Clancy & Theys’ Sara Downing, Workforce Development Champion
Each year, ABC Carolinas recognizes a member who has gone beyond the call of duty to support the chapter’s workforce development efforts – someone who brings ideas to the table, connects with others through workforce development programs, and engages with the community. For 2022, Sara Downing, CPSM, Director of Business Development for Clancy & Theys Construction, was singled out as ABCC’s Workforce Development Champion.
ABC Carolinas’ leadership elaborated on Downing’s recognition, noting “Over the past two years, Sara has been instrumental in the success of our “Build-It” Explorer’s Club program in the Charlotte market, a partnership with the local Boy Scouts Council. Sara took the took the lead in recruiting participating companies and managing the monthly schedule. In fact, the program was so successful that we took it to Raleigh and Charleston.”
The Explorers Club program teaches important life and career skills to young people (middle schoolers) from all backgrounds through immersive career experience and mentorship provided by community and business leaders. The goal is to equip young people with character, leadership and life skills that can be used both today, and in their future careers.
GroundBreak Carolinas chatted with Downing about the Explorers program, and additional ways ABC Carolinas members and others are promoting long-term career paths for the next generation – as well as adults who may be looking for new opportunities.
Can you elaborate on your involvement with the Explorers Club?
I have been involved with ABC Carolinas for many years. They were looking for someone to help launch and lead the Explorers program. They asked and I simply said, “Yes.” Sara Breeggemann, Director of Workforce Development at ABC Carolinas, and I worked together to develop the program. We met once a month and introduced the students to the design and construction process starting with architecture and engineering, moving to safety and construction, and then into the trades. During each session we had trade partners share career paths, education, and training needs. Then they would lead the students in a hands-on activity to get them familiar with tools of the trade. At one Explorers meeting, Doggett Concrete explained the process of making concrete and the importance of testing concrete. The students then headed outside and were able to mix concrete, experiment with different consistencies, and ultimately made beautiful stepping stones to take home and put in their gardens.
From a general contractor’s perspective, what trades currently have the most urgent need for apprentices and the next generation of craft personnel throughout the Carolinas?
All of them. Electrical and plumbing are two that continue to be discussed, but we are losing the skilled craft personnel quickly. The older generation is retiring, and newer generations aren’t filling the spots. With retirements, we are losing those who can train the skills and nuances necessary in a particular trade. So much of what is done in construction is truly a craft, not just a job; it takes talent and experience to master.
Other than the effective electrical apprenticeship programs in place, what other trades have similar apprenticeship programs established in the Carolinas?
Electrical, plumbing and carpentry are the main ones that organizations are focusing on. ABC Carolinas has a long-standing electrical apprenticeship and will be launching their carpentry apprenticeship in 2023. She Built This City, a non-profit in Charlotte, is training women in electrical, plumbing and carpentry. They have a one-year apprenticeship program and then pair their graduates with local trade partners. Many of the ladies participating in the program are changing careers. The ROC in Charlotte has partnered with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) and Goodwill Industries to bring in cohorts of high school students and train them in electrical, plumbing, HVAC and carpentry. Once the students graduate, many are going straight to work in the trades.
From your perspective, what constraints exist today that prevent many local specialty contractors – in trades other than electrical – from having or participating in accredited apprenticeship training programs with their employees?
I think it is availability of the programs and the time to have employees participate in training. Contractors are already short staffed, so encouraging someone to be absent from the jobsite for training is difficult.
Should general contractors make specialty contractors have an accredited craft training program in place as a qualification for bidding their work?
In a perfect world this would be great, but I don’t think that this will ever be a requirement. A craft training program is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. I do think it is important for GCs to support and encourage specialty contractors to use the resources available in their area. ABC Carolinas does a great job with their apprentice programs. We (Clancy & Theys) actually have a carpenter who will be participating in the new carpenter apprentice program in 2023. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we [GCs] just need to support the trade training organizations that are doing the work.