Written by Gary Matsuda
Think that working in Arizona’s construction and trade industry is about working in 100 plus degree temperatures with sweaty guys in hard hats? Wherever you got that idea, crush it with a John Deere tractor and crane lift it into a 20ft dumpster bin because Career Connectors is going to bust some myths with the help of longtime industry experts.
Misconceptions Panel Participants:
• Sundt Construction, Sean B. Ray, Director of Craft Workforce Development
• Border States, Justin Hankner, Regional HR Manager
• DP Electric, Dan Puente, Founder & CEO
• SSC Underground, Michelle Walker, VP Finance & Administration
To set us straight on the Construction and Trades we had two panels examine, ‘Misconceptions’ and ‘Transferable Skills and Career Pathways’.
While a great company culture might be associated with software start-ups, the construction and trades have been building strong cultures for decades. First myth they debunk are the social mores or values at these companies.
What is the Culture of Your Company?
Sean Ray of Sundt Construction says that to be in business since 1890 and established in several states, they need to care about their people. As big as it’s gotten he says it still has a family feel to it and they care about the people and that’s what drew him there and why he’s stayed.
“I feel strongly that this industry has so many different vehicles for opportunity and growth and the people that we work with day in and day out are just really good down to earth people. It’s just a very great environment.” Says Dan of DP Electric who started out of a garage 30 years ago and now has 350 people working for him.
Michelle with SSC Underground says it’s career longevity (she’s been there 23 years!) and variety pathways for your career. “…people have the opportunities to learn, grow, develop, not just get stuck in kind of the same role, we can create more of those kind of career long-term stories that will really incentivize and motivate more people to join the industry”.
Justin Hanker, Regional HR manager at Border States is an employee-owned company and adds that as they work alongside people who are part owners, the biggest morale boost is knowing that the people next to you own the company. So, the more success they have the more success you’ll have and this fosters a good culture. Everybody’s very dedicated, knowledgeable and really wanting to grow the construction industry.
What jobs are in demand?
Michelle: “…definitely the skilled trades are in great demand and getting these efforts going is to increase the skill trades to be able to get the crews out onto the projects that we’re all building on a daily basis. For us it’s equipment operators, it’s welders, it’s laborers, it’s everybody who you know out there and has a hand on the project but as we look more broadly towards construction as a career and the other kind of peripheral things one of the things that a lot of us have identified is that need for training and that need for giving people that career pathway and the venues towards learning more, growing their skills outside of just their technical skills and that trainers and curriculum writers and people that can come alongside construction companies who have that technical knowledge but aren’t the experts and how do we formally educate and train people and that’s kind of a growing area that we’re identifying as a need.”
Sean: “Five or ten years ago we could pinpoint specific needs, more electricians or welders, but today we’re struggling across the board as far as skilled craftsmen. There’s not one specific trade that is doing okay. They’re all suffering and we’ve got to work together to get this training going more robustly so we can meet the demands of the growth of Phoenix and the surrounding area.”
Dan: “A lot of folks are moving to Arizona so construction is just busting out of the seams. There’s Intel that just announced they’re going to build two more fabs, you have the Taiwanese company that’s building the fab. A lot of the data centers are going in over here, you have car manufacturers that are coming here. We don’t have enough electricians currently for the demand that we have now. The demand is only going to increase and so what we’re trying to do is provide that gap a lot of folks who have been in different industries and are thinking about construction and we’re very focused on training. DP has an internal apprenticeship program and a training program, where we’re developing a boot camp or a bridge to get folks that don’t have that experience get them get them trained so they’re productive and can roll into an apprenticeship program. In addition to that, most companies that have apprenticeship programs pay for that so you get you get an education, you get a paycheck and then in four years you turn out as a general electrician and in many cases earn a lot more than someone that goes to college for four years.”
How is the pay?
A big misconception is that pay isn’t the greatest in this industry, but there’s money to be made!
Dan: “It’s really kind of supply and demand you know to some degree, right? So what happens as an employer we need to retain our current workforce. In addition, we need to get new workforce and so when it is busy like this, wages tend to go up. So employees look at this and realize that the demand is so high, that they may be able to get another dollar or two an hour. This is an employee’s market and so wages are constantly rising. A starting electrician with no experience makes fifteen dollars an hour at DP and when they turn out they generally make $55 to $60k and if they’re running work it could be a six-figure salary so there’s lots of opportunity and I will say that wage never really goes away. We went through a difficult time but those wages came back fairly quickly.”
How well do construction and related trades hold up in a recession?
Arizona’s broad-based economy now spans multiple industries, not just real estate which gives construction a more balanced client base.
