The career crisis in construction, the talent shortage, the skilled labor shortage—whatever you call it, the talk is everywhere. Steel detailers and fabricators—as well as positions across the entire construction pipeline—are in short supply.
The reasons are many and varied, but in the steel industry in particular, awareness is a major factor. According to a report by Tallo, over 70 percent of Generation Z students today decide on their career path in high school or early college. But most high school students don’t know that steel fabricators exist, let alone steel detailers.
That’s why many fabricators and detailers—like Tyler Owen of Owen Industries and Hal Cartee of Cartee-Berry and Associates—are working to build relationships with their local schools and implement free SDS2 educational software into the schools’ curriculum.
In a recent webinar, we talk with Owen and Cartee—as well as Dr. Dana Nichols, who has helped pioneer a new degree program in BIM management at Georgia Highlands College—to hear what it takes to build fruitful relationships and help develop steel-focused curriculum in area schools.
You can access the full conversation by registering for the webinar, now available on demand. Here, we’ll share some of the top takeaways that you can use to start shaping your local talent pools.
Identify your target schools
The first step in developing talent in local schools is to identify which schools you’d like to work with.
Personal connections are a natural place to start. That’s where Owen started when Owen Industries’ structural steel fabrication shop, PVS Structures, was struggling to find welders.
“I reached out to the local high school that I graduated from, which has a pretty robust trades program,” Owen said. Building from that success, he recently reached out to implement SDS2 training into the curriculum as an independent study to start building a talent pool for estimators and project managers.
But personal connections are just a starting point. Many high schools, technical and community colleges, and universities who care about students’ job placement and career success are willing to work with local employers.
Hal Cartee found a good partner in Florence Darlington Technical College, where he has consistently recruited interns since the early 2000s. FDTC offers associates degrees in Civil Engineer Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Graphics Engineering Technology, which all provided a solid background for detailing positions.
“Over the years, we’ve hired approximately 40 students who have gone into roles with our company,” Cartee said. His long history of recruiting at FDTC opened the door to additional program developments, including adding SDS2 training to their course offerings in fall 2021.
Find a champion
A key ingredient in both Owen and Cartee’s success stories is having a passionate champion at the representative school.
“It really takes a special person to drive the program,” Owen said.
Cartee, who has maintained his relationship with FDTC for two decades now, says that person can change over the years. “If you have someone in the role of developing opportunities for students, typically they don’t volunteer for that unless their heart’s in the right place,” he said.
Start with a phone call (but don't stop there)
If you’re trying to make contact with an area school for the first time, with no prior connection, you might be asking: but where do I start?
Cartee suggests starting with a phone call. “It could be as simple as calling the front office and saying, who would I need to talk to to find students that could fill roles in my company,” he said. “I wouldn’t start with an email—just pick up the phone. That’s how we started back in 2002 when we hired our first intern.”
Asking for program changes, such as developing an apprenticeship program or getting SDS2 training into the curriculum, will probably require more follow through.
And when push comes to shove, you might have to put your money where your mouth is. That could mean making donations—to infrastructure, computers, equipment, or general purpose funds. Or it could simply mean consistently recruiting and hiring students and offering your time and insights as an employer.
“It doesn’t have to be huge money,” Owen said. “You just need to be a supporter and a partner.”
An important thing to remember when working with schools is that they tend to move a lot slower than businesses do. “It’s easy to give up with the bureaucratic processes many schools have,” Owen said.
For Dr. Dana Nichols at Georgia Highlands College, establishing a new BIM program took two and a half years. College administrators and accreditation bodies all had to approve of the program and curriculum—and before that, they had to understand it.
“People in higher education didn’t fully understand what building information modeling management was,” Nichols said. “We first had to launch an education campaign as to why we were trying to build this particular bachelor’s degree. That was surprisingly our biggest challenge.”
“It’s like anything that’s done effectively,” Owen said. “You start with an agenda, and you have action items. You schedule when the next meeting is, and then you carry it through to completion.”
And like any good relationship, it requires a give and take. Throughout the process, it helps to make sure both parties know what’s at stake for them.
So: why does SDS2 and other BIM software belong in schools?
For schools, Nichols said, “Hands on training with industry software is critical—otherwise we’re teaching theory, we’re not teaching reality. We want to produce graduates who are familiar with all of the major software platforms they might encounter as they enter the workforce.”
That’s exactly what employers want, too. More new talent equipped with real-world experience and skills.
With SDS2 training now implemented at FDTC, Cartee said he thinks more people will be interested in steel industry careers. “Once they’re exposed to SDS2, I think there will be a flood of applicants,” Cartee said.