SPECIALIZED CAREER GUIDANCE: TACKLING THE SHORTAGE OF TRADESPEOPLE…all while being mentored by phone!

Through her activism with numerous community groups Judi Vigna saw first-hand how the shortage of talent coming into the crafts is disrupting the entire construction industry. She saw that today's young people are not considering a career in the craft trades, mostly because they don't realize that the trades are a truly viable career path that pays well, offers training and apprenticeship programs, has numerous growth opportunities and importantly, has a significant number of open jobs. 

That’s when she founded Specialized Career Guidance in Plymouth, MA, a company focused on helping young people explore careers in the trades. Judi found that middle and high school students have no way to really learn about the opportunities available in the trades. So she decided to address this head on, approaching the problem in a manner similar to college search programs (and familiar to students)—visit many locations and learn about the range of options. Her pilot program launched this past summer as she enrolled 15 high school students and/or recent graduates in her Construction Exploratory Program. Over 8 sessions, students became certified in the OSHA 10 Program, made site visits to companies such as Redbrook Development, Glynn Electric, the New England Carpenters Training Center in Millbury and the New England Laborers Training Camp in Hopkinton where they were able to gain exposure to a wide range of opportunities. They were also coached on how to interview, write a resume and importantly, for this industry, get a drivers license. During site visits, participants met with apprentices and actual trades people to see what they do. They learned that these are careers, not just jobs; positions where they will join apprentice programs, work full-time and also attend school a few nights a week. For some, they’ll need college courses to gain the skills they need while also being an apprentice. 

The results were amazing. Following the pilot, three students came away with jobs—one a recent high school graduate, a student who will graduate in December and another who will graduate in June but is now also working this full-time job. Others will finish school and then go through the hiring process. The program shaped student thinking. One participant had entered the program thinking he would become a carpenter but is now leaning toward electrical or sheet metal work after meeting with representatives from these trades. He sent out three letters for internships on the last day of the program and immediately received offers from two companies. The companies that Judi works with are committed to training and bringing young people into the business. As she says, “this is a career investment by both parties.”

What would you tell a fellow business owner about SCORE?: 

As she was crafting the program, a friend who is a very successful businesswoman encouraged her to contact SCORE for help. Judi signed up on the national site and was quickly connected with Cape Cod & the Islands SCORE Mentor Mark Lowenstein. Residing in Plymouth, Judi felt it would be most efficient if she and Mark held mentoring sessions on the phone. Mark worked with her to create a business plan using the Business Model Canvas, a one page template that SCORE frequently uses. For Judi, this was most helpful in defining her Value Proposition and Target Customer profile. As Judi said, “Mark was a perfect fit for her. He’s been available to review documents and decisions and guide her as she builds the business.” Judi has also become a frequent user of the numerous webinars on the SCORE website. “Every time I have a question, I check the SCORE website for a webinar on that topic.” For Judi, being able to be mentored on the phone and view webinars online has been great. She doesn’t have to leave her office and she can do things on her own schedule.

Mark has also found working with Judi to be rewarding. “Judi came to SCORE to address a real need in the marketplace. She’s committed to helping young people learn about incredible career paths and at the same time help the trades grow their base of qualified workers. It’s a win-win!” 

Judi is now planning her next Construction Exploratory Program for the spring as well as running one hour introductory sessions at local high schools, consistently stressing the difference between a job and a career. She is always on the search for partner companies with apprentice programs or tuition reimbursement and who have the ability to provide careers for students. She’s confident this is a program that can be expanded regionally, then statewide and ultimately, national. We think she might just get there!

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