In October of 2019, the ambitious Build Your Future Arizona program started with a big kickoff event at Talking Stick Arena in Downtown Phoenix.
The program was unique in that it had the backing (both financially and in manpower) of several major contractors in the Valley, as well as the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation and it had a strong marketing team behind the initiative. All the pieces were in place and Phase 1 of BYFAZ rolled out in 2020 and was ready to make some inroads in solving a growing workforce shortage issue in the skilled trades. Arizona was projected to be about 155,000 workers short by 2022 in vital construction disciplines like framers, plumbers and pipe fitters, electricians, carpenters, concrete finishers and iron, steel and sheet metal workers.
“Our first goal with BYF, the first leg of it, was having a place where people can go and get all of this information,” said JD Martin, vice president, partner and business solutions manager for Corbins Electric, one of the original investor companies in BYFAZ. “That the big launch that we did for the website, we now had a single point of reference that we can send people to in order to get all of this information.”
The new informational website, along with promotional materials, allowed interested parties to see the different trades in the industry, and learn a little about what a career in the trades actually looks like and what they pay.
The BYFAZ mission is to create a sustainable and skilled craft workforce by creating awareness about high paying construction careers, training opportunities and mapping career paths to employment in these high demand occupations.
The campaign has three major goals: 1. Connecting Dots — Increase awareness of craft professional occupations; 2. Perception — Improve education and training outcomes through business partnerships; and 3. Motivate — Increase the number and tenure of craft professionals.
At the first quarterly report on BYFAZ in February of 2020, the program had solid news to report. In the first three months of the three-year campaign, BYF Arizona tallied more than 8 million media impressions and had already engaged more than 6,000 students and influencers via career days. It also had expanded its partnerships with leading industry associations from 3 to 11, and welcomed several new investors. Notably, Lennar Homes announced, at the February event, that they were upgrading their current investment to the Champion Level, and that division president Alan Jones will be joining the steering committee.
“The first year started off with a bang and then COVID came and that slowed us down quite a bit,” added Dan Puente, founder and CEO of DP Electric, another original investor in the program and a member of the BYFAZ steering committee. “But I do think that the public is open to it. We’re getting a lot of interest. The demand is there, the interest is there and it’s really what we’re trying to figure out now is how to put the pieces together.”
For the construction industry in Arizona, COVID-19 put many projects on hold for a short time. However, by the time summer hit Arizona, building was back to its rapid pace. For BYFAZ, the pandemic provided some more selling points for a career in the skilled trades.
“Construction is considered critical, so there is some job security in this,” Martin said.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared construction an essential industry, so while other businesses faced restrictions, the construction industry did not. The industries hit the hardest were hospitality, food services and retail; industries that normally employ a younger demographic, the same demographic that BYFAZ is looking to reach.
“Our market is still busy and I see it continuing to be busy in 2021. Demand is high,” Puente said. “How do we get these people — whether they are from the hospitality or retail industries, trying to change their careers, or a 17 or 18 year old coming out of high school — how do we bridge the gap from no experience to being ready to work?”
That’s one of the questions BYFAZ will try to answer as it continues to evolve and improve. Recently, BYFAZ rolled out another phase in its development, a career center page. On this page, (careers.byfaz.org) employers can post jobs, job seekers can look for open positions and visitors to the site can see upcoming events put on by BYFAZ and job training opportunities that are available.
Puente stressed that training is key in being able to get those that show interest their first job in the trades.
“When you don’t have any experience, it’s hard to place somebody without some sort of experience unless it’s a laborer position with a GC,” Puente said. “I know that we’re creating kind of a pre-apprenticeship program that gives a person some basic knowledge of safety and general skills that will help them
“If we’re having a hard time placing people today because companies aren’t taking people who aren’t trained, then we have to solve that problem before we get more aggressive on the recruitment side.”
Martin said that the next phase for BYFAZ is getting more involved with middle and high schools. BYFAZ will work with these schools to provide information about careers in the skilled trades and help develop curriculum that can introduce students to concepts they can put to use in their careers. Martin said that this next phase will be the most difficult because the industry will be competing for the students’ attention against post-secondary institutions and community colleges, as well as long-held misconceptions about what a career in the trades is like.
“We want to be able to get in front of them and explain how technology has become such a critical part of construction,” Martin said. “These kids are borrowing their world view from their parents.”
Martin noted that a large number of current tradespeople in the industry got interested in that career path by someone they know. For Martin, it was his step-father, who was an estimator for an electrical contractor.
“We’re trying to attract people who have no one in their lives who were in construction, so it’s something that hasn’t been talked about,” added Martin. “We have to come at it from a different angle. More and more schools are trying to get CTE programs and schools are looking at CTE as a way to get kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields as a path to college. But there’s a whole lot of that in construction that non-college bounds kids can take advantage of.”
Educating the teachers and students about careers in the trades is just one part of the equation that BYFAZ must solve. The other part is changing the minds of the parents.
“A lot of these parents have succumbed to the marketing that the education community has done for the last 20 years,” said Mike Brewer, founder and CEO of The Brewer Companies and a member of the BYFAZ steering committee. “In our conversations with teachers and counselors, they are looking forward to the days when they can have the conversation with students about alternative opportunities to college. Parents are the biggest challenge.
“That’s how important it is that BYF, if we can publicize it enough, gets the message out that going through a skilled trades training program is an education, but it’s more about what you get educated on. Like an accountant would get a more formalized education, a framer or a plumber would get an education in their craft. It’s just a different environment, but it is still an education that leads to a reliable career.”
For the early investors like Brewer, Martin and Puente, the key to success for BYFAZ is patience. The program is still in its development phase and has yet to get to its full potential.
“Nothing happens quickly. I think most people understand that and the investors in BYFAZ understand that,” Puente said. “We have been talking about this problem for as long as I can remember and then more recently, before BYF, people were starting to do stuff on their own, but that was more segmented. Today, our message is more visible, so I think if you fast forward another 3 years from now, that message will be stronger and we’ll be entrenched in some of the schools and the community colleges.
“It’ll take a while to get back to where it once was where you learned a trade in high school and you had technical education in high school. I do think that’s coming back and it’s going to take time.”