With the construction industry facing its most significant skills shortage since 2007, there’s no denying that contractors will have to use savvier means to attract employees. In Austin, TX, Ranger Excavating is finding ways to expose the next generation of workers to this industry by partnering with the RangerACE Construction Camp Foundation, which showcases technology and construction opportunities to high school boys and girls through their summer camp.
The RangerACE Construction Camp Foundation, sponsored by The Covalent Foundation, a non-profit organization serving Central Texas women and youth, has run the camp since 2018. As Jessica Ziehr (Vice President, The Covalent Foundation) explains, “Through Covalent’s connection to Ranger Excavating and many local contractors, we realized we were in a unique position to contribute to the community and raise children’s awareness of trades they may not have considered. The construction industry offers a lot of career choices, with different routes into the construction industry. Our goal is to raise awareness of the great life you can lead in a construction trade and make it educational and entertaining.”
“This year, we have 40 children aged 13 – 17 that are split across two weeks. Their days start at 9 am and finish at 3:30 pm, Monday to Friday. The first team constructs the first half of the basketball court, and the second team completes it. We are very grateful to cooperate with more than 14 company partners that donate their experience, tools, and materials and work shoulder to shoulder with the campers on the construction project.
We appreciate the enthusiasm and commitment that the professionals (we call them “Ranger Pros”) bring to the camp. We try to cover the entire construction process. Land surveyors and landscape architects let campers operate their instruments, and together they create the plans. A landscape architect firm involves the campers in finished surface design, and the campers create a model of that design.
AGTEK came in to teach campers about how contractors model the project. Doug Pittman from AGTEK introduced campers to the software, and then we flew a drone to demonstrate how they are used in measuring earthwork quantities and project progress. Seeing a model of the court on Google maps helped the campers really connect with the size and location of something that wasn’t yet built.
Being in a new situation, the campers are a little quiet at the start of the week, but that goes away as they begin collaborating on their tasks (it’s a team effort!) and learning how to operate the tools for that trade. As the week progresses, campers find they prefer some parts of construction more than others. Some gravitate to analytical and technical work; others find the artisanal skill involved in some manual tasks attractive. That self-insight at an early age helps them identify types of work they may enjoy in the future. That is one of the key goals of the camp.”
The Round Rock school district supports The Covalent Foundation’s goals by promoting the free camp and prioritizing schools with a high percentage of lower-income students. There are more than 100 applicants for 40 positions, so an application process asks applicants why they are interested in the camp and invites them to share a bit about their school/community activities.
Professionals genuinely enjoy being an ambassador for their industry. Jessica notes, “They are generous with their time and let campers ask lots of questions. In addition to the technical parts of their work, they also share what brings them joy (and sometimes frustration) in their work. It’s a very open discussion.”
The parents are very optimistic about the program. Jessica says, “I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments on our social media about how much their children get out of the camp. Parents are pleased that their children come home and talk about their day, sharing the different things they saw, did, and learned.”
The Covalent Foundation draws on organizational support from Ranger Excavating, volunteers that lead classes, and material support from other camp partners. Jessica has a clear vision of how to expand the program with the backing from willing partners. Support can include time or helping build awareness in Austin, or elsewhere.
Assisting others to find a path in life while supporting the community is a great idea, and if you would like to support Jessica and The Covalent Foundation, contact them here:
The Covalent Foundation RangerACE Construction Camp