The Next Generation of Construction Professionals

Dr. Mittie Cannon- Amec Foster Wheeler


  • How is the younger generation being recruited?
  • How are they being trained?
  • How can industry and trade associations impact on younger generation entering construction?
  • What are you doing as a contractor to recruit and train the younger generation? As an association?
  • Is it critical that industry and education form a relationship?
  • What role, if any, does parental involvement have on younger generation entering construction?
  • What has been your experience working with the younger generation?
  • Check out this article about this podcast. Click Here.


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Paul: Hello everyone. Welcome back to the Everything Building Envelope podcast, this is Paul Beers. We have a really interesting topic today where we’re talking about the next generation of construction professionals. Our guest is Dr. Mittie Cannon and she is involved with this topic with the associated builders and contractors. Welcome Mittie.

Dr. Cannon: Thank you.

Paul: So really interesting topic, would you please tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, what you do for a living and what you volunteer and help that with ABC?

Dr. Cannon: Okay. First of all, I am Mittie Cannon which you’ve already stated and I am the Manager Workforce Development with Amec Foster Wheeler that is a global organization, where we are present in more than 40 countries. And some of the areas that we focus on is project management engineering, as well as construction services. So, there my role is to oversee our training program to ensure that our employees are working safely, they have the skillsets and knowledge they need so that we can meet the needs of our clients. So, workforce development is very important as we go forward and we realized that without that skilled workforce, they’d be as not something that’s going to be paramount, so that’s very important to our organization and to the industry.

My involvement with workforce development is what led me to opportunities to ABC, and so at ABC I’m the past Chair of the Workforce Programs and Initiatives Committee. And so I’m very involved with workforce development, not only at the national ABC level but also at the local ABC Alabama Chapter level. So, I get very engaged in workforce development opportunities and initiatives and assist with programming in different initiatives that also impact how we recruit the new generation and the next generation of skill construction professionals.

Paul: So, how is the younger generation being recruited?

Dr. Cannon: There are so different, you know, strategies that are currently being used to attract and recruit the younger generation. For instance, one of the initiatives that we’re currently using is having a simulated workplace, so we look at how we promote ourselves as an industry and take that and showcase that to parents and students as to how that is a viable career option in the career pathway for them. And show them the benefit of being a member of the construction industry and how they can still be themselves, not necessarily have gone to college and receive a degree and end up with a lot of debt from loans, but also how they can enter the workforce is still be able to use their hands and be just as productive and make how wages just like anybody else would.

And still be able to travel and take advantage of being able to meet new people, they want a different thing from building structures and have been able to look back and see that they had an active role in the completion of a project over time.

So, we look at the various things that they initially bring as benefits as a way to use those as tools to recruit others. So, having a simulative workplace is one of those tools that we have used. And kids seem to, especially at the high school level, they seem to really respected and like that because if they find themselves not doing well in academia, then what we have found is that whenever they come to a construction program, they’re doing what they would have done in academics but there’s been a more applied way. And so they can speed and better understand how the background they aren’t really works because now, in the corporate program we’re actually doing it but we’re not necessarily calling it that, so it’s more applied.

So, we’re taking a different approach to it and so they better understanding who we are because now we’re changing the language and we’re putting into a perspective that they can relate to and they can better connect to that.

Paul: It seems like over time that, you know, to learn a trade concept has really been the emphasize, you know, it seems like the big goal now for everybody is to go to college and you mention the college debt which, you know, can be staggering. And it’s almost like taboo that to say that college isn’t for everybody and it really isn’t and in a lot of cases, somebody, I feel like could be happier and more productive with the trade, as you say, still be a professional, make good money and make a stable living and, you know, basically pursuit of the American dream. Or if you’re, you know, overseas somewhere whatever, you know, at the higher standard of living is.

And it’s encouraging to hear that some things are being done to try to encourage people to look at viable alternatives that probably aren’t always presented real well.

Dr. Cannon: Right. And there’s another initiative too that ABC national has taken lead on and that is the branding campaign. So, we’re looking at, you know, we’ve been working on this, for example, a couple years where several people from industry and from the ABC chapters have come together and we’ve actually sat around a table and talked about how do we build it, better tell our story and convey who we are to the everyday people? People who don’t necessarily understand what we mean when we say a pipefitter.

So when we break that down and we talk about how pipefitter, you know, has a technical role in how they can have a professional role and we can talk about the different wages associated those different levels and what the requirements are of those different levels. But also how sorting out of the pipefitter with technical field set moving into a professional level can lead to owing a company or being a project manager or a designer.

