VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY Don Altemeyer: Let’s rebuild Indiana’s rep as construction powerhouse A well-paying career More research A lesson from hoops

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Don Altemeyer

Let’s rebuild Indiana’s rep as construction powerhouse
A well-paying career
More research
A lesson from hoops

We could wear out our hands clapping like Gene Hackman’s Hoosiers, and it’s not going to change the fact that basketball in Indiana this year has been nothing short of unremarkable.

Despite the state’s long-standing reputation as a basketball powerhouse, it’s the other teams playing
in our arenas that are making history.

There’s a similar story taking place, just in another well-known but struggling Indiana industry. This story, however, doesn’t require you to paint your face or wear ugly shirts.

Indiana has a construction tradition that’s built on real stuff-limestone and steel and gypsum. In fact, Indiana limestone put Bloomington on the map long before Branch McCracken or Bob Knight ever did.

These products used to mean jobs-good ones and lots of them. But companies are using other products-produced in other states-and we’re getting left behind. Just like our basketball teams.

We can change that, if we take the right steps.

First, we need to attract more people to the construction business. Construction jobs pay well, there’s certainly a growing need for them, and they can’t be exported! Nationally, jobs in the construction industry are expected to grow about 9 percent through 2008.

Commercial and industrial craftspeople also have strong employment and earnings prospects. Certain trades, such as electricians, will grow 23 percent over the next five years.

The current hourly rate in Indianapolis averaged more than $28 for electricians and plumbers/fitters. In comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that white-collar workers earned about $21 per hour, while the average pay for blue-collar workers and service workers was far less, at $14.50 and $10.32 an hour, respectively.

Construction isn’t for dummies, either. Skilled construction jobs require training. A construction apprenticeship provides on-the-job training and lasts three to five years. Students also can enroll in programs like the ones offered at Ivy Tech State College.

After a course of study, the school connects students with apprenticeships, which are usually paid for by the employers. Union apprentices may earn up to $25,000
their first year, with benefits and pay increases annually. Once certified, experienced skilled tradespeople can earn as much as $60,000 a year with benefits that exceed most other jobs. Overtime, for example, can be particularly lucrative.

Skilled construction jobs also enable young workers to achieve a better worklife balance. Though the work is hard, the typical day in construction trades starts and ends early, leaving long summer afternoons for other activities.

Second, in addition to attracting more workers to the construction business, we also need to create new kinds of “construction jobs” involving materials sciences research.

Centennial Campus near North Carolina State University, for example, includes a major center for textile technologies to provide answers to the off-shoring of the textile industry.

Why can’t we develop similar centers where our engineering students at Purdue University, Rose Hulman Institute and other Indiana colleges and universities work with nanotechnologists in the search of alternative “green” or high-performance materials?

The limestone of the future may be stronger, but easier to cut. The steel of the future may be lighter and the gypsum drywall might spackle itself.

The recent development of translucent concrete is an example of what’s happening in the construction world. Why aren’t these types of developments happening here? We should strive to make Indiana the hotbed of technological advances in the construction industry.

A recent editorial in The Indianapolis Star encouraged readers to consider the NCAA’s commitment to our city during debates about a new downtown stadium. “In other cities,” the editorial said, “basketball may be just a game, but this is Indianapolis-where it’s a business.”

We’ve turned a great sports heritage into a success story-and big business-by becoming great hosts for great sporting events. Why can’t we do the same thing in the construction industry? Can we become a remarkable center for construction talent? Can we regain our place of honor in the construction world through research and technology?

Good careers in construction are out there-all kinds of jobs and all kinds of opportunities. We just need to make sure they’re created right here in Indiana.

Don Altemeyer is a founding principal of Indianapolisbased BSA LifeStructures. Views expressed here are the writer’s.

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