PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) – Walk or drive past dozen of active construction sites in the area and you’ll see a number of professionals at work. What you don’t see are the myriad of experts working behind the scenes in offices to turn renderings into reality. Career opportunities throughout the commercial construction industry cannot be overlooked.
While construction fundamentally shapes our city and suburbs, careers in the industry are often under the radar. The General Building Contractors Association (GBCA) – one of America’s oldest trade associations – is committed to changing this through human resource development efforts and a range of partnerships to provide middle and high school students with real and rewarding career opportunities in the UK to raise awareness of construction.
Awareness raising among teenagers
“It is our duty to focus on the generations behind us and educate them about the great opportunities the construction industry has to offer,” said Michael Armento, vice president of Torcon, Inc. and chairman of the board of GBCA.
Angela Hendrix, Director of Training & Workforce Development at GBCA, confirms this.
“There are a lot of children who don’t know what opportunities are available to them in the world of building,” says Hendrix, who regularly presents at schools across the region. “Children are usually familiar with carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, but they don’t know that there are nearly 20 union trades in Philadelphia. These are diverse, high-paying, family-keeping careers – but they need to know that these opportunities are both available and achievable.”
With an aging workforce, the majority of whom will retire in the next five to ten years, emerging professionals have even more opportunities to establish themselves and get involved.
“In addition to working with on-site tools, these jobs can also lead to positions as foreman, superintendent or project manager. Additionally, there is the office side of the company with roles in engineering, valuation, logistics, recruiting, management and more.” Armento adds and emphasizes that middle and high school students must be exposed to these career paths as they make decisions about their own paths after graduation.
While he stepped into the industry by chance almost 40 years ago, Armento’s personal story is testament to the upward mobility that the industry offers. He started out in the field before high school when a friend who ran a siteworks contractor asked if he was interested in a heavy equipment job. Since nothing else was in line at the time, he decided to give it a try.
That first job became an offer from a local general contractor in South Jersey to work as an employee and assist a site manager. When the clerk’s job was finished, he was invited to go to the office to learn how to estimate.
“These first experiences confronted me with so many different facets of building construction,” says Armento. “Every day I saw something new and every day I was more and more fascinated.”
While working during the day, Armento graduated from Drexel University with a degree in construction management at night. He continued to rise and today helps run one of the largest and most active builders in the mid-Atlantic states.
“My life-changing career began with a one-off job because I had nothing better to do at the time. It is not good enough to leave these opportunities to luck,” he said. “The possibilities are there. We just need more young people who know about them.”
Refuel the spark
Raising awareness of careers in construction has long been a priority for GBCA and its members, as has providing the tools and resources to assist those interested in exploring the field. At the middle and upper school level, this means a cooperative and multi-faceted approach with partner organizations to support young professionals – bright young minds like Gabby Carruth.
19-year-old Carruth had known since elementary school that she wanted to be under construction. She attended Russell Byers Charter School in Center City, Philadelphia, and saw the construction of the Comcast Tower and a large condominium building across from her school almost daily, which piqued her interest.
“I would look out the window all day and watch the various shops on site,” says Carruth. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to be there. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be part of the industry.”
Her interest persisted and her learning trainer recommended that she attend the National Association of Women in Construction’s MyWIC camp. MyWIC, short for Mentoring Young Women in Construction, is a free camp teaching 7th through 12th grade girls about the fun and financially rewarding careers in the industry. It provides real hands-on experience with the construction industry including cement masons, joiners, insulators, drywall builders, sprinkler installers, pipe installers, electricians and others.
Carruth took part in MyWIC in the summer after completing 11th grade, which cemented her decision to go into construction, especially carpentry.
“The girls participating in MyWIC get firsthand experience of so many different parts of the industry. By partnering with local unions and general contractors, MyWIC educates girls about what different careers look like and feel in real life so they can better understand them the opportunities that are out there and the path they might want to take, “said Angelina Perryman, vice president of administration for Perryman Building and Construction Services, Inc. and co-chair of MyWIC’s 2020 warehouse.
“MyWIC is not just a vision for young women,” Perryman continues. “The experience is transformative and enables girls to build trust and life skills that will serve them well, regardless of what they end up doing.”
MyWIC and GBCA are also helping to open the door to opportunities that can help them boost their careers.
This was the case with Carruth, who had passed her entrance exam for the Carpenters Union in March 2020 and had to find a sponsor just as COVID-19 took hold. Perryman connected her to Hendrix at GBCA, who then put Carruth in touch with Mary Kate Radomski, Operations Manager at Frank V. Radomski & Sons. The next day, Carruth was hired.
“I’m so grateful,” says Carruth. “It wouldn’t have been possible without MyWIC and GBCA.”
Make mentoring count
When it comes to education and career planning, mentoring is a crucial piece of the puzzle. That’s why GBCA is a long-time partner of the Greater Philadelphia Area ACE Mentor Program, a program that has enabled local students to learn about careers in architecture, construction and engineering through mentoring with industry professionals for the last 20 years.
“A big part of our program is working with children who are interested in design and construction and helping them understand what it’s like to work in the industry,” said Melissa Raffel, Affiliate Director of the ACE- Mentoring Program in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
ACE mentor organizations include INTECH Construction, Turner Construction, Gilbane Building Company, O’Donnell & Naccarato, Inc., Skanska USA Building, Torcon, Inc., and many others.
“By reaching these students in high school, we can work with them to proactively plan what education and training will be required for different careers in the field. We also help them understand what these careers mean every day so that I am not surprised later, “adds Raffel. “There are so many great options and we want to make sure that every student we work with has the best knowledge available to make an informed decision about what is best for them.”
While the ACE Mentor Program has traditionally brought students together with mentors in a professional setting, the organization has put their program online with ACE360 to continue to mentor students and deliver critical programs.
Creating paths for everyone
To help emerging generations of talent build rewarding careers in construction, it must also be recognized that there is no one way into the industry. To support aspiring professionals from all walks of life, GBCA and many of its individual members work with educational institutions that share a common mission to open the doors to opportunity in the industry.
Among them are:
- Mercy Career & Technical High School, whose CTE construction program is designed to meet the professional needs of the Philadelphia area by providing the skills necessary to build, maintain and build real estate;
- YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, which gives early school leavers a second chance. This includes opportunities to earn a high school diploma, develop valuable professional skills, and convert abandoned properties into comfortable, affordable homes for low-income first-time buyers.
“The bottom line is, forget the tired old stereotypes about working in construction,” says Hendrix. “The industry is full of opportunities for anyone, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity – and our mission is to empower students to pursue them.”
To learn more about careers in construction, or someone you know, visit https://gbca.com/services/workforce-development/.
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