So, there’s just so many different avenues that you could take with it and so now we’re trying to do a better job with promoting the branding of it to change the perception of the industry but, you know, also to help get kids and their parents to take second look at who we are and see us as a career option.

Paul: Yeah, you know, as you’re saying as I’m thinking there really are so many opportunities in our industry for advancement. You know, if you’re a high achiever, you’re gonna move up the ladder probably as fast or faster than you would in pretty much any other type of trade or employment. And as you say, you can end up, you know, eventually running the show being a project manager or project executive, owning your own firm, there aren’t a lot of barriers to entry with the construction trades. You obviously have to pay your dues and develop skill sets and what not along the way. But if you are a go-getter, the opportunities are there. You agree with that?

Dr. Cannon: Absolutely the opportunity is certainly there and like you said, you know, having the right attitude into desire to want to be successful, you could pave your own way. And there are so many people who are standing there waiting to help, there’s various mentoring programs you can get engaged in, there’s always professional development opportunities. So, it’s unlimited, I mean, there are just so many opportunities. And the other thing is most people don’t realize that even in the construction industry, not only are we looking for skilled professionals such as pipefitters and electricians, but it also takes other people with other skillsets to make our industry turn. It takes people with accounting and financing background, people with medical backgrounds.

So, it’s not the discount that we don’t have those people in those positions as well because it takes all of it to want a construction business. So, people definitely don’t realize that we’re more than just digging ditches and hammer, nail. I mean, it takes attorneys and it takes accounting people. It takes safety professionals with medical background, it takes a number of talented people and so there is room for everybody.

Paul: Yeah. So, this story I’ll just have to say, this story really resonates with me. Because it’s kind of my path, you know, I was attending college and I got a summer job, working in construction as a labor, which I can tell you, isn’t where I wanted to end up but it was, you know, I was making some pretty good…I was young, strong, I was making some pretty good money. And then I became a carpenter, and then I became a window installer, and then I started my own business. And then I actually became the owner at that point.

Then I started doing expert witness work and I started my own consulting firm in 1988 and, you know, today I’m a full-fledged construction professional and I own, manage a, you know, engineering and construction firm. And the path that you described and all the opportunities, they were there and it was a great ride. And that opportunity still exists, I guess, is what I would say.

Dr. Cannon: It does, the opportunity does still exist and the industry needs people. I think the missing component there is the educational component. And when I say educational component, I’m speaking of people not knowing and not having information and not been necessarily aware of what’s out there. So, I think that is probably the biggest component that’s missing. If people know more about it, then I think they tend to maybe take a second look or even consider it as an option. But when people don’t know, they typically will migrate to what they thought is that they do now.

So, I think that’s the other thing, that as an industry, that we have to do a better job of educating people about who we are and we have to educate outside of our world of the industry, we have to go outside of the construction industry and establish relationships on the outside of our world. And go into the world of other people, other sectors and educate them about who we are. So, we really need to get into the phase and space of other people, so that they can become educated about who we are and in that way they will be able to look at those different career options.

Paul: And the other thing that I think has changed a lot is, it’s not the boys’ club anymore, it’s certainly equal opportunities for women as there is for men in virtually across the board at this point.

Dr. Cannon: There is opportunity for women, like I said earlier, there’s opportunity for everybody, there’s something for everybody. And, you know, we’ve made a lot of progress over the years with women in construction. I can recall when I first started, of course, you know, I had to exaggerate somewhat stretched the truth in order to get into the industry to do what it is that I wanted to do. And so, I’ve had a very rewarding career as a female and not just as a female but I mean as an African-American female. So, women definitely have opportunity but, you know, as a woman I don’t feel that industry has been generous to me because I am a woman, but it is because I paid my dues and I earn my way.

And for the most part, if you just take the approach that you’re in it for the best, in it to make a living and to grow within it, then you can be very successful.

So, we still have a lot of work to do and long ways to go as far as women go because, you know, of course women are still under represented and I would love to see the day, don’t know if I’d see it in my life time but I would love to see the day that this industry is no longer considered to be nontraditional. So, I think with all the seeds that are been implanted and sowed, that at some point they would germinate and we can just see more and more women enter the industry. So, as we’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go but we are making progress.

