Service of On the Job Training

March 5th, 2020

Categories: Building and Remodeling, Construction, Education

Last Saturday morning Lou Manfredini interviewed Paul Robinson on his weekly WABC HouseSmarts Radio program. I no longer have a house but many of Lou’s tips that solve callers’ challenges also apply to apartment dwellers. And Lou is fun to listen to.

Robinson is founder and CEO of ConstructReach, St. Louis, Mo. Its objective is to train high school students and enlighten them–and their parents–about the construction industry as a passport to a good living. At the same time the organization is creating a crucial trained workforce.

In particular, Robinson described the “I Built It” program. “High-school students aged 16 to 18 from neighboring school districts will gather at Target stores in Los Angeles, Calif., Denver, Co., St. Louis, Mo., and Miami, Fla., to learn about the construction industry and participate in elements of the stores’ remodel.” Vincent Salandro wrote about the “I Built It” program in Remodeling magazine.

Salandro continued: “The company aims to connect general contractors to interns and to create content and experiences to expose a diverse population to sustainable construction careers. It also fosters close relationships with educators to work on closing the gap between the industry and educators. Educators are on the front line and are in ‘a prime position’ to speak to young people and their families about the next steps in life, Robinson said, and ensuring construction has a place in those conversations is important for the future of the industry.”

The construction industry has bad PR: People consider that students “fail into it,” according to Robinson, and educators, parents and kids need to be shown an accurate perspective. In addition, “More than half of skilled workers are nearing retirement age and the industry is not doing a good job of filling those positions at the same rate they will be vacated,” reported Salandro.

Robinson told Salandro, “If you’re not exposed to what you can do, or what’s in front of you, that’s a lot of untapped potential.”

I represented building products and industry trade organizations for years and have long felt that little is done to elevate/recognize the significance of careers in building trades. Kudos to Robinson!

Further, as a former homeowner, I lived and suffered by my appalling lack of skills and knowledge in plumbing, electricity, laying flooring, painting, plastering, how a furnace works and so forth. I wish I’d been trained and think that if these skills were taught in college–or made available to students–it would benefit them and automatically elevate the trades in the eyes of those with doubts. I went to a private NYC school that didn’t teach typing but in high school a bunch of us attended the Y to learn what turned out to be an essential skill. What do you think?

Paul Robinson, ConstructReach Founder


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6 Responses to “Service of On the Job Training”

  1. ASK Said:

    Many of the skills you enumerate in your last paragraph were once taught at the high school level.At my high school, like others, we had numerous “shop” classes that taught carpentry, plumbing, and basic electrical knowledge. This was during a time when no one insisted that everyone needed a college degree. My cousin, recently retired from being the head of a high school math department and a guidance counselor, frequently encouraged many of the mostly immigrant parents and students she counseled to consider attending trade schools, knowing that many of these students did not have the commitment or learning skills to manage a four-year college degree. She was largely ignored by upwardly striving parents convinced that only such a college degree would do.

    Maybe. But When we owned a weekend home and the 50+ year-old house developed several plumbing issues, there was always a $500+ bill attached to any repair, no matter how long it took. Our plumber was so overwhelmed by the demand for his services (his reliability was exemplary), he told me during his final visit that he was accepting only commercial work in the future.

    On another note: a young man who obtained a public-administration degree from a local four-year institution now works as a maintenance person in our co-op, not really what he had in mind. More young people should take up building trades…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The world is the oyster of good plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc. They get to tell clients when they can make it. They make excellent livings. And their customers are so grateful for their help. What better? Nasty customer, they can refuse to respond to calls for help. In addition, in this global economy, the work cannot be shipped overseas.

    Convincing people that the building trades offer all those things and more is a PR challenge.

    Good for your cousin.

  3. JBS Said:

    I have to call a repairman, too, for plumbing, heating, etc. I was too busy to learn and Bill was all thumbs. He couldn’t hang wallpaper or paint and I taught myself to do that! He was not handy!(I don’t do it any more, hire it done, but in our first house, I couldn’t afford to hire it done)

  4. jmbyington Said:


    Homer claimed he wasn’t handy but he was. He perfectly installed wallpaper at our country house. I was the “sous chef,” on the cleanup team. I had no patience to line up patterns etc.

    Home Depot must still offer “how to paint” and other classes. I learned about them far too late in the game.

    I’m in a rental now and a phone call away from repairs, a huge relief.

  5. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am hopeless and helpless about anything practical to do with maintenance, construction, plumbing, mechanical repairs and even using a hammer and a nail without taking down a nail. I totally agree with importance and need for people with the skills that were formerly part of “trade school” programs. It would probably be realistic and economically and socially beneficial if some of these skills could be given more importance. There is a tremendous emphasis on STEM courses, but we need to acknowledge the importance of and need for skilled workers in the practical trades that permit us to function on a daily basis on so many levels. Perhaps we could consider not thinking that academic achievement is in and of itself of more value.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    France holds wait staff in high regard. Working in a fine restaurant is a respected career. No reason we cannot similarly honor those who work with their hands in many ways. Their work is complicated, involving mathematics and precision and patience and understanding of machinery and how systems operate.

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