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Opportunity Is Knocking

Building Upon Workforce Development and Introducing Construction to the Next Generation

Construction is a booming industry without a workforce to keep up with the demand. Despite an increased focus on exposing more people to careers in construction, there still remains an imbalance in amount of work and people to perform the work.

While it’s essential that companies focus on bringing more people into the industry, it’s equally important to make sure the existing workforce grows and develops. MMC Contractors recognizes that need and celebrates the employees who have seen success and growth within their jobsites. 

Recognizing Opportunity 

DJ Johnson, Superintendent with MMC Contractors National in Kansas City, didn’t expect to be following this closely in his father’s footsteps. After college graduation, he had dreams to be a guidance counselor. But when his pay was topping out at $18/hour, his dad suggested exploring the trades, where starting out, he could earn more than that. Now, with more than 23 years of experience, he sees the significance of shifting his path early on in his career.

“Working in construction gives me the opportunity to provide for my family at the highest level,” said Johnson. “I don’t worry about any student debt and I’ve made career moves within the construction industry to make sure I’m continuing to improve and advance.”

Johnson learned about the opportunity growth in his career by traveling to different jobsites. Since joining MMC Contractors National, which has many out-of-town jobsites, he has been able to further hone his skills working on the Rapid City Regional Hospital expansion and renovation project. At the completion of that project, he will move on to work at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta project.

“I believe there is something new to be learned every day,” said Johnson. “I want to be the best I can be and I also want others on my team to succeed with me. That’s what it’s all about.”

Providing For His Family

When Christian Ortega was little, helping his dad with construction projects was an excuse to get out of the chores at home. But as he got older, he began to appreciate the construction industry and being able to work with his hands every day. After high school, his entry to the construction industry was the logical next step.

He was introduced to MMC Contractors in 2010 when he was brought on to work on the Children’s Hospital in his home town of El Paso, Texas. 

“It was actually a little intimidating coming on board with such a large mechanical contractor,” he recalls. “It was my first experience on a medical facility and it was impressive and unlike anything I had worked on before. It was also clear early on that MMC Contractors cares for its employees, which was really great.”

Ortega had been born and raised in El Paso, so when the job finished up, he wasn’t interested in moving on to the next project with the company when the opportunity arose. A few years later, MMC Contractors National came back to work in the El Paso area and he was eager to get back on board.

“I felt taken care of at MMC Contractors,” said Ortega. “I was being given more responsibility and being compensated for it because someone was paying attention to me. It was a great experience.”

That someone was Mark Bradley, Superintendent with MMC Contractors National in Kansas City. When that El Paso project concluded, Bradley and the team moved on to the next job in Alabama and pushed Ortega to join the traveling team. Eventually, Ortega committed to the hospital project in Alabama and made the move with his wife and their young children.

“I give Mark total credit for giving me an opportunity to grow,” he said. “Not just with MMC Contractors, but as a foreman and a leader. Not only did he give me more responsibility, but he was constantly coaching me, sometimes even when I didn’t realize it.”

Ortega looks back on his career path with satisfaction and has a sense of excitement for his future growth. Not only in advancing his skills, but also having a meaningful impact on communities through his construction projects.

“I always advise young kids to consider a career in the trades. I’m able to provide for my family and do something different every day. Plumbing on a construction project to me is like art – I’m always trying to be creative in how it gets done and the finished project is incredible.”

The Next Generation

The labor shortage is a topic that everyone is talking about. Despite an increase in attention, the construction industry continues to struggle to fill the necessary positions on jobs. One of the biggest struggles is at the most basic level – some kids are completely unaware of the possibility of a career in construction. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City (BGC-GKC) wants to change that.

Kelley Barnes, College and Career Program Director, with the BGC-GKC, works with local teenagers in providing career exploration in a variety of fields.

“When students come to us, our first step is to have them fill out a survey that gives us an idea of where their interests lie,” said Barnes. “But we don’t just stick to the path that they think they want to be on, because often times, they just simply aren’t aware of the many career paths available to them. We want to give them a well-rounded look at opportunities beyond the careers they’ve heard of.”

One of the best ways to introduce them to new career options is through summer field trips. Exploration is key to expanding mindsets and seeing the work environment helps them better envision what that career path might look like.

Prior to 2018, there wasn’t much of a focus on the construction industry or education around how to enter the trades. A focus group was established among area construction businesses to help change that.

As part of the new program, students visited the iBuild Showcase, where they were able to talk to many people in a variety of specialties to get a sense of what they do. The event also offered many hands-on learning opportunities in areas like masonry, plumbing, electric, and more. The BGC-GKC also set up field trips to area businesses. MMC Contractors National hosted an event where students got the chance to speak with a welder, see what the VDC team does, walk through the prefabrication shop, and also visit an active jobsite.

“Exposing youth to these new options is a step in the right direction, but the biggest impact we can make is through mentorship,” said Barnes. “That is worth more than any field trip at truly helping kids understand how they can experience a financially rewarding career in the construction industry.”

If you are interested in getting involved with the Boys & Girls Club, reach out to Anissa Parra-Grooms, volunteer coordinator at apgrooms@helpkckids.org. Or visit BGCA.org to find your local club.