Shan Roberts Photography; Photo courtesy of ConstructReach

Construction industry workforce development company ConstructReach is attempting to change the face of construction, dispel preconceived notions about the industry, fill the pipeline of qualified construction candidates, and build better futures for youths across America through its four-city "I Built This" tour. High-school students aged 16 to 18 from neighboring school districts will gather at Target stores in Los Angeles, Calif., Denver, Co., St. Louis, Mo., and Miami, Fla., to learn about the construction industry and participate in elements of the stores' remodel. ConstructReach CEO Paul Robinson told REMODELING the setting of a Target store provides a unique opportunity to present construction in a different light.

"Students get a chance to have a store tour, understand the different elements that go into remodeling that Target store, and also participate in hands-on activities where they get a chance to understand what it takes to do a specific trade," Robinson said.

ConstructReach founder Paul Robinson
Photo courtesy of ConstructReach ConstructReach founder Paul Robinson

Robinson founded ConstructReach in 2018 with the goal of increasing visibility for the industry and educating students about career opportunities within the industry. The company aims to connect general contractors to interns and to create content and experiences to expose a diverse population to sustainable construction careers. It also fosters close relationships with educators to work on closing the gap between the industry and educators. Educators are on the front line and are in "a prime position" to speak to young people and their families about the next steps in life, Robinson said, and ensuring construction has a place in those conversations is important for the future of the industry.

Robinson said events such as the "I Built This" initiative can help address the skilled labor shortage by encouraging younger generations to pursue careers in the trades. More than half of skilled workers are nearing retirement age and the industry is not doing a good job of filling those positions at the same rate they will be vacated. In addition to the looming retirement crisis, Robinson said, many young individuals have a negative connotation about construction as an industry "you fail into." The ConstructReach founder said one of the most powerful ways to push back against this stigma is through exposure to the industry and gaining experience. In addition to increasing visibility and exposure, though, Robinson said, the industry also should own and recognize it has not been proactive in providing places for younger workers.

"Talking to younger demographics, it’s a little vague on what they can do in the construction industry," Robinson said. "A lot of times, because they may only have exposure to one facet [of construction], their perception is reduced to just that."

St. Louis-based ConstructReach partners with CTE programs to bring enrolled students into "I Built This" events, but the company also encourages students who are undecided about their futures to come in and gain exposure to the construction industry. In addition to addressing the aging issue in the workforce, ConstructReach's "I Built This" initiative is bringing attention to the diversity issue in construction and working towards changing some of the diversity statistics in the industry.

"If you’re not exposed to what you can do, or what’s in front of you, that’s a lot of untapped potential," Robinson said. "We make sure we bring in some students who are undecided and present these options to them and bring in industry partners that can provide answers, that can provide the direction that they need to put themselves in the position for next steps [in the industry]."

Many youths want to see tangible results in the work they are doing, regardless of the industry they work in. Construction allows workers to physically see the manifestation of their effort on a day-to-day basis and create a sense of community in the projects they build. Robinson said the industry can leverage this to a greater extent to appeal to younger generations.