Editor’s Comments: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Nov. 10, 2017

The local hardware store started putting up holiday displays two weeks before Halloween. I’m guessing the philosophy is to get shoppers to start thinking about making their purchases earlier and earlier. I used to be annoyed by the strategy. But now I’m thinking it may not be such a bad idea.

I’ve been talking about the skills gap all year long and the difficulties that companies are experiencing in finding qualified workers. Here’s an excerpt from a recent press release by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC):

“Construction employment increased by 8,000 jobs in September to the highest level since October 2008, amid a tight labor market that may be keeping contractors from hiring as many workers as they need, according to an analysis of new government data by the AGC. Association officials said construction employment gains would have been higher if more high school students were exposed to construction as a possible career option.”

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I totally agree. There needs to be much more rigorous and thoughtful recruitment of high schoolers. But here’s my plan (at least for the gift-giving season): start getting them interested when they’re just starting school. I’m talking about exposure to construction as early as first and second grades. Forget about Hot Wheels, Barbies, video games, stuffed animals, bicycles, and footballs as presents this year for your six, seven, and eight-year-olds. This year, get them Tonka trucks. Surprise them with a train set or an erector set. In my day, it was Lincoln Logs, Legos, and plastic models. Give them something they can create with their hands and exercise their imaginations. It just might plant the seeds of a passion and desire to build and construct.

There is a race that’s happening right now. It’s a race between increasing the number of skilled workers and the development of robots. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers recently wrote on its website: “The rise of technologies like artificial intelligence and mobile digital fabrication stands to strengthen the development of the next generation of robotic helpers in the field. Whether the ‘bots’ will simply augment, fundamentally change, or altogether replace current jobs is yet to be determined. Previous generations of robotic tech did mix all three, depending on their relationship to construction operations.”

The evolution of technology in heavy equipment began, in large part, to make it easier for new workers to operate the iron. Innovations continue to be implemented for the same reason. I’m afraid there may be a day when autonomous machines will do all the jobs because nobody else wanted to do them.

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So what do you think your kid would like? You can’t go wrong with a Tonka truck. If you get them Legos, make sure they’re the simple bricks. I’d stay away from the “theme” Legos like Batman or My Little Pony. Did you know erector sets can come with little motors now?

Take my advice. You don’t want to see your future grandchildren on Christmas morning where the only thing they can do with a Tonka truck is unwrap it because afterward it just drives off and plays on its own.
About the Author

Arturo Santiago

Arturo Santiago is the Managing Editor of Grading and Excavation Contractor and MSW Management magazines.