Some college-bound are passing up chances, construction CEO says

Chris Elliott, chief executive of Villa Rica-based Caliber 1 Construction (Photo: contributed).
Chris Elliott, chief executive of Villa Rica-based Caliber 1 Construction (Photo: contributed).

Historically, workers without a college education are not only paid less than those with degrees, but they also have a consistently higher unemployment rate.

That is still true.

Yet if young people avoid modest-paying blue collar work, they can inadvertently choke off the pipeline that leads to high-paying management jobs.

Not having a degree doesn't mean that you can't have a career and make a lot of money, said Chris Elliott, chief executive of Caliber 1 Construction in Villa Rica, a general contractor doing business in about 40 states.

"The biggest challenge we are having is there is a kind of generational gap," Elliott said. "For so many years, everybody is, 'Go to college, go to college!' It used to be that we'd have 18- and 19-year-old guys come out of high school wanting to learn construction and now we don't see them at all."

The shortages started with the shortfall in skilled laborers like those who work with concrete, framing and dry wall, he said. Now, there are simply not enough experienced management candidates younger than 40, he said.

"Between 20 and 40 we are missing out. We need guys in the field," he said.

There are college programs aimed at supplying supervisors, including highly praised programs like that at Kennesaw State University, but it’s still not the same, he said. “There are a lot of project managers coming out, but they’ve never been in the field.”

It is not just a temporary problem, he said: it raises doubts about the future as companies look to transition control from retiring managers to the next generation. "Guys don't come to us, do apprenticeships, get experience, so we can train 'em up. Who is going to take this over someday?"

Ironically, he said, ambitious young people who fear the low-paying blue collar world, are often choosing college, amassing debt and missing the chance to make a very comfortable living, he said. "You don't have to go to college to earn a $100,000 salary."

That’s not hyperbole, he said: A foreman, someone with five-plus years of experience, can make $2,000 a week.

“Even novices make $1,100 or $1,200 a week,” he said. “In five or six years you can be making $100,000 and there are no college loans to repay.”