduates typically get five or six offers from companies desperate to find qualified people.