Skills contests and construction jobs draw thousands of students to Atlanta

CEFGA 2As the economy grows and buildings go up, someone has to build them – and thousands of students tomorrow and Friday are getting a first-hand look at what it would mean take those jobs.

An estimated 5,500 high school and college kids, along with several thousand teachers and company representatives, are expected at “Worlds of Construction,” a combination of job fair and skills competition being held at the Georgia International Convention Center.

The annual event, also called CEFGA CareerExpo, is run by Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA), a consortium of more than 40 companies, said Dan Smith, chief financial officer for New South Construction and a board member at CEFGA.

“We are trying to touch as many students as possible,” he said.

Hammer and nailsAmong CEFGA’s partners are Westside Works, Georgia Power, Go Build Cobb, the Arthur Blank Foundation and the Technical College System of Georgia.

The industry makes a concerted effort to draw new blood into the field for a number of reasons, but above all, there is a demographic imperative, he said: The boomer generation accounts for a disproportionate number of skilled workers.

That leaves the industry with a shortage, he said. “With the average age of skilled construction workers getting up there and so many retiring, we are trying to figure out how to replace the aging workers.

Last year, the event had 7,300 attendees, including representatives from more than 300 employers, according to CEFGA. Many of the attendees participate in the SkillsUSA state championships, a competition based on construction-related skills.

Construction cranes

The construction industry took a vicious economic hit after the housing bubble burst. Between 2007 and 2012, the sector lost 38 percent of its jobs in Georgia. But growth finally resumed. In the past three years, the sector has added more than 33,000 jobs.

But despite the losses along the way, more than 173,000 people in the state currently work in construction, most of them in metro Atlanta, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite the sector’s smaller footprint, older workers are leaving the trades faster than younger ones are entering, according to CEGA.

And while there is no formal hiring during the two-day event, there are many “informal” interviews, Smith said. “A lot of contractors watch the students during the competition. And those that do well – you have to think the contractors are going to be interested in them.”

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