As you read this, spring will have arrived; it is a time of growth, of renewal, of change. There is a feeling of optimism in the air as we cautiously reopen our country: baseball fans are back in their seats at stadiums, live events are on the books, and children are returning to school. But if we have learned anything from the past year it is that nothing is predictable. Our optimism must be cautious as snow showers can still happen during springtime, or, as Mark Twain put it, “In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.”
What excites me right now is the pace at which we continue to build and the extent to which we are finally having a serious conversation about our country’s infrastructure. If the current plan passes, there will be no shortage of building for the foreseeable future. In addition, COVID has caused many to rethink what buildings can be. Some in the real estate market foresee converting office buildings into apartments or multipurpose buildings where people will live, work, and play, all in one location.
Our challenge will be to meet this demand for new and repurposed buildings. We can only do that through effective training and education combined with effective recruitment of new members into the trade.
I am glad to report the success of our online training and the training we offered at regional hubs across the country. These opportunities allowed you to upskill and reskill from the comfort of your home or with less traveling than in the past, surely saving you time and money. Your training will be key as new codes come onto the books and new purposes are found for older buildings. Those who take the time now to update their training will be ready for whatever new opportunity the building industry brings.
However, as much as you take care of training for yourself and your staff, there is still the problem of a shortage of people wanting to go into the trades for a career. With the extension of unemployment benefits and the additional free money from the Federal Government, it is virtually impossible to get young people off the couch and into a job. As employers, we must find ways to motivate people into wanting to learn a trade. The Federal Government and its giveaway programs will only encourage a continued sense of entitlement.
We have seen fewer opportunities to get into schools to talk to young people about their paths in life; we have not had the chances like in previous years to extol the virtue of hard work. But the opportunities are still there—if we are unable to talk to the young people about their careers, what about the people in our lives who are considering a career change?
What about those looking to the gig economy? Why not offer them a chance to build something each day? It is incumbent upon each of us to tell others in our lives about the benefits of being part of a trade. I urge you to share your success and passion for your job so that others might join us and strengthen our industry.
I am cautiously optimistic about our future. I know that it can still rain or snow during spring. Reopening the rest of our economy will rely upon the collective individual responsibility of each of us doing our part. But I have the utmost confidence in each of you, our members, to take on our future with the training and passion that you bring to your work each day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ted Wills is chair of the AFSA Board of Directors and president of Anchor Fire Protection, Inc., in Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania.