SMACNA discusses industry issues at 62nd annual convention

PALM DESERT, Calif. - The weather charts say this arid city gets about two weeks of rain per year, and on average, only about a tenth of an inch in October. Oct. 15-19 were not average days.

University of Kentucky Professor William F. Maloney, Ph.D., told SMACNA members Oct. 19 that the construction industry culture must change if leaders want to attract more people to professions such as sheet metal work.

PALM DESERT, Calif. - The weather charts say this arid city gets about two weeks of rain per year, and on average, only about a tenth of an inch in October. Oct. 15-19 were not average days

At times, rain fell hard on members of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association gathered at the Desert Springs resort for the group's 62nd annual convention. On Oct. 17, more than an inch of rain was recorded. The downpours forced the association to move many of their planned outdoor activities to the hotel's ballrooms.

But if the rain affected members, it wasn't evident. Hundreds of contractors attended the event, and most seminars were well attended - in that case, maybe the rain helped, since the golf courses became too wet to play on.

And SMACNA members may not have minded staying indoors with speakers such as former Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw and longtime TV journalist Cokie Roberts to entertain them, along with Creedence Clearwater Revisited, a band that played the hits of the 1960s Southern rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival at the convention's Oct. 19 closing ceremonies.

In between opening-session speaker Bradshaw and CCR's performance, members discussed issues ranging from the HVAC industry's role in the environmental-building movement to the need for more young people to enter the industry.

The JW Marriott Desert Springs, where SMACNA held its Oct. 15-19 convention, is considered one of the nation's top resort hotels

Help wanted

The worker shortage in the sheet metal industry isn't news to most contractors, but they may not know what to do about the problem.

University of Kentucky Professor William F. Maloney, however, has some ideas. At an Oct. 19 session, "The Future Workforce of the HVAC and Sheet Metal Industry," the Ph.D. gave his views on what the industry needs to do to attract replacements for the thousands of workers expected to retire in the next decade.

Within the Sheet Metal Workers union alone, 40 percent of members are elgible for retirement in the next decade, Maloney said. The resulting worker shortage is caused by a luxury that no longer works in America, he said.

"We as a country can no longer afford 30-years-and-out retirement plans," he said, adding that the construction industry will need to add at least 185,000 new workers per year just to keep up with current demand. The figures assume the construction industry will not grow faster, which could happen, he said.

SMACNA's convention hotel, the Desert Springs, is known for the meandering waterways that surround the resort.

Shortage explained

There are several reasons for the shortage, according to the Kentucky professor. One is societal pressure to go to college, which despite record enrollments, only about 50 percent of students graduate from.

"There's a whole bunch of them (students) there who don't want to be," Maloney said.

He mentioned that he used to live in Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan and "the best-educated taxi drivers in the country," since they can't find jobs where they can use their advanced degrees.

Journalist Cokie Roberts, whose 30-year career includes work on television and radio, spoke about the role of women in the founding of America during her Oct. 18 session.

Part of the problem, he added, is academic advisers are not aware of what trade schools offer. The message, according to Maloney, shouldn't be that college is necessary for all students. However, they should stress that higher education of some type - including trade schools - is required to secure a well-paying job.

"We've got to change the way we go after our new work force," he said. Maloney suggested contacting the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, libraries and groups like Habitat for Humanity to show what the industry has to offer.

He showed a picture of construction industry Boy Scout merit badges and suggested the sheet metal industry could do the same.

Sports TV commentator and former Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw spoke to SMACNA members at the Oct. 17 opening luncheon.

The new work force

Maloney then talked about the generation now entering the work force, the "millennials." These young people don't search for a job the traditional way; they don't even use major job Web sites such as Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com, he said. Instead, they use sites such as SnagAJob.com, which is tailored for those seeking part-time or hourly work.

Recruitment efforts and media materials must reflect the target audience: women, minorities and young people. Don't put middle-aged white men in promotional materials, Maloney advised.

The construction industry also needs to change its well-deserved reputation as a place hostile to females, he added, pointing to a California survey that said even though they only make up 2 percent of the construction work force, half of all women said they had been sexually harassed.

"Women in the trades said they have a real fear of bringing these things up," he said. "They fear they'll get blacklisted."

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.