Michelle: The Arizona economy used to be basically real estate industry supporting construction, a cycle of onstruction was the industry and so when the housing market blew up then it affected everything. But now we’re just such a broad economy with the the technology coming in here, the manufacturing coming in, the distribution
centers are our base is so much broader so it’s multiple industries with demands coming in outside of Arizona outside of even the country. We’re much more driven by the global economy now and so many different factors.
What are misconceptions in the industry?
Sean: “One that probably bothers me the most is there’s still people who believe that construction is a last resort or option, if you dropped out of high school you couldn’t get into college. In reality construction requires a lot of education. Buildings like the State Farm Stadium, or the highways, the homes, these buildings weren’t built by uneducated people they’re very professional and very good at what they do. It’s just a different form of education whether it be through apprenticeship programs, internal training programs, the training is more of a hands-on there’s still the curriculum side of it but not everybody can just come in and off the street and become a journeyman. There’s a lot of pride in those of us who’ve been in the construction industry. Construction needs to be treated the same way that majority of these other classes are that it is a profession. There is dignity to it. There is a career, not just a job. I will be doing very well at retirement because of the construction industry.”
Justin: “We’re not only employee owned but just looking at the career aspect, we have a tremendous amount of employee owners here at Border States who have been with us for decades which is kind of unheard of nowadays
with everybody maybe every three or four years looking for a different opportunity. Now some people in the industry are retiring mid 50s and very successful too. So there’s a lot of money to be made in this industry especially in distribution if you’re not going to be an electrician or a skilled trade.
It was really exciting to hear that other companies are investing in internal training to bridge that gap of allowing people to enter the industry who might have attempted to start and allow the employer to train them up and get them up to speed. There’s just a lot of optimism and need for these types of roles going in the future.”
Isn’t it male dominated?
Usually that’s all we see, men operating behind tons of machinery moving tons of material on job sites in 110 degree weather. While women are certainly welcome to perform the same work, there’s more to this than meets the eye. No longer are women an exception in this industry and in some cases are in leadership positions.
Michelle: “We’re a woman owned company and our owner/founder is a woman. Definitely the opportunities are there. Look at Dan, his daughter is kind of up and coming with him and there’s definitely women at very high levels in the industry. Then there’s women out in the field doing amazing work too. This question comes up many times, it’s not about the gender, it’s about who can get out there and do the work.”
Another misconception is that all the guys that are out there working are really rough tough, not nice people, it’s kind of the bottom of the barrel. But these are good quality, upstanding people and I am completely comfortable to work alongside any one of them and I would put my daughter out next to any one of them. There’s good quality people in the industry, it’s so much better than what media has painted it. There’s a lot of really good men that are more than willing to work right alongside women and respect them and give them complete dignity and treat them no different than any other as long as they work hard, earn their respect and earn their place. It’s not a free ticket but there’s definitely a misconception is that there’s not a place or that they’re treated differently or mistreated or not a group of people that they would want to work alongside. That’s as far from the truth as you can imagine.”
Dan says the industry has evolved and mistreatment of women is not tolerated. As the culture has changed and modernized, the workforce is very professional. For instance, electrical work and project management are definitely things women have been doing.
What kept you engaged, enjoying your job?
Sean: “It’s definitely not redundant if you think about majority of the construction projects
out there, each one of them is unique. We get to see different things each and every day but what keeps me going the most honestly is the people you know. … it’s a brotherhood and sisterhood really and you’re very proud of the stuff that you see when you’re driving by and you can say ‘hey I built that, I was part of that you’re able to fix your own stuff at the house a lot of times. I don’t know that I would have been happy doing anything else.”
Dan: “I could also say the opportunities in our industry. There are just so many different branches and we have a lot of folks that started out in the field and now are in the office doing estimating, project management, recruiting whatever it may be. Then sector wise, there are so many different divisions, within electrical there’s certain disciplines you can do, low voltage, motor control. It’s always evolving, it’s always changing, you don’t get bored that’s for sure.”
What is the future of the industry?
The panel agreed there is no slowdown coming in Arizona and expectations are for more growth especially with the integration of technology and its impact on the industry.
Michelle: “There have been no layoffs or long periods without work. Maybe at one time that was true, but projections are for growth in the near and far future. We can’t afford to lose good people. We know what is out there and what’s to come and we want those good people here on the team so there’s nothing but bright days ahead from what I can see.”
Sean: “The way we do things in the field has changed dramatically over the last five or ten years and it’s going to continue whether you’re utilizing GPS or building information modeling our industry is really starting to utilize technology more and more and we got to stay on top of that as well as our folks in the field have to stay abreast of all this new technology for the next five to ten years, it’s going to grow even more with technology.”
What are some possible career pathways?
