Allen Harris –
Alabama’s construction industry is built on a foundation of customer service, integrity and work ethic. As CEO of Bailey-Harris Construction and board chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama (ABC), I have experienced firsthand the value a career in commercial construction has on our state’s economy and future leaders.
Commercial construction is vital to Alabama’s economic footprint and touches every aspect of our residents’ lives. A study recently conducted by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama found that commercial construction stimulated nearly $13 billion of business in our state and generated 156,000 full-time jobs in 2015 alone.
According to the study, the economic impact of commercial construction has also generated a payroll of more than $6 billion a year and made a direct impact of $444 million into the state Education Trust Fund.
These numbers showcase the impressive impact the construction industry has in our state. Because of this, we must continue to build on its success and invest in efforts that enhance education initiatives and craft training skills to create a pipeline of opportunities for future industry leaders.
Two years ago, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama and Alabama’s K-12 education system joined together to establish the Academy of Craft Training to recruit, educate and employ high school students through construction careers. The Academy gives students the opportunity to build relationships and learn from industry leaders and prospective employers. It has quickly become a model for public-private partnerships with the Associated Builders and Contractors, the State Department of Education and the Department of Commerce hitching wagons to better our workforce product and our state.
While just two years old, the Academy has quickly become a model for all-in workforce development. Within its first year of operation, the Academy of Craft Training placed 94 percent of participating seniors in a job after graduation.
By equipping students with the necessary skills and real-world experience, the Academy provides opportunities for students to learn craft skills, make a good living and eventually advance into a supervisory level with long-term career benefits. For example, our teachers are industry trained; our classrooms resemble construction jobsites with rules and regulations to which we adhere; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is worn at all times and other practices that emulate actual job conditions are employed.
Upon the course completion, we are finding our student graduates have a positive infection. Infection? Yes, a positive infection that translates to a passion for the industry. It was last a fall Saturday afternoon at an Auburn University campus jobsite and I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Jacob, a recent graduate of the Academy. “Jacob, what in the world are you doing here?” I asked. He had come to see the site crane operator, Tommy. He and Tommy had developed a working mentor relationship on a Tuscaloosa jobsite. Jacob immediately inquired, “Mr. Harris, where can I get a vest and glasses? I need to help walk the rig out.”
Late on Saturday afternoons, most young men would be hanging out with friends or relaxing. Jacob just wanted to be around the work. Passion is something our instructors talk and cultivate often at The Academy. Yes, work cures most ills.
Through stories like this, we see how Alabama’s construction industry touches lives. I encourage the Alabama legislature to continue supporting this important initiative.
By teaching students hands-on trade skills and requisite soft skills, paired with values of integrity and work ethic, we can ensure that future leaders will continue to build upon Alabama’s construction industry that supports our communities.
Allen Harris is Founder and CEO of Bailey-Harris Construction, a leading industrial and commercial contracting firm based in Auburn, Ala. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama.