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San Diego Transcript: Construction careers can be life changing

Originally published in the San Diego Transcript

More than three dozen inquisitive San Diego County high school students, parents, and teachers learned about pursuing a career as a skilled construction craft professional at Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego’s first ever Career Night Open House on November 16. ABC San Diego staff members and instructors offered informative presentations about our organization and its apprenticeship training programs, and offered tours of our state-of-the-art training facility. Students talked with instructors and tried their hand at a few simple plumbing and sheet metal projects. Several parents and educators joined the students, asking questions about the opportunities for their students in the construction industry.

While we couldn’t have been happier about the outcome of this first effort, there should have been double or triple the number of students taking advantage of this opportunity. The construction industry is experiencing an unprecedented need for professionals in nearly every specialty, including electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal and HVAC workers, and electronic systems technicians.

Prospective apprentices and their families and our region’s educators have another opportunity to learn first hand about construction careers at ABC San Diego’s upcoming Craft Championships competition on Saturday, December 1, at our training facility in Poway. It is free and open to the public. See our website at for more information.

Third and fourth year apprentices who have first successfully completed hundreds of hours of classroom training and thousands of hours of practical field experience are eligible to compete. A combination of test scores and field competition are combined to determine the winner.

In the field portion of the competition, apprentices work under time limits to complete a project as close to the specifications provided as possible. They may only use materials provided. Professional experts in each craft judge the entries. Many are former competitors, and they are tough. This is where the public can watch the competitors on full display in front of an audience of several hundred people including family, friends, co-workers and classmates.

It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s really nothing compared to the pressure created by the expectations on them every day on the job. Consider that these electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, sheet metal and HVAC workers are part of the teams building our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, bridges, and vital infrastructure. They must work within strict building schedules – because time is money to a client. They must work with the materials provided – both to conserve costs and be good stewards of the environment by avoiding wasteful practices.

This is why we take apprenticeship training so seriously at ABC San Diego. Our program is as rigorous as any traditional college education – even more so if you consider the fact our apprentices also participate in on-the-job training during full-time, Monday through Friday employment in addition to attending classes after work.

Still, educators and parents remain focused on a four-year college degree as the “gold standard” for high school graduates who want a reliable, well-paying career. But a recent survey showed this isn’t necessarily the case.

A report released several weeks ago by the Strada Institute for the Future of Work found 43 percent of college graduates between 2000 and 2007 were underemployed in their first job. Two-thirds remain in jobs that don’t require a college degree five years later. The best results were for engineers, with 71 percent getting hired in jobs requiring an engineering degree. The highest chances of underemployment were for graduates with degrees in parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies, homeland security, and law enforcement. Liberal arts majors have about a 50-50 chance of getting a job related to their major.

Compare this with the results for our construction apprentices. More than 95 percent of ABC San Diego’s graduates are employed full-time in the construction industry the day of graduation. Another significant benefit: they graduate without massive amounts of student loan debt, because they do not pay any tuition costs.

ABC San Diego hopes more high school students will consider rewarding, well-paying careers as construction professionals. Attending our upcoming Craft Championship event on Saturday could be a life changing experience. In addition to observing the competition you can enjoy great music, there will be entertainment and crafts for kids, as well as a free lunch provided.

If you aren’t able to join us on Saturday, you can find information on how to pursue a challenging and satisfying career as a skilled construction professional on ABC San Diego's Apprenticeship webpage.

Les DenHerder is President and CEO of HPS Mechanical, Inc, and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego board of directors. For more information visit

ABCSD  I  13825 Kirkham Way Poway, CA 92064  I  Tel: 858.513.4700  I  Fax: 858.513.2373  I  I

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