Justin: “We have initiatives within Border States that directly relate to helping employee owners build out their own career path and that comes with a bunch of different documents and supporting information to help them pick that career path within Border States. People are developing themselves in different ways and the companies built that out so that they can develop internally. It is a big thing and that’s what we want to do. We’re supporting the people internally and investing in the people that we have at Border States to develop their careers so it’s absolutely important. Many people have switched course within Border States and it happens at other companies where you might start off in one discipline and have interest in another area within the business and there’s opportunities to grow and learn from those. Then you’ll find yourself in other opportunity for five ten years whatever it may be and develop yourself too going forward in your career. So definitely plenty of opportunities along those lines.”
What are some of the hot jobs in the industry?
Michelle: “We’re actively hiring IT people right now. That’s one of our biggest areas of need to be able to harness technology. In the field it’s operators, welders, laborers, drivers, mechanics kind of the gamut. We’re not overstaffed in any area of trades.”
Sean: “It’s the big numbers are the heavy equipment operators the pipe fitters welders with all the work that’s coming into the valley with Intel, TMSC and all the vendors that will be coming in. We’ll be blowing up here in the next few months. Nothing’s off the table as far as what we need whether it be HR, IT, marketing from the administrative side.”
Justin: “We’re actively searching, we have about three or four warehouse associate openings in our Phoenix location which is a great start to get your foot in the door and learn about the electrical distribution industry about the products. In addition that we do have a project manager role open though so if you’re good at balancing different objectives and communication both via email and phone and things like that we’d love to hear from you and see if you’re a good fit for that role too.”
Dan: “We’re always looking for great people but in about a month to two it’s just gonna explode and at that time we’re probably gonna be adding quite a few craft positions and then when we add craft positions typically some administrators come into play as well.”
Transferable Skills and Career Pathways Panel
Got plans for a career shift and looking for another industry to join? This panel explains what you need and where you might fit in if you’re checking out this field.
• Corbins Electric, Jeff Hammon, Workforce Development Manager
• Border States, Michelle Ballou, Phoenix Operations Manager
• Constructors Bonding Inc, Ted Rarrick, Partner, Director of Partner Relations
• Build Your Future, Paul Sanders, Workforce Development Director
What do you find best about your company culture?
Ted Rarrick of Constructors Bonding says as a relatively unknown niche in the industry, surety bonding helps ensure a project is completed. They basically guarantee that a project (usually large and complex) will be finished in case a contractor cannot fulfill their contract terms. In that case the bond company steps in and finishes the work. Based in Phoenix, they have footprints across the country and internationally, working with contractors to get positioned to get the strongest bonding possible.
Ted says once people get involved, it is very satisfying work. For contractors that have to bond, they’re a vital part of business both before, during and after the project cycle. Not only does the work relationship involve bonding but interestingly they often get into specific business issues, what works and what doesn’t in a wide variety of applications.
Surety bonds may be where it’s happening, but nothing moves until distributors like Border States Electric delivers them. Michelle Ballou with Border States: “We are a huge part of the supply chain, anything that the electrical industry needs, whether it is the electrician doing something to your home or on the commercial aspect, think of a factory needing all the electrical things in their facility, Utility companies all of the electrical things they need we are procuring those any of the things they need and getting them to the electricians to do the work.”
Jeff Hammond with Corbins Electric says they “work on developing our current workforce as far as building skill sets in our electricians, our support staff and office staff so we’re constantly looking to build their skill set make them the best at what they do.”
Michelle says that whatever the role at Border States, from customer service and project manager to distribution, everyone serves as the ‘behind-the-scenes’ lifeline between the customer, supplier and contractors. They make it appear seamless for the contractor who is building the infrastructure we need to grow the local economy.
Paul Sanders, Workforce Development Director of Build Your Future, is part of the Phoenix Chamber Foundation that works to get this information out about the growing need to build the talent pipeline for the construction and skilled craft industry. It’s estimated by the end of December 2022 there be a need for 200,000 skilled craft and construction jobs! They’re working hard to bust misconceptions and help people see the opportunities for starting a brand new career as well as using their own transferrable skills from another industry.
What skills can transfer? What skills are you looking for?
Jeff: “We’re looking for a critical thinker and if they can put in the effort, we’ll fuel that fire. If they have those critical skills as an entry level electrician, we have the opportunity to grow as fast and as big as you want to make it.”
Michelle says they’re looking for a willingness to learn about the products they sell so they can help solve problems for their clients who are electricians working in the field. Also, they can take those have left field work or have similar experience in other industries to turn them into customer service reps, account managers, sales roles, project managers in operations, logistics, or warehouse supervision.
Ted notes over the decades he’s seen anyone with an organized work ethic and has ability to organize their skill set get picked up quickly. He said, “I get calls maybe once a week or a couple times a month from my clients asking, ‘do you know anyone that has any accounting skills whatsoever we can train them here’. I have accountants and bookkeeping firms call me do you have anyone that has any kind of accounting abilities?