Paul: And it would be great to, as you say, to see that because we hire women obviously in our firm and they’re great. I mean, they’re looked at equally and they are. They’re looked equally because they are with what we do, I mean, everybody can do everything equally well and we’ve had some really great experiences. I wish I had more people like some of the ones that I have, they’re really great. So, once people get interested, they obviously need to acquire skillsets and be trained in what not. Well, how is that being accomplished today?

Dr. Cannon: There are different methods, you know, people being trained, you know, we have apprenticeship programs, we have fast training, even at the post secondary and secondary level. You know, there are construction programs that are also incorporated into secondary program and so, you know, students can start as early as some high school in starting rolling into programs. And the great thing about that is the industry, years ago, more than 20 years ago, came together as one and took off of their competition heads and decided they wanted to endorse and adopt a curriculum that no matter who you work for, as long as that organization was affiliated with the NCCER and we would recognize in portable training that NCCER put together for the industries that was designed for industry by industry.

So, that definitely played its role in helping to standardize into unified things for us as far as training go, so that way everybody knew that if someone had gone through NCCER’s training whether it was in a high school program, post secondary, apprenticeship program or even through a company’s craft training program, that if they had the NCCER it was almost like they had the good housekeeping seal. Because we knew they satisfy both the practical component, as well as the written component.

Paul: And as you said, it doesn’t need to be a competitive thing because raising the level of competence of the workforce helps everybody, obviously.

Dr. Cannon: Right, it does, it does. You know, we’re all fishing out at the same pond so we’re all recruiting the same people and they just make the, you know, they just make their little cycle through the process. So, at least we know that they’re trying that we know how they’ve been trying, so when they show up and then we know what to expect.

Paul: You’re fishing in a better pond, basically.

Dr. Cannon: Yes, absolutely.

Paul: You’d mentioned the word but one of my favorite words before mentor. So, at my company, we’re building envelope consultants and I can tell you if you find the curriculum for that, please let me know so I can get a bunch of people into it. So, we’re kind of, you know, we don’t fit in the box maybe as well as everybody else and our big training asset, we have a young staff member come onboard, say, engineering school graduate or action on entry level of being a construction project manager. We always assign them to somebody that’s been doing this for quite a while to mentor them. Basically, you know, help them through the different circumstances that they encounter.

And I think that that’s probably something that’s done a lot not just my company but I think that something is probably done a lot in the industry. And there’s a lot of opportunity for those of us that are already have the careers to really help bring the younger generation along.

Dr. Cannon: Yes. Chances here at my organization, Amec Foster Wheeler, one of our values is that, you know, we invest in our people. And so, when we recruit, we glad to do college recruit days we make sure that we invest in those people because we want them to be successful. Because we realize that, you know, that they’re probably gonna be then, you know, within that pool of people who will be of the next generation of leaders. So, as an industry, I know of other companies that are doing the same thing so, you know, having it mentoring program and making that investment in the people and praising diversity and inclusion, those are very, very important elements that should be a part of anybody’s value system.

So that is important and I really think that that’s gonna be the life of our industry. Because if we don’t do that and if we don’t do enough and if we don’t continue to do that, then I think what we’re going to see is, you know, a bigger gap. So, we definitely to exercise every opportunity of, you know, developing and mentoring those younger professionals, different

along the current situation, I…you know, they’re really good about having young professional summit. And so, in those summits you typically will have up-and-coming engineers, product controlled individuals who maybe entering level, coming out of school students who are now in the workforce.

And so these are high potential that someone has identified and, you know, they felt that these are young people that we needed to invest in. So, they had the opportunity of going through young professional summit and so that’s helped into develop them, there will be a mentor, their networking and meeting with other professionals from across, you know, the country from other companies as well, so they’re learning together as well.

Paul: That’s really great.

Dr. Cannon: I think by doing that, had a notion of professional summit, they’re already in the industry because that’s how they get to those summit. But I think that also helps to retain them. Because from what I can understand with working with the young generation, they want to be engaged, they want to be valued, they wanna be challenged because they’re very bright professionals. So, they want to be challenged and they want to take on those leadership roles. It’s not unusual to hear them come in and they wanna make the most money, they wanna be sitting in the number one seat. They wanna run the company.

So, I think, you know, we shouldn’t discount, you know, them wanting that. I think when we be that type of energy and interest, we need to figure out how to leverage and work with that. And I think that’s just new from my generation and other generations, so that’s what we’re seeing in a younger generation now. So, we have to learn how to deal with it and how to manage, you know, that type of energy.

