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In July of 2016, Taylor chaired a Public Policy Forum on Workforce Development at the Republican National Convention. One important result of the forum was the formation of a coalition of major heavy highway contractors, government, education, trade associations and other interested parties. The coalition determined that the critical first step in attracting more and better-qualified candidates into our industry is changing the perception of the construction industry held by job seekers (students, career-changers, etc.) and “job influencers” (parents, teachers, counselors, etc.).

The coalition affiliated itself with a movement called I Build America (IBA), and they created a website called IBuildAmerica– On a federal level, IBA is dedicated to showing the importance 
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of construction to modern life, so that people in construction can take pride in the value they bring, the general public recognizes that value, and young people learn what a purposeful and rewarding career construction can be.

I Build America–Ohio is now the common brand and website for workforce development in Ohio’s construction industry. The coalition plans to focus our industry’s workforce development efforts and present a consistent message to their target audiences – the message that jobs in construction and the skilled trades offer above-average pay, good benefits, and career paths with unlimited opportunity.

“We need to encourage student training and education in construction, and we need to publicize the career opportunities which are available in the construction industry,” said Taylor. “The first step in attracting young people into the industry is changing their perceptions.” One way the coalition is attempting to change those perceptions is through a recent “Meet the Machines” event.

Ohio CAT “Meet the Machines” Event
Ohio CAT and the Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) in Cleveland collaborated and explored partnership possibilities for 2019, and I Build America was at the center of that discussion. The three organizations designed a weekend full of activities focused on construction career opportunities.

Scott Vollmer, vice president of STEM learning at the GLSC, commented on the three-way collaboration:
“We brainstormed with our workforce development partner, Ohio CAT, for ways in which our core audience could learn about local jobs and the overall construction industry through I Build America in a fun and interactive way.” The GLSC initially worked on some of the content for the event, and then Ohio CAT “really ran with it,” said Vollmer. Machines on display included a backhoe loader, an excavator, a compact track loader, a wheel loader, trucks and the new CAT utility vehicle. “To see all of the workforce opportunities that are out there and to be exposed to the folks who actually hold some of these jobs helped make the event very successful,” commented Vollmer.

Guests at Meet the Machines interacted with Ohio CAT staffers familiar with the machinery, who were on hand to answer questions about what they do and how they got into their occupation. Ohio CAT also invited some of their customers, like Independence Excavating, to engage the guests and answer questions. Ohio CAT pulled out all the stops when it came to their talent showcase, offering representation from several different kinds of construction occupations – those that require a college degree or a vocational certificate and those that don’t require any post-high school education. According to Vollmer, this diversified occupational roster achieved “maximum impact.”

Ohio CAT also brought in two construction vehicle driving simulators to give attendees firsthand operating experience. The simulator was staffed by Ohio CAT’s head of training, who helped the participants learn how to drive a virtual bulldozer. “The dedication and enthusiasm of Ohio CAT’s staff was palpable and crucial to the event’s success. It made it much more than a typical climb-on-the-machine photo-op type event,” said Vollmer. “Their phenomenal employees volunteered their time, and that level of commitment is rare, but it helps lift the entire industry.”

Another component of the event was two live science shows put on by the GLSC. “Force and Motion” presented a scientific conceptualization of the forces of physics and how they affect an object’s motion. The second show, “Break it!”, showcased spectacular feats of science accomplished through experimentation with physical and chemical changes.

Few organizations could have done a better job with these shows than the Great Lakes Science Center, which has fun down to a science. The GLSC, home of the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, makes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) come alive for more than 300,000 visitors a year through hundreds of hands-on exhibits, temporary exhibitions, the Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater, Steamship William G. Mather, daily science demonstrations, seasonal camps and more. 

Positive Reception and Strong Attendance

The GLSC reported higher-than-normal attendance on both Friday and Saturday while Meet the Machines was being held. There was excitement on the part of both parents and children. Representatives were on hand to talk to families about IBA–Ohio and future events proposed by the Ohio CAT and GLSC partnership.

When asked how GLSC measures success for events like this, Vollmer said, “Success comes in different forms. One of the things we look at, certainly, is attendance, which was strong, but also ‘dwell time,’ or, in other words, how long families stay at each of the activity stations or exhibits that pertain to the event, which was also very good.” The number of families that came back for the second day also validated the group’s efforts, as these families likely found tremendous value in what was being done there.

Meet the Machines was successful also in that it achieved several pillars of Ohio CAT’s and GLSC’s core mission: It created a unique learning environment, contained a workforce development component, and provided activities to reach multiple age groups. The core age group meant to be inspired was the 2-12 audience. The GLSC reported that “comments on social media were positive, we received several complimentary phone calls, and our conversations on the floor with guests during the event all indicated that it was a success. We’re already planning the next one with Ohio CAT, and that’s a sure sign of success as well!”

GLSC expressed interest in working with other northeast Ohio companies to host similar events, since the turnout for Meet the Machines was so strong and the impact so palpable. “Exposing young adults to applied sciences and technologies,” said Vollmer, “specifically in relevant contexts like Meet the Machines, leads to increased confidence in school and inspires choices that will positively affect the workforce of the future.”

The immediate need for heavy equipment technicians today can make it difficult for dealerships to invest in the workforce of tomorrow. But such a short-term approach to recruiting will not help to solve the hiring shortage we now face.

Making matters worse, the next generation of students is getting less exposure to career opportunities in construction. With fewer family members involved and diminished vocational options in high school, student interest in these jobs has declined.

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