by Robert Carpenter, Editor-in-Chief
I’m a Carpenter (pun intended), but my construction skills are somewhat limited. I’ve always admired those who could envision a project, pick up a hammer and a saw, and then build something of quality and endurance. My brother-in-law is like that. My dad always teased my sister that she had to marry a carpenter to finally get one in the family.
While my Dad was a Carpenter in name only too, he did work in all kinds of construction projects for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. He never had the chance to complete school. Like many Depression Era children growing up in Dust Bowl Oklahoma, he was forced to quit school and find work to help support his family. His mother was a widow, and he still had a younger sister at home. My mother was able to finish high school, but she, too, needed to work, her mother had passed away. When she was 15, her mother passed away, so she ran the household with her father.
When mom and dad got married in 1940, life began to look up. Though they didn’t have two nickels to rub together, they both were able to find good jobs with a future – something that rarely existed during the Depression. They loved kids and desperately wanted children. But then Word War II came along and Dad got drafted early. While Dad was tromping around North Africa and Europe, Mother left Oklahoma to work at the Seattle-Tacoma Shipyard. She eventually became foreman of a welding crew. When Dad was finally mustered out of the Army, they had been married almost five years but only spent 18 months together.
Returning home, life started over for these two members of the Greatest Generation. Dad eventually started a local business and Mom was an essential part of that. Finally, after 11 years, my oldest sister was born, followed by another sister and, at last, they had their boy – me.
Even though Dad proved to be an excellent businessman, he always believed that his lack of education held him back. Mother loved learning. Her big regret was that she was unable to attend college. They both saw tremendous opportunities for their children and absolutely believed it was essential that we obtain a college education.
There weren’t alone. Most Baby Boomers had parents who also believed that the American Dream now included a college degree. They all wanted better lives for their children. They didn’t mind working hard and making sacrifices if that’s what it took to get their kids through school. Hopefully, their children would complete some kind of post-secondary education so they didn’t have to toil in jobs of a physical nature. For Baby Boomers and subsequently Generation X, college was synonymous with success. Naturally, we passed that philosophy along to our children. The result was the creation of the Millennial Generation.
Now, we have a workforce story that seemingly never ends. The economy is booming, but an adequate workforce to meet our country’s needs is lagging so severely behind demand that projects across a broad spectrum are in danger of being delayed, scaled back or even scrapped. Workforce availability is largely restricted by an over-arching attitude that hard work with your hands, quite often in an outdoor environment, is a poor career choice. Never mind that it’s honorable work – often done by our parents or grandparents – and that the pay and benefits can be equal to or greater than an office job.
The good news is that Generation Z is now beginning to filter into the workforce. For a variety of reasons, Gen Z’ers seem to reflect work values and attitudes more typical of our parents and grandparents. Many people laugh, even fear, becoming like their parents. For me, being compared to my parents is a compliment. Anyone who has even a remote similarity to a working career of determination and tenacity similar to what our parents and grandparents had will no doubt infuse a great boost into the workforce.
Finding an adequate workforce has become a Holy Grail type of search for not just contractors, but public works, manufacturers and all sorts of related industries. Indeed, workforce issues may very well define the success or failure of our markets over the next few years.