Paul: Yeah. Well, I mean aspiration and ambition are great things, so is patients. You can be, you know, to be sitting in the lead chair you need to put a little time and, obviously, too difficulty where you get to that. Let me ask you this question. What role now and, if any, does the traditional education system play in developing people that may be good fits with the construction industry? I just can say, one thing that comes to mind is obviously the traditional, you know, like engineering and architecture and also building construction schools, as it learned to that? Do you have to go to college or there are other ways that the educational system does or could support the industry?

Dr. Cannon: Basically, there was a system that can support the construction industry. There are many ways in which they can support the industry and I think that goes both ways. The construction industry also needs to support the educational system because I think what we’ve experienced for years is that we, the construction industry over here and this was our world, and education was over here and they’re in their world. So, these worlds are separate, we keep them separate. You do your thing, we do our thing and they were not communicating. I think we’ve realized that we can no longer continue down that path because that that’s not working, so we found ourselves coming together and starting to communicate and establish in relationship.

And the NCCER hasn’t really well, we’re trying to bring those worlds together especially with partnering with ACTE. So, we partner with the critic side of education and their program and it pre-conferences for ACTE that industry comes to and they take part in exercises with education. So that way it forces us to communicate and to learn about each other. So, once we’ve, you know, broken those barriers and we start the communication, then we start to build those relationships and trust. And then we found that that we can work together, so that an industry can tell education what it is that we’re looking for and tomorrow’s workforce, and then we can also help to guide them with what curriculum and program that needs to look like to meet the needs that we have.

And so, it takes both of those communicating and willing to work together and to give, so that we could help each other. So, it’s not just education alone, you know, work into support industry but industry has to also be willing to flex and to give to support education. Now, we can take on role and that is industry where I think we have a presence at different levels of education locally, state, and national, where we have a voice and I see at the table so that we could be heard and see. And then we also need to do something with education bring them into our world so that they can be represented too. So that we can always keep, you know, that dialogue go on. So, I think having those two at the table together now with working in harmony, is something that’s gonna benefit both.

Paul: The building construction industry really has a lot to offer because there are plenty of college career paths where you can end up in the construction industry, engineering architecture and then as you said, all the professionals, accounting, finance, legal, human resources, you know, all those sorts of things. And then, that’s not necessary for everybody. There’s also the non-college group that you can come in and do very well with, also. And, you know, as far as having a relationship with industry and education, it seems that if all those paths were supported that would probably get the most bang for the bucks, so to speak, or getting the best result and as far as offering opportunities to the younger generation that they can embrace and really do well with.

Dr. Cannon: I agree and that’s all result of building relationship. And as I mentioned earlier, NCCER has been a great job with that especially with the career pathways, pre-conference workshop that’s done at ACTE. So, it’s gonna take initiative such as that and more but we have to be consistent with it. We just can’t make a big splash and do it one time, I think that’s gonna solve the problem. We have to continuously do that and maintain those relationships and they have to be positive. So, yes, it’s definitely doable.

Paul: So, what role if any does parental involvement have on the younger generation entering construction?

Dr. Cannon: Real involvement has a big role in our younger generation entering the industry because, as you know, the generation of our kids are most influenced by the parents. So, if you can get to the parent and educate the parent about the career options in the various career pathways that are in the industry, then you stand a better chance that the child that considering or even looking at a career in the industry. Because even though they spent a lot of time at school, that parents still has that greatest influence. And so, it’s very important that we get parents involved. And we get them involved at an early age of the child’s life, so that way they can start having these conversations.

But if parents don’t understand who we are and what we do, then I think it’s hard for them to be involved. So, again, it goes back to educating everybody that’s in their loop and educating those parents, I think, will help with parents then were comfortable, was talking about careers that in the industry.

Paul: Because the parents can be an asset but the parent can also be an impediment. Correct?

Dr. Cannon: Correct. And of course we know most parents want, you know, will say that their child’s gonna go to college. But then, you know, there’s always those opportunities that if they go to college, they may not finish, or if they go to college and finish, they may not find a job. And then, what we’ve seen is they end up going back to school and they will end up want to…some type of a, you know, vocational program, a career technical education program, looking for an opportunity in our industry.

So, it’s not unusual upon, you know, degree carry an individuals working in the construction industry. Because most of the stories have been, “Well, I ended up going to college and it was not necessarily what I wanted to do or it was the one I thought it was gonna be.” And so, they end up coming to the construction industry.

