The recession has hurt every industry, but construction has been on the "bleeding edge of job losses," said Ken Simpson, an economist with the Associated General Contractors of America.
In January 2011, the construction unemployment rate hit 22.5 percent, according to the AGC's analysis of federal employment data. Does that spell an end to future building careers?
Not according to industry professionals from more than 300 Georgia companies who are helping to sponsor the seventh annual Construction Education Foundation of Georgia CareerExpo on March 17-18 at the Georgia International Convention Center.
They'll be showcasing career pathways in architecture, construction, energy and facilities management to more than 4,000 middle, high school and college students and 2,000 teachers, instructors and adult attendees.
"There are career opportunities now, and even more down the road, because Georgia is a desirable location. People want to move here, and we're always going to need more buildings," said Scott Shelar, executive director of CEFGA.
While many jobs have been lost with the recession, half of the construction worker population are baby boomers and will be retiring in the next five to 10 years, Shelar noted. CEFGA's mission is to help students explore the many career paths in the industry and the training and educational programs available, to ensure a pipeline of future talent.
"This event is great for showing young people the many aspects of this industry and for letting technical college and university students network with future employers," said Theresa Schroeder, community affairs director with Turner Construction Co., a leading international contractor with offices in Atlanta.
Students at the CareerExpo will explore the industry through interactive, hands-on exhibits that will simulate the construction of Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Georgia's first LEED-certified green public school.
They'll also learn about building, engineering and architectural programs at Georgia's technical colleges and universities, and industry-sponsored apprenticeship programs.
"We hope that going through the expo will cause students to look at their own school building differently afterwards and to realize how many skills and different occupations went into it," Shelar said.
For many, the rewards of construction are seeing the results of the work and knowing that "you have left a footprint that changed the face of your city," Schroeder said.
Today, young people are often attracted to construction's new emphasis on green and sustainable technologies and materials, she said. They see it as a way of making a difference in the environment.
Or they see how technology plays a role in design. In building information modeling, for instance, workers create 3-D blueprints on computers that allow companies to solve construction problems long before crews are on-site.
The construction field has always offered rich soil for the entrepreneurial spirit, Shelar said.
"Rarely does a bank teller go on to own the bank, but it's not uncommon for an electrician to start his own electrical contracting company," he said.
"You can own your own business and make very good money," said John Doherty, president of the CEFGA board and president of Pyramid Masonry Contractors, a leading southeastern firm based in Atlanta.
Knowing that there are opportunities and wanting to attract the best and brightest to masonry, Doherty works with the CEFGA and the Masonry Association of Georgia, which has an apprenticeship program.
"We are looking for people who take construction classes as a first career choice, not a last resort," he said. If they get the right skills and education, he knows they can go far.
With a father in the lumber business, Doherty grew up in the industry.
"I think I was the only building construction major at Georgia Tech in 1969 --- it was a relatively new major then," he said. "I worked for a general contractor for seven years, and then C.L. Cook brought me into Pyramid Masonry and we've grown the business to be one of the top five in the Southeast, according to Engineering News-Record. This industry has been very good to me."
Recently, he's seen it weather the longest downturn since the 1970s, but he still believes the industry to be very viable.
"Buildings are a resource that has to be replenished," he said. "I'm seeing more private work go out for bid, and as things trend up, we're going to see opportunities increase."