Laying Foundations: Simpson Strong-Tie Mentoring Future Construction Leaders of America

Good news for anyone involved in construction: The industry added 23,000 specialty trade contractor jobs in November 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bad news? Construction employers will likely struggle to fill new positions, as a labor shortage triggered by the 2007–2009 Great Recession continues to dampen more robust growth for the builder economy.

In fact, the number of builders reporting a critical shortage of labor has grown from 21% in 2012 to 46% in 2014, 52% in 2015 and 56% in 2016, says Paul Emrath, who tracks industry economic statistics as the vice president for survey and housing policy research for the National Association of Home Builders.

“Labor is the number one issue our customers are dealing with,” agrees Simpson Strong-Tie territory manager Chad Scuncio. “And it spans beyond the framing and concrete guys to drywall, electrical, and more. All the trades are faced with a labor shortage, and it’s still the biggest business challenge to overcome.”

To help alleviate the crisis, Simpson Strong-Tie has allied with the ACE Mentor Program of America. Founded in 2002, ACE (architecture, construction, and engineering) mentors more than 8,000 high school students a year, inspiring them to pursue careers in design and construction. Since founding, ACE has also provided more than $14 million in scholarships, and the program enjoys the support of huge general contractors like Gilbane Inc., Skanska USA, and Turner Construction.

Along with Simpson Strong-Tie outreach coordinator Alan Hanson, Scuncio helped start the first ACE program in southern Nevada two years ago. At the time, it was the largest construction market in the country without an ACE presence. Hanson and Scuncio helped compose the founding chapter board along with an architect, an engineer, a lawyer and an accountant, then began holding mixer events and were partnered up with a local high school. After serving 12 students in the first year, the chapter skyrocketed in popularity, with membership more than quadrupling to 60 students.

“We were shocked at the interest and had to hustle to create enough content and have enough mentors,” Scuncio says. “We’re moving from the high school to a bigger venue at the College of Southern Nevada now, which should make it easy for students from other high schools to join the program as well.”

ACE students help to set the program’s curriculum, which can vary from chapter to chapter but is always geared toward learning more — and getting more psyched — about the construction industry. In Nevada, students toured the T-Mobile arena with the project superintendent while it was under construction, and also visited a huge PENTA Building jobsite where they did mock interviews with project engineers. In Phoenix, where Scuncio has joined the local ACE chapter board as well, students were given a plot of land and had to go through the entire development and design-build process, culminating in an end-of-year presentation.

“It’s no joke the skills these kids are learning in terms of architecture, drafting and software,” says Simpson Strong-Tie truss specialist Jason Padilla, who became an ACE mentor last year in Corona, CA. “We took them to a Simpson Strong-Tie facility for a behind-the-scenes look at what we do in helping customers. They get exposure to everyone from architects to builders to subs and estimators. The students are always willing to learn more and are really engaged and interested in what their mentors do for a living.”

Enthusiasm for the ACE program bodes well for creating a pipeline of construction industry careerists for the future. “We have companies asking if [the participants] can start tomorrow and plenty of students getting internships with the experts,” Scuncio says. “The students are pretty excited about getting into construction already, and we just want to open their eyes to all the other opportunities in the industry they might not hear about in their classes.”

As it stands, this November made 23,000 more of those opportunities available. With continued investment in recruiting and coaching the construction leaders of tomorrow through programs like ACE, the outreach specialists at Simpson Strong-Tie hope to quickly make today’s labor pinch a thing of the past.