Industry Insights: Talking Construction

By Claire Aiello & Jill Jensen

Here at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, we work to ensure that businesses are successful. We do this in many ways — some address immediate business needs, like lobbying on behalf of our businesses’ interests, and some of them are much longer term. One of those longer-term focuses is ensuring that our businesses have adequate supply of workforce.  In order to do this, we have developed an Industry Insights program to share knowledge about career opportunities in North Alabama with educators and nonprofit representatives. We work with different partners to give participants a close look at jobs available in different fields. This way, they can take their experience and share it with young people considering their futures.

On August 20, our topic was construction. Participants had the opportunity to go on a tour of a construction site and hear from a variety of construction industry professionals.

Teachers from North Alabama schools visit the construction site for the Aerojet Rocketdyne Advanced Manufacturing Facility in North Huntsville Industrial Park. (Photo: Claire Aiello/August 20, 2018)

Touring Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Advanced Manufacturing Facility

Participants had the exciting opportunity to go on the job with Turner Construction at the new Aerojet Rocketdyne Advanced Manufacturing Facility being built in North Huntsville Industrial Park.

Lee Holland, Turner’s Huntsville Business Manager, spoke with teachers, career coaches and others about how the project has unfolded and how subcontractors were carefully selected, based on past performances, resources, and ability to meet the schedule.  These include plumbers, electricians, iron workers, mechanical contractors, concrete companies, as well as others who specialize in fire protection, storm drainage and sanitation.

“This process is very schedule-driven,” said Holland. “We had a very rainy spring and workers are now on site six days a week to keep on schedule.”

There has been no lost time, though – meaning no injuries. Denny Lulfs, Superintendent, and Justin Lanfair, Project Manager, pressed the importance of safety training with each person on site – and constant communication with different groups of workers to get their input on what’s going well, and what needs improvement.

“Every injury is preventable. The goal is not just to finish on time, but to finish injury free,” said Holland. “It’s creating a culture of awareness – it all ties together. A clean job site is a safe job site.”

After the talk, the group toured inside the building under construction, inside the massive concrete walls now in place. Lulfs showed how plans are being made for utility lines, a reinforced storm room in the center, a testing structure outside and more.

Discussions with Construction Industry Professionals

Later that day at the Chamber, participants heard from others involved in construction, including Wendy Lee of LeeHouse Homebuilding, Larry Durham of Durham Heating & Air, Rocky Rose of Turner Construction and Kristine Harding of KPS Group.

The afternoon discussions had three main goals:

  1. Sharing with participants an idea of the wide range of opportunities and compensation for careers in construction
  2. Emphasizing skills young people should be practicing now to be successful in their careers
  3. Encouraging participants to change the “stigma” around craft training and forgoing or postponing a 4-year degree

One of the most spirited discussions was focused on the importance of soft skills. Our panelists were all in agreement – careers in construction provide great opportunities for young people, but you have to dress appropriately for your job interview, look your boss in the eye and show up on time. They encouraged the group to talk with students about developing soft skills. Without soft skills, the young people will struggle to find success in any career, not just in construction.

Future Sessions

Who attends Industry Insights programs? We invite educators in our three public school systems, career coaches from across North Alabama, and non-profit representatives who do workforce development. If you know anyone in these categories who would be interested in a future outing, please email Georgina Chapman: gchapman@hsvchamber.org

This article was published in the October 2018 issue of Initiatives magazine.