Changing Times

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Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, are at the center of our cover story in this issue. They make up a segment of our population that have been known to elicit reactions from folks my age ranging from mild amusement to serious concern about the future of the American workforce. It’s an age-old story of one generation coming to grips with new methods and attitudes of the next – the young adults who are finding their way in the working world of today. Both of my children fall neatly into the Millennial category.

In 2008, at the height of the economic downturn, my son graduated from the Missouri University Science & Technology with a degree in computer networking. Like many of his peers facing a daunting job market, he decided to embark on a five-month backpacking jaunt through Europe. He had a pretty good time (including hazy memories of Octoberfest in Munich, Germany) before dwindling funds inspired him to come home a month early.

Shortly after he got back, he did something many of us older folks have probably never done – posted his resume online in view of potential employers. To our amazement, within days he was contacted about a position with an online medical records company in Kansas City. We knew landing a job at the intersection of technology and healthcare would be a major win for him. He drove up for the interview and a few days later was offered a job with a starting salary that I didn’t achieve until midway through my working career. Though he is not an engineer per se, his STEM education – the subject of another feature in this issue – provided him a huge push forward.

Though the company he works for is not a Disneyland environment like Google or Facebook, they offer excellent pay and an incredible buffet of work benefits such as an onsite medical care, onsite child-care facilities, low-cost legal services, etc. He has been with company now for almost 10 years and was recently granted permission to work remotely. In early January, he left Kansas City and relocated to an area called Germantown in Nashville, TN. Just this morning, he sent me pictures of his new “office” on the roof deck of his apartment complex which features a spectacular view overlooking Music City. His mother and I have followed his progress with a kind of a “what the heck is this?” admiration.

I imagine the challenge of wrapping our Baby Boomer heads around the new normal is similar to what earlier generations experienced when the workweek was trimmed from seven days to six and then to five, when collective bargaining came into being or when child labor laws were enacted. At the start of my own career, I clearly recall thinking that my new ideas were the future and that the “old timers” were just too set in their ways. It is the interminable march of progress and I believe it is to be embraced. What real option do we have but to roll with the changes?

The story of the inspiring young men and women in this issue highlights new attitudes of today’s incoming workforce.

Marquez Brown, a state wrestling state champion in high school, was awarded a full ride to St. Louis Community College. After his first year, feeling unfulfilled, he joined the Air Force and wrestled in the Armed Forces while training to be military police. After military service, he returned to his hometown of Alton, IL, completed tests to enter the District Council 58 of the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades (Glaziers 1168) and began an apprenticeship in April 2006. At 36, Brown is now a Glazier Field Supervisor for IWR North America.

Nathan Garrett, 31, has been a member of the St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council since 2014. An encounter with Carpenters Council Director of Training & Workforce Development, Dr. John Gaal, led to a tour of the Carpenters’ training center and Garrett knew then that he’d found his niche. Garrett is currently working for Kirkwood Stair & Millwork.

Matt Murphy, 32, recently completed the apprenticeship program with Bricklayers Local 1 of Missouri and is a journeyman. Thanks to his background of completed courses at Missouri College and St. Louis Community College, Murphy was able to test in as an improver on an accelerated track. Murphy is now working with a team of bricklayers for Superior Waterproofing & Restoration, caulking windows on a 22-story-tall glass building owned by Hertz Investment Group in downtown St. Louis.

Kelly Stokes, 38, is a licensed electrician and member of the IBEW Local 1. Stokes says he took a great deal of math and science at his mother’s urging. After graduating from Ritenour High School in St. Louis, he enrolled in the night school electrical engineering program at Washington University. Stokes graduated in 2014 with his Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering and has been working since for BRK Electrical Contractors.

These fine young people and others like them are helping to move our industry forward in new and exciting ways. I’m inspired and encouraged by their ambition and I believe it serves as a great reminder for all of us that fresh perspectives make excellent fuel for progress.

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