The Search Continues
Finding good employees and one company’s effort to help
By Jeff Winke
The need is there. Visit construction contractors anywhere in North America and it’ll be mentioned: the pressing need for good employees.
The best and brightest could do well in the field. The opportunities are challenging. The income can be immense. And growth within the profession is clearly there for the motivated.
Unfortunately, American youth are not told about the various possibilities in the construction market — and in most cases are actively dissuaded from considering anything that has to do with construction. The young in America are still fed the promise that a college degree is the only path to higher earnings and success. Reality is not so certain in today’s world.
Recent college grads are finding that their college diplomas no longer function like magic wands that can open doors of opportunity. Instead, they are settling for lower-paying jobs outside their field, while carrying a tuition debt load that easily exceeds their income.
The reality is that the intelligence, creative problem solving, communication skills, and appreciation for technology attributes that employers allegedly seek in university graduates is exactly what construction companies want. The construction field includes those who create 3D digital models of a construction site, operators of technologically advanced million-dollar machines that use GPS control to achieve graded surfaces that are measured in millimeters, and workers responsible for accurately mapping the uneven features of a raw construction site using satellite navigation systems, inertial measurement, and laser scanning.
Today, the best and brightest are what are needed in construction and contractors are seeking just that.
Understanding the demand for qualified workers in the construction fields, Topcon Positioning Systems has developed outreach and partnership programs to help schools and colleges attract more students and to equip them with the latest technology so their students graduate with experience using state-of-the-art products.
The Topcon Educational Partnership Program (EPP) is missioned with helping educational institutions by providing discounted Topcon products for instruction, as well as learning tools to aid in educating the future generations of surveyors, engineers, precision agriculture, and construction professionals.
“My students were surprised to see all the technology out there and how machines working on a site can be linked to a supervisor on the site and to an off-site office.”
Recently, EPP partners were invited to an impressive collection of products, systems, software, and technology, showcasing where construction has come and is heading, in an interactive demonstration and education traveling solutions center. The Topcon Technology Roadshow had a 24-city tour of North America in 2014, spanning a 23,000-mile circuit.
Trade colleges and university-level technical programs participated in the two-day visits. Counselors, instructors, and students have had opportunities to rub shoulders with site surveyors, 3D model builders, earth-movers, and milling and paving contractors who are coming to see the latest technology and solutions to their evolving needs.
“I have 24 students about to graduate from our heavy-duty-equipment technician apprentice program who I asked to join me at the Toronto visit of the Technology Roadshow—18 made it,” stated Tim Allan, an instructor in The School of Transportation at Centennial College, Toronto, Ont. “They loved seeing all the technologies in the display trailer and thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on machine control demonstrations that went on outside in the field. I was happy that they were asking the Topcon people good, challenging technical questions rather than just commenting on the operational.”
Allan learned about the Technology Roadshow from one of his students who read about it in a construction trade magazine. Having access to the latest products and seeing demonstrations of how critical real time data is to the successful completion of construction projects made their attendance worthwhile, Allan said.
Thomas Baden, instructor for heavy equipment operation at the Perry Campus of Hocking College, located in New Lexington, Ohio was accompanied by two other instructors and 15 of their students when they attended the Columbus Roadshow.
“It was amazing to see the newer technology and how comprehensive the Topcon offering is,” Baden stated. “My students—in fact, all of us—are still talking about it.”
Baden said his students were a bit intimidated when they first arrived but the Topcon technical staff quickly made them feel welcome.
“The Roadshow was worth it if only to see how the GPS system controls the machine to achieve grade,” said Baden. “This opened our eyes to how extensive the technology is.”
At the Charlotte Technology Roadshow, Joshua Aldridge, instructor for the heavy equipment operator program at Stanly Community College, located in Albemarle, N.C. attended the event with nine of his students.
“My students were surprised to see all the technology out there and how machines working on a site can be linked to a supervisor on the site and to an off-site office,” Aldridge said. “I didn’t realize how precise the grade control technology has become, and it seems like the cost for a system has come down a bit from a few years ago.”
The Educational Partnership Program and the Technology Roadshow are but steps in the efforts to attract high caliber workers to the construction trades and change the perceptions of those who influence career choices.