AUSTIN (KXAN) — Creators of a new summer day camp in central Texas hope to convince teenagers to consider a career in construction.
The Ranger ACE camp, named for sponsor Ranger Excavating, will teach campers the ins and outs of the business and require them to work in teams to design and build a pit stall at a local go-kart track, which the teams will use on the final day of the camp during a relay race.
“We want them to be able to apply their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills that they’ve learned in school to some real-world applications,” said Jessica Ziehr, executive director of the Covalent Foundation. Her nonprofit provides funding to other nonprofits around central Texas that help kids, and they’re running the camp along with representatives from various construction outfits.
There’s always a need for qualified workers, construction firms say, and the camp creators are hopeful a week of activities will plant the seed in young minds that manual labor is a viable option.
“These are very lucrative careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree,” Ziehr said.
Along with the final project the incoming 9th and 10th graders will be completing, they’ll take field trips to sites, including CC Aggregates in Georgetown, a quarry that produces “pretty much any limestone product that can be crushed up,” according to the company’s president, Curtis Griffin.
Griffin has the same problem a lot of construction firms are facing. He can’t find enough qualified people who want to work in his industry to hire.
“It’s a constant fight,” he said. That’s despite what he sees as obvious perks. As he drove around the quarry grounds, rock crushers humming at every turn, he pointed out an employee working on one of the machines.
“That young man right there, he didn’t go to college,” Griffin explained. “He’s about 22 years old, 23; he makes really, really good money.”
The average pay for a construction worker in the Austin area, according to the job site Indeed, is $13.38 an hour, on par with the national average. Combine that with long hours, and Griffin says he can offer high school graduates the security that many industries can’t.
“A lot of these kids are not knowing that there’s jobs like this out there,” he said.
Thirty-eight states added construction jobs between April and May this year, the trade group Associated General Contractors of America reported last week, and Texas was second only to California in the total number of jobs created.
The Lone Star State added 40,600 jobs over the month, according to the report, an increase of 5.7 percent. Still, the group said, construction hiring “likely would have been higher if firms could find more qualified workers to hire.”
“Construction jobs are unfilled everywhere,” Mark McKenzie, president of Ranger Excavating, said.
The camp, which runs twice in June for a week at a time, will introduce 13-to-15-year-olds to equipment used on construction sites, though the campers won’t actually operate the machinery for safety reasons.
It’s not a training ground for future workers, McKenzie said, but rather an opportunity for those in the trade to light the spark for the next generation of construction employees. That’s what Griffin hopes to gain from using his quarry as a field trip location.
“We’re always looking for young people eager to learn,” he said.