This article was originally featured on constructionnews.net and was reprinted with permission.

By Kirstyn Quandt, Communications Manager for NCCER

From the time we are young, parents, teachers and even society’s most opinionated strangers encourage the pursuit of a college education. Students have been taught that a four-year degree symbolizes a critical, expensive stepping stone on the model pathway of achievement. With such heavy influence coming from numerous sources, the future workforce is presented with one, uniform image of success and few variations in the course to get there. Unfortunately, what is absent in predetermined curricula and standardized testing is the option of non-traditional career pathways.

Careers in the construction industry are not presented on the cookie-cutter, sampler platter of ideal majors to pursue. If you were to ask a class of high school seniors to identify the many benefits gained from enrollment in career and technical education programs or the numerous opportunities for employment in the construction industry, you’d be greeted with a mixture of intrigue and confusion. While today’s most popular media portrays doctors, detectives and corporate tycoons as America’s most successful professionals, it is the men and women who build society’s infrastructure that make modern life possible.

Students everywhere crave a career that combines happiness and professional growth; however, they are often not provided with enough information or the proper guidance to achieve just that.  One study in Butler University’s The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal reported that of the 20-50% of students entering college without a designated course of study, 75% switched their major at least once before graduation.

While today’s education tends to focus heavily on teaching to college admittance exams, it fails to prepare students for the skills and insight necessary when the timer stops and pencils go down. We all remember the routine: sit in class, learn, memorize and repeat. With this teaching style, it’s difficult to forge the connection between textbook material and real world application, leaving many unsure of their next steps after graduation.
Education needs to incorporate a greater hands-on approach where learning is no longer confined to a desk or limited to a word count inside the lines of a spiral bound notebook.

NCCER’s Build Your Future (BYF) initiative focuses on enhancing public perception of the construction industry and encouraging the inclusion of career and technical education (CTE) programs in secondary schools across the country. CTE programs have shown that when academic learning is combined with hands-on, real world application, students are undoubtedly developing a skill set built for success. According to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), 6 in 10 students are planning to pursue a career in the CTE area they are exploring in high school.

When this level of assurance is viewed alongside the alarming statistics of new high school graduates actively pursuing degrees unsure of their major or career path, it is clear that rote memorization and high-pressured testing is no longer the most effective way to educate and train our future workforce.

As an industry, we must recognize that successful learning is more than essay writing and mathematical equations. Effective education and professional growth stem from on the job experience and a refined skill set. Our industry is one of few capable of tailoring one’s passions to the task at hand and as a result, our workforce reports extremely high job satisfaction. According to the 2015 Best Industry Ranking Report published by TINYpulse, 34% of those in the construction industry say they work with great people, which is the number one indicator of job satisfaction.

Students must be made aware of the vast opportunities for employment, growth and happiness that accompany a career in construction. Only when we effectively recruit, train and place these individuals, will our construction workforce grow, thrive and continually surpass our own standards of excellence.

It is the responsibility of industry leaders, educators and everyday influencers to create a new, all-encompassing image of the successful, young professional. Then, with full insight and confidence in their designated career path, students will pursue majors, crafts and careers that speak solely to their passions and eliminate any semblance of bias from others. Through effective education and enhanced recruitment efforts, we can revolutionize the construction industry and redefine success, making four-year degrees merely one option amongst many.