I heard a story the other day about a bright young man graduating high school here in the Twin Cities this past spring who informed his family and friends that rather than attend a four-year college, he intended to become an electrician. This immediately drew opposition from his parents, who urged him strongly to get his four-year degree regardless “as back up in case the other thing doesn’t work.” His counselor and teachers agreed. In short, in order to pursue his dream, he had to fight his parents, counselor and teachers.

From anecdotal conversations and research, I gather this is a common conversation and it’s unfortunate. Here’s a guy who knows what he wants and is actively being discouraged from pursuing the initiative. And what’s even more striking is that electricians in Minnesota are making an average salary of well over $80,000, with many in six figures. Imagine that – a more than respectable annual salary, the opportunity to earn overtime if desired and virtually no student debt. Not to mention the opportunity to one day own his own business should he so desire.

It’s a societal problem, but I see it changing ever so gradually. I’ve heard more discussion about careers in the trades and a return of career and technical education to schools in the past two years than I did in the previous 15. Project Build Minnesota is a major part of that effort. Our goal is to make construction a career of choice for Minnesota’s hardworking youth.

In truth, part of the problem has been the industry itself. When the great recession occurred, the industry completely stopped its workforce development efforts. It was understandable – we didn’t have any jobs to fill. But demographics didn’t stop and as we’ve recovered, we find ourselves desperately shy of labor.

Our goal must be to fund, grow and support Project Build Minnesota not only when the need is evident, but even during the next downturn, whenever that occurs. You can be part of that effort. Follow our social media channels. Put the Project Build Minnesota logo in your email signature and on your website (with a link back to the site). Make a contribution to the effort financially – we’re entirely privately funded. And most importantly, keep telling the story of the great opportunities in our industry.

David Siegel is the Executive Director of Housing First Minnesota and Treasurer of Project Build Minnesota