Paul: Yeah. That makes sense and it’s like work in the construction industries, so they can pay off their student loans that they committed and need to do, to begin with.

Dr. Cannon: Right. I work in the industry with a choice and moment, and I still have my doctorate. So, I understand both sides of it.

Paul: Yeah. You know, I was thinking we’re talking about the parents, you know, a lot of times they want their children to go to college so let’s get them in the building construction program.

Dr. Cannon: Yeah.

Paul: Plenty of opportunities there as well. So, what’s your experience then working with younger generation?

Dr. Cannon: So, I have worked with the younger generation in so many different ways, of course, I do a lot with State Department of Education especially on the career tech inside of the house. So, participating in workshops, careers in construction events, careers in construction days, you know, going in as a guest speaker, launching programs for girls. Most recently, power up at some of the dollar things has been probably one of the initiatives that I’ve seen more parental involvement than I’ve ever seen, and it involved younger generations.

So, for me, that was the aha moment because I got to kill several birds with one stone by having an event where parents were required to be there. And it was for young females and it was an introduction to the construction industry and to see mothers and daughters get excited, was exciting for me.

So, there has been a very positive experience for me with working with the younger generation because now, I feel like we have found a tool that has been successful in tracking them to come to an event where they can learn about the industry. And it not be a lot of pushback but they came to the industry or they came to the event not really knowing what to expect. But they when they left, they had a whole different perception of the industry and it was just really amazed at what the career options could be for them, that was very,
very rewarding for me.

Paul: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s really great because it addresses one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest issue the construction industry has, which is, you know, getting skilled workers. And it’s always a body count but if those bodies, you know, they don’t know what they’re doing it just leads to nothing but trouble with workmanship issues and things that are not up to specifications. And, you know, problems after construction that gets the lawyers and involved and make people unhappy, and so I think the more that can be done to really improve the quality of the labor force in the building construction industry right from design, engineering to construction, and all the supporting roles is really a big plus for the industry.

Dr. Cannon: Yes, yes. But I mean and, you know, there’s just so many different things that you can do with the younger generation, you know, again the young professional summit, I’ll be involved with that this coming summer, so I’m looking forward to that. I was involved with the young professional summit last year at Clemson University and it was well attended. And so, you know, it was really, really good to see the interest that the younger generation expressed. I mean, I could see that they attended, I mean, they were there because they wanted to be there. You know, they’re hungry for challenge and they’re hungry for knowledge, and they’re hungry for opportunity. So, it’s up to us to do something with that.

And so, I just get excited, you know, to even have the opportunity of being able to work with the younger generation because, like I said, they are very bright and, you know, they just wanna be challenged. So, you know, spending that time with them and getting to know them, and guiding them, and mentoring with them, and telling them about the industry, is exciting to me. So, it’s something that’s kind of fills my soul, so I think that’s what we need and, like I said, there is something that we have to continue to do and stay on top of.

Paul: So, for our listeners be that their parents or younger people that are interested in getting into the profession or somebody that knows somebody, are there any resources you could direct them to that get more information about careers in construction industry?

Dr. Cannon: Yes. So, off the top of our head there are couple websites that you can go to. You can always go to the NCCER’s website, build your future, byf.com, that is a great resource that you can go to. You can learn about the different professions, you can learn about wages, you can learn about where training opportunities are. There is all kinds of information that you can learn about the industry at that website. There is also websites like the Go Build Alabama website on that website. They provide information about training providers. It updates on what’s going on in the industry.

These websites do a really good job with promoting the industry and also highlighting the younger generation and in showing others how people who look like them are also doing well in the industry and who are also in the industry. So, those are two websites that I would definitely recommend that listeners could go and check out BYF and Go Build Alabama.

Paul: Great. So, Mittie this has really been interesting topic and very, very relevant. I know it resonates with me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one and, I mean, I know it resonates with a lot of people, business showing as good as your team. And, you know, team is everybody, not just individual people, and the more that we can do to bring talent to young people into the industry and develop them as construction professionals, it’s great for everyone. So, thank you very much again for coming on today.

Dr. Cannon: Okay. Thank you for having me today.

Paul: So, I’d like to remind everyone that we have a newsletter, “Everything Building Envelope” newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to that, all you need to do is text the word “BuildingEnvelope,” all one word to 22828. Again, for the Building Envelope newsletter, text the word “BuildingEnvelope” to 22828. And thank you everyone for listening and it was really a very interesting topic. As I said, until next time, this is Paul Beers, saying so long.