Meet Five Future Building Pros
Although studies show that young Americans are hesitant to consider careers in construction, some are bucking the trend and setting their sights on a job in home building. Here are five of them.
Graciela Arias, 18
Katella High School
During woodshop classes at Katella High School in Anaheim Calif., 18-year-old Graciela Arias developed a fascination with building. Through field trips sponsored by the California Homebuilding Foundation’s Building Industry Technology Academy she learned what it’s like to work in construction. She also attended a weeklong summer camp run by the National Association of Women in Construction that introduces young women to the building industry.
Coming from a family of plumbers and one electrician (her mother), Arias has witnessed firsthand the challenges and opportunities of a job in the trades and plans to make it her career as well.
“There are good reasons why I think a construction job is a good idea,” she says. “There’s a huge demand for workers in that industry, so you’re bound to find a job.”
She also appreciates the variety that home building offers. “If someone doesn’t like what they’re doing it’s OK because there are plenty of other types of positions to be filled from office jobs to safety and supervising and operating heavy machinery, welding, and trenching,” she says. “It’s nice to know that you can still work in the overall same industry, but with a different medium and role.”
Josh Leach, 28
Wentworth Institute of Technology
After a back injury in Afghanistan ended his military career in 2015, 28-year-old Josh Leach looked to home building as a way to make a good living. The native of Blue Hill, Maine, had spent six years after high school building houses and decided to take a second look at construction. Because his injury limits how much physical work he can do, his goal is to become a superintendent. After earning an associate’s degree from the Ben Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston he is now pursuing a bachelor’s in construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology, funded by the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
He’s learning about the “nitty gritty” of running a jobsite, he explains, including planning, design, financing, and how to hire trades. Leach has experienced the cyclical
nature of Maine’s construction market, which practically shuts down in the winter, and he’s not especially concerned about another housing downturn.
“I know the industry has tough times. The market can go up or down, but people are always going to need shelter,” he says. He’s happy to see full-time employees at his internship making good money, but Leach’s passion comes from the feeling of accomplishment he gets from building.
“You get a sense of pride out of building something that people are going to live in and grow in,” he says.
Andrew Brannan, 23
Ivy Tech Community College
Andrew Brannan was only 14 when the Great Recession hit Indianapolis’ housing market, but he will never forget its impact. His father, a local custom home builder, had to take a night job at WalMart and look for decking restoration jobs to help make ends meet. That difficult experience hasn’t deterred the now 23-year-old, who is studying to be a builder, too.
Despite the industry’s propensity for booms and busts, he feels the housing market is more solid these days.
“I read an article that said that by 2020 or 2030, the U.S. is going to need to have 5 million more apartment complexes in order to house people,” he says. “It kind of blew my mind, that there is always going to be business to keep builders busy.”
Although he took a few classes at Indiana State University after high school, Brannan liked the idea of going to a less expensive community college, which won’t saddle him with debt. He also enjoys the freedom it gives him to work with his hands instead of sitting behind a desk or at a computer.
“I see myself being a hands-on person so I feel as if that’ll be a huge benefit with a construction career,” he says. He’s already hard at work, framing for the family business and working for local contractors for a total of 60 hours a week until he graduates from Ivy Tech Community College this fall. He plans eventually to put his skills to work as a residential construction manager and is confident that no matter what happens with the economy, he’ll be prepared.
“I’ve always thought of construction as a huge part of America’s livelihood,” he says. “I see it as me putting my own mark on where I live.”
Shanetra Brown-Armstrong, 41
Construction Trade School
Forty-one-year-old Shanetra Brown-Armstrong was reared in a family of builders: her grandfather, father, and brothers have all worked in the construction industry. As a young girl, the Cedar Hill, Texas, resident was interested in building houses, too, but her family discouraged her.
“In the ’70s when I was growing up, my parents didn’t think it was a good career choice for me as a female,” she says.
Instead, she went on to get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and took a full-time job as a fire prevention officer with the Dallas Fire Rescue Department, where she has worked for the past 12 years.
After a breast cancer scare, she decided to pursue her home building dream and soon afterward enrolled at the Construction Trade School in Dallas. There, she learned to lay tile, install insulation, and manage a jobsite. She founded a design/build firm after graduating in April and is meeting with potential customers now on a part-time basis while continuing to work for the fire department.
Brown-Armstrong says working in a male-dominated field is not a disadvantage.
“Since trade school I’m a little bit more confident in what I’m doing, and when I tell people I own my own home building firm, they always respond with shock and then excitement for me,” she says.
Colton Revels, 18
Okeechobee High School
Colton Revels is not headed for college but that doesn’t mean he has no career aspirations. The 18-year-old recent high school grad plans to be an electrician.
“Sitting in a desk is not my forte,” he says. “I’m a good student but I like working with my hands a lot more, and I feel I’ll live a happy life doing something I like.”
During shop classes in high school and with his school’s Future Builders of America chapter, he learned about the various jobs available in construction such as framing, concrete work, masonry, and plumbing. He likes the fact that a building job can bring benefits such as health care or a company truck.
He also looks forward to a career that will reward him for hard work. “Moving up isn’t easy and it sure isn’t fast, but if you put you hard work and dedication into something you’re passionate about you’ll get where you want to be one day,” he says.
He recently accepted a position with Knight Corp., an electrical company in West Palm Beach, Fla. He plans on working toward a journeyman’s license, then a master’s license, and eventually launch his own company.
With the current robust economic climate, Revels is confident that his choice of occupation will serve him well, most importantly “because that sense of pride you get from the work is always a real good feeling,” he says.