There’s a path most schoolchildren are taught to follow: get good grades, go to college and achieve financial stability with a well-paying job.
But that’s not only achieved through going to college and working in an office. It can be done with tool belts, levels and compasses.
Starting a career in the building industry without help, however, can be difficult. That’s why the Building Futures Foundation wants to give people the tools to start careers in the building industry — literally.
The nonprofit, run through the Building Industry Association of Clark County, has awarded 121 scholarships and tool grants to people breaking into construction careers since 2007.
Working in construction, despite its potentially lucrative opportunities, can sometimes be thought of as a second choice, said Eduardo Torres, the nonprofit’s manager.
“It’s not just an alternative,” Torres said. “But it’s actually a pathway, and it’s a career.”
Bart Hansen, BIA executive director and a Vancouver city councilor, often goes to student job fairs. While other stands have people asking students to work for them, Hansen wants to give students money to work for other people.
“We’re really looking for that scholarship for architecture, engineering, construction management, any of those, but we’re also looking for that, ‘I want to get right into my trade, and I want a tool grant.’”
When Hansen used to work as a framer, he had to borrow tools to get his work done.
“That’s the No. 1 hurdle they’re going to run into is (they) don’t have the tools to do the job. We want to get our youth started on the right foot.”
Erin Bowen is the recipient of one of those tool grants and now uses her tools to build a career in plumbing.
“A lot of people are just getting into the trade and don’t have all the tools, or they have to borrow,” she said. “It’s wonderful what they do. I’m so grateful for it. It helped me out in my daily work tremendously.”
The foundation also awards scholarships to people planning to work in the building industry.
Miriam Muntean, a senior at Boise State University, received a $2,000 scholarship. She’s putting it toward studying civil engineering, and after graduating, she plans to move back to Clark County to build homes.
Her advice to other people starting careers in the building industry is to learn how to help their communities.
“I would just advise them to network and find communities that will support them and just get involved as much as they can with their communities that they live in and find out how they can be contributing back,” she said.
Supporting young people starting careers in construction will help Clark County, Hansen said. This area needs more than 100,000 new housing units by 2044 to keep up with demand, according to a state report.
“In order to do that, we need roofers. We need framers. We need masons. We need electricians. We need plumbers. And we’re going to have to bring it out from the outside in order to make that happen,” Hansen said.
But the construction workforce is experiencing a shortage across the nation. In September, there were 431,000 construction job openings in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but only 303,000 were filled.
The foundation’s goal is to not only get more people in the construction industry but to show people there are viable career opportunities in building.
“A lot of people like to think, ‘Well, I’ll go to college, and I’ll start working somewhere and get promoted and maybe be a manager. Maybe own my own business,’” Hansen said. “That is equally available to you in the trades as it is going to college and in some cases even more so.”
The Building Futures Foundation will host a Green Tie Gala from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington to raise money.
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.