“If you’re hungry and you have a good work ethic and you really want to learn, this field will probably advance you more rapidly than the majority of the field out there and they can go in so many different ways. Even if they feel ‘I don’t have any skill set’, they probably have some inherent skill sets. Right out of high school they can advance more rapidly than other careers. Anyone can learn, start wherever, what skill you have and we’ll work with you if you have the drive.”
Are there established career paths or can you make your own pathway?
Michelle said the old career paths used to be very linear but now you can skip steps or make lateral moves in various departments and regions. Once you are a cultural and skills fit you can get in and figure it out with help from the company.
Jeff: “If you can bring in those core skill sets we can fuel to get you training in-house whether apprenticeship or in-house training or whatever to refine and build those skills, and you can even skip steps. . .the sky’s the limit.”
Ted: ”…if you take it seriously and get good at it. It’s pretty rewarding. Typically, you start with a surety company or a bond company and you get trained in the surety world and then you either go up through the surety company ranks or go out into the agency side and then work with contractors directly. Some even go on to start their own business.”
How about transitions from military? Apprenticeships? Internships?
If you’re planning on starting new in the industry, there are programs already set up and running to assist you in making that transition. Jeff says it’s common for a company to have all three types. If you want to be an electrician, you can get paid while you learn. If you want to become a project manager, then you might start as a project engineers who manage the financial health on a project.
For those from the military, if you’ve led soldiers, you can also lead teams in this industry. Jeff came to Corbins from the military and created an entire department dedicated to training. He adds that internships are generally focused on office staff, for example a project engineer which is entry level to a project manager will have you manage projects and their financial health. A student can go straight into an industry apprenticeship program from high school and possibly also skipping college. For someone entry level they can become an electrician in four years and usually get paid while training. So, in the 4 years they might have been in school and with $100,000 in debt, you’ve already been earning income and ready to work, hitting the ground running as a journeyman.
Paul of ‘Build Your Future’ works with a national organization for veterans designed to connect veterans with training and employment opportunities. For apprenticeships, Build Your Future constantly updates on their website (https://arizona.byf.org/explore-careers/trading-cards/) where there often a dozen or more apprenticeships to get someone started in an industry electrical, plumbing for new construction. And you get paid while you learn and starting salaries can range from $35,000 to $40,000 a year and then increase another $5000 or more depending on when they are converted to a journeyman. However, formal training isn’t necessary to get into administrative office positions, of which at this time number in the dozens, including over a hundred jobs connected just to customer service on the ‘Build Your Future’ website.
Best way to transfer from a different industry
For someone looking to transfer from a different industry, Ted’s niche surety company is an extensive network where he is able to forward highly qualified construction-oriented candidates to some of his clients. He says supply chain is huge, “. . . the supply chain is huge as far as what they’re looking for the transferable type of person. I transfer them to someone in the supply chain or I’ll call my one of my clients and say this person’s looking to transfer, do you have an interest in them or do you know someone who could you know use them.”
Ted adds that he’s seen “so much dissatisfaction going to college spending a ton of money a getting entry level job that doesn’t match their potential. I’ve seen people blossom with clients and see them getting coaching and developed in their career, so neat to see. Construction is not a profession of last resort, it should be up there as one of the first choices they pick.”
There are many ways to get started and to enter from the bottom or laterally. Especially in the near future in Arizona there will be a need for skilled people at all levels to build something new or replace outdated infrastructure.
What are some of the hot jobs in the industry?
Michelle: “We have warehouse associate positions open as well as a project manager position.
But the data shows we’re we are going to have people retiring in the upcoming years and there is always something coming open because of that. The sooner you get in the sooner we get you trained and you’re on to the next level up.”
Jeff says they obviously need electricians but all areas growing in IT, Finance and HR. He emphasizes that as the need to build and rebuild grows, the support infrastructure and expertise grows along with it so support the people you see digging ditches and moving heavy equipment. For example, dozens of virtual construction designers with CAD BIM (Building Information Modeling) experience are sought after.
Ted adds that there are gaps coming up that need to be filled from people retiring. ”There’s gaps coming up with upper levels of in our industry too, we’re like a lot of others we have an aging workforce and in our world you don’t become proficient in a week or two it’s years and sometimes decades.”
Paul again stressed that the misconception is that construction is made up of short term seasonal jobs but instead it’s a long lasting, stable, well-paying career. On the ‘Build Your Future’ website he finds, “15 positions that are listed right now that are related to finance. We have 18 positions that are listed relating to HR we have 160 project manager positions” in addition to the open slots at Border States, Constructors Bonding and Corbins Electric.
There should be enough here to at least persuade you to consider a career in the trade and construction, you can put a forklift in it because we’re done.
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