Ask anyone in the construction business about the challenges facing the industry now and in the near future, and the No. 1 answer is likely to be: the shortage of skilled labor. From foundation and concrete work to glazing and framing to plumbing and electrical all the way to finish carpentry, there just aren’t enough employees to fill the needs of the booming construction field.
The shortage certainly has been a challenge for nvision Glass Joshua Munns, but the owner and president of the Reno custom glasswork company is getting proactive about reversing the shrinking workforce. After spending thousands last year to advertise his company’s job openings and receiving only 25 qualified applicants, he decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
Introducing the Ground Up Trade School, a nationwide online vocational program designed to show everyone from recent high school students to established adults the possibilities for a long, fruitful, even lucrative career in the trades.
“We have a broken system, and it starts with the narrative that we as a society have been putting out so long,” says Munns, who since 2007 has been running nvision Glass, the family business started by his mother, Mary Davis, in 1983. “For so long, the conversation around the dinner table has been, ‘You’re going to go to high school, then you’re going to go college, then you’re going to get a degree and get a job in that field. And if you don’t do that, you’re not going to be a successful person and you’re going to be looked down upon.”
Targeted for launch in the third quarter of 2018, the Ground Up Trade School will feature online instruction, including an introduction to the construction industry, and placement in the field in an apprenticeship capacity, so that future tradespeople receive on-the-job training while earning income. Curriculum details are still in the works, but Munns estimates the introductory portion will consist of 72.5 hours of instructions, including 12 hours of basic safety, 10 hours of construction math, 10 hours of construction drawing, 10 hours of introduction to hand tools, and 10 hours of power tools.
“Once people have taken the introductory course and passed the exam, they choose a career path, like, say, finish carpentry. We’re going to place them with people who are looking to hire new talent,” says Munns. “They will be in an apprenticeship program in a merit-shop world, not in a union world. As a partner with Ground Up, these contracting and subcontracting companies will hire the recruit and give that person on-the-job training. While they’re earning income, they’re going to be able to continue their education and become a journeyman after so many hours of work. Once they become a journeyman, they’re on their way.”
To Munns, “on their way” can mean a career with benefits, retirement savings, and an annual salary of $55,000 or more after four years in the field (as opposed to the $31,000 a year earned by the average college grad with a bachelor’s degree after the same number of years). That respectable standard of living is what he hopes to stress to people looking to launch a career or even make a mid-career change – that one can make a solid living in the trades without the need for a bachelor’s degree and a boatload of student debt.
While the tuition rates for Ground Up have not been determined as of this writing, Munns and his business partner, nvision Glass sales manager Josh Denton, are focused on keeping Ground Up students out of debt. And in an effort to keep course costs down, they mention the possibility of partnering with organizations who could advertise on the Ground Up website, which, along with the curriculum, Denton and Munns are working hard to finalize, all while maintaining their full-time gigs at nvision Glass.
Based in Reno, with a second location in Las Vegas, nvision Glass is a full-service glass shop, doing everything from custom doors and windows to mirrors to showers. “Everything glass but auto,” Munns says. “We won’t put a new windshield in your car.”
Employing 68 people, several of whom have been with the company for over 20 years, nvision specializes in high-end custom homes but also does high volume when it comes to commercial projects as well as production building and apartment complexes. “We start from the beginning, working with homeowners and architects to design windows and doors for their homes,” Munn says. “And we supply and install about 75 percent of what we sell.”
That includes products from Western Window Systems, with whom nvision has partnered for about six years. Given Munns’ entrepreneurial ethos and Western Window Systems’ constant striving to innovate, the two are kindred spirits of sorts.
“They’ve been a great partner for us,” Munns says. “I love the culture and the way they treat their employees. It shows that their employees are bought in to the whole idea behind the company. And that shines through when you work with them. We need to bring construction up to that next level, and companies like Western are doing that.”
If Munns and Denton’s Ground Up can show would-be employees that the trades can and, maybe should be, a first-choice career option rather than a fallback plan then they might indeed be the ones who bring construction up to that next level.
“I feel like we’re pioneers in this concept,” Munns says. “And I think we are dealing with an entire generation of kids who watched what their parents did, in terms of going getting a degree, working 50 hours a week, and not being fulfilled pushing paper. And these young people want something more than that.
“With Ground Up,” he says, “we want to show there can be fulfillment in construction, like, ‘Hey, I completed that. Look at what I built.’”