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How the Construction Industry is Fostering Tomorrow's Workforce in Fergus Falls

For the baby boomer generation, retirement looms closer every day. Some have already begun the descent into retirement, while others are in the end stages of their working years. Their retirement is undoubtedly hard-earned, but it’s another reminder that a new generation of workers has begun entering the workforce.

Composed primarily of gen Z, these future employees are widely recognized as tech-savvy digital natives. Growing up in the age of the internet has given them a unique set of skills, interests, and viewpoints. While they will undoubtedly do great things, it’s up to employers and the current workforce to help sharpen the skills and work ethic of tomorrow’s workforce.

This three-part series has highlighted how Fergus Falls businesses have answered the call to prepare the next generation to enter the workforce. In part one, we shared details about LB Homes’ Nursing Assistant Training Program. Part two covered the manufacturing industry and how Aura Fabricators provides workforce training for those interested in skilled labor such as welding. Now, we’re sharing the final installment of this three-part series. Scroll below to find out how the construction industry in Fergus Falls is doing its part to foster tomorrow’s workforce.

Minnesota’s Construction Industry Has Been a Powerhouse of Job Growth

Since 2011, the construction industry has been “an engine of job growth in Minnesota.” In 2019, DEED reported the industry “outpaced the U.S. in year-over-year growth.” In the first quarter of 2020, the industry employed 117,772 workers statewide and just over 9,000 in northwest Minnesota. DEED expected employment numbers to continue to increase steadily, projecting the state’s construction labor force to grow 8.9% by 2026.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened. Despite setbacks due to COVID-19, construction has continued to boom all across the country — particularly for residential construction. This isn’t entirely surprising. Historically low interest rates and more time spent at home than ever before have made home construction and remodeling incredibly appealing.

Although residential construction has remained steady, recent findings show that Minnesota’s construction labor force has suffered as a whole in the latter half of 2020.

This downturn is due to a variety of issues, including:

  • Declines in commercial and infrastructure construction

  • Disruptions in supply chains

  • Adherence to social distancing regulations

While the repercussions of COVID-19 on the construction industry remain to be seen, employers must continue to adapt to labor shortages and workforce changes. For many construction companies, that means getting creative in how they attract and train the next generation of workers.

Fergus Drywall Recognizes the Value of Hands-On Training

With roots in the community since 1978, Fergus Drywall is committed to helping Fergus Falls thrive — and that includes ushering in a new generation of workers. President of Fergus Drywall, Jason Vaughn, says the company recognizes how “teaching younger people valuable skills at an early age” can set them up for success later in life. Entering the workforce while young, especially in trade positions, also gives them a chance to explore their options.

“It gives [younger employees] an opportunity to see if they want to be a hands-on worker. If so, they get a jump start on learning a trade, and if not, they can take more interest in different subjects at school to find out what they like,” Vaughn explains. “Not everybody wants to sit behind a desk. Working in the trades could help a student decide whether that’s the right path, and if not, it is great experience to put on a resume.”

Empowering Young Employees to Hone Their Skills and Work Ethic

Company policy dictates that applicants must be 18 when they start, but Fergus Drywall doesn’t require prior experience. The company’s willingness to train employees is a big draw for those in college or finishing high school.

To help new employees develop well-rounded skills, they learn the ins and outs of a variety of Fergus Drywall’s services. Students welcome the chance to learn new skills while working with the company and enjoy that they never seem boxed into one particular task. “I started as a general laborer and have now transitioned into learning taping and finishing,” one student remarks.

Employees receive on-the-job training for things like metal stud framing, drywall patching, plastering, and painting. Vaughn keeps them engaged by providing additional training in the work that captures their interest the most, which his employees like. “It’s nice to have a say in what you’re doing and it’s very rewarding learning something new.”

Overall, young people who work in trades like construction generally find the experience fulfilling. Not only do they learn important new skills, but they start to appreciate the value of the work they do. “Working in construction helped me learn how to work hard and observe the importance of a deadline. You can’t procrastinate when there is a completion date for a project [and the work you do] has more value when you put in the effort to earn it.”

Employees in the construction industry also have the satisfaction of helping to build something tangible. Vaughn notes, “It’s a very rewarding trade. You get to see the immediate results of your hard work. It’s nice to bring your family [somewhere] that you’ve helped build.”

The full extent of the pandemic on our economy and its future workforce may remain unknown for quite some time. However, Greater Fergus Falls is grateful to be part of a community committed to fostering tomorrow’s workforce. To check out the other two articles in this series, click the links below.

Special thanks to Jason Vaughn and the Fergus Drywall team for sharing their story with our team!

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