Build California: How to Overcome Construction’s Perception Problem I Ep. 43


Peter Tateishi, CEO of Associated General Contractors of California (AGC of California) joins me to discuss “Build California”, a new initiative of the association Eric for a fascinating exploration of the mission of his organization. 

From the Build California website: 

Only 9 percent of Generation Z is interested in a future in construction. Build California’s pioneering approach utilizes robust marketing, communications, and outreach tactics in order to effectively engage with Californians about the lucrative, long-term, and immediate benefits of careers in the construction industry. Our outreach and programmatic efforts rely on on-going, customized messaging and resources delivered to multiple audiences on their chosen platforms.

Highlights Include: 

  • The Construction Industry’s greatest failure (and opportunity) 
  • Why Construction offers unique opportunities to a wide variety of people 
  • 3 Targets of the Message: Parents, Educators, Young People 
  • Adapting Build California’s messaging to Generation Z
  • Communicating the breadth of opportunity Construction offers
  • How Build California differs from previous efforts to promote the Construction Industry
  • Partnering: How AGC of California is teaming with educators to reach the next generation
  • Why one career counselors gave a young man misguided advice 
  • Farm and ‘Hood: Reaching Out to Rural and Urban School Districts 
  • How metrics will be used to track Build California’s success 
  • Build California’s five-year strategic goal 
  • How Construction companies can partner with AGC of California and take advantage of the Build California program 


Build California Website

Moses’ Story

Full Transcript: 

Eric [00:00:00] It’s my pleasure to welcome back to Construction Genius Peter Tateishi, the CEO of the AGC of California. Peter, welcome to the show. 

Peter [00:00:08] Thanks for having me again, Eric. Always good to be here. 

Eric [00:00:10] You and I were chatting off line just a minute ago and we were talking about what you perceive as one of the the biggest failures of the construction industry. Would you like to talk to the audience about that, please? 

Peter [00:00:20] Absolutely, Erik. One of the things that I’ve been learning as I’ve been here at AGC of California, for almost the past two years, has been our failure as an industry to tell our story. It’s to own our own narrative as to the careers, the opportunities that are within the construction industry. You talk to people within our industry, they love what we do. They love the work that they do. They are passionate and excited to get up every day and go to work. But what we have not done as an industry is tell our story. Talk about those opportunities. Talk about the the way in which we can engage young people in a lifelong journey that starts, whether that’s at an apprenticeship, whether that’s a degree program or construction management or what have you. All the way through then a lifetime provides a great quality of life. We don’t tell our story and it’s a failure that’s hurting this industry and how we look at pipeline development and recruiting the next workforce to come into the industry. 

Eric [00:01:31] So why do you think that is? Why is it that the construction industry has failed in this way? 

Peter [00:01:37] You know, I think there is a lot of there’s a lot of reasons. One, we like to just do our work. Right. If you talk to our folks on the job sites, they are excited to get in and get out. That’s right. It provides a great opportunity for them. It provides a great quality of life. And they like to enjoy their life. They work really hard and they play really hard. Yeah. So they’re not focused on telling that story. The second piece, though, is a societal dynamic. In the 80s, we made a change moving away from CTE, your career, technical education. We moved away from the idea of using your hands. And so schools started shifting, society started shifting away from the idea that it was a value to be, I guess, if you will, saying manual labor. Yeah. And that change in mindsets has allowed people who have gone into that track to almost feel as if, you know, it’s not to be talked about because it’s almost frowned upon by society what they do. 

[00:02:42] And I think that’s the detriment of our whole society, is that we have we’ve created this notion that working with your hands, working in construction is really more of a career of last resort instead of a career of choice. And so when society kind of puts that on you, you’re not going to talk about it as openly or as honestly and candidly. You kind of are in that place where it’s like, sure, this is the best kept secret. I’m going to keep it that way because I love what I do and I love the life it provides me. So we just haven’t done the work necessary as an industry to shift that societal dynamic and to shift that conversation across the board to say no, careers in construction are careers of choice, not careers of last resort. 

Eric [00:03:29] Let’s see. It seems to be a deep challenge because most the kids in this country, they go to school. And when you’re in the school, you’re being sold a particular narrative. And that narrative is, around going out and getting a degree and working in a perhaps a technical non manual field. What is the AGC doing at the moment to try and change that perception? Because when I think about that, it’s it’s like this massive weight of the societal mindset that we’re up against. 

Peter [00:03:59] And that’s exactly the issue that we have to tackle and we are tackling here at AGC of California. So we just launched on September 20th a program called Build California. you can visit our website, Build California dot com. 

Eric [00:04:12] It’ll be in the link, will be in the show notes. 

Peter [00:04:15] And it’s really it’s a it’s a multifaceted program. It’s comprehensive in the way that it approaches the conversation around careers and construction. And so what we’ve done through Rebuild California is we have we’ve done a lot of homework, a lot of research to try to understand how we develop a pipeline of young people who are interested in pursuing careers in construction. And so we have to go to where students are, though, and to our young people are. And we have to remember right now, the youngest millennial is 22. So they’re really past that point of where we need to be influencing them and targeting them to look at careers in construction. We have to look at that next generation, which is Generation Z. And so we are focused right now on Gen Zee in a very significant way in which we are looking at how we communicate to them. So we’ve gone through, we’ve identified where they’re at. It’s Instagram. It’s YouTube. You know, it’s it’s it’s Snapchat. Yeah, it’s all of these places where they are. And we’ve targeted how we communicate with them. So we have videos and graphics that are designed to catch the attention of that Gen z. and even some Millenials and then even then the influencers around them. 

Eric [00:05:26] I think that that’s one of the fundamental things where I can immediately see a benefit because I know most parents the only reason they’re on Snapchat is to make sure that their kids aren’t going to far to the dark side of social media and in an Instagram, perhaps in the same way. So it’s important, particularly for executives and construction companies, to understand how the next generation is communicating if they’re effectively going to be able to tell their story. 

Peter [00:05:49] That’s right. I mean, candidly, if you’re posting on Facebook right now, you’re not getting your next worker. Yeah. This book is for. 

Eric [00:05:55] Your grandma. Yeah, it is. Your grandma is on Facebook. Right. 

Peter [00:05:58] And so, you know, it’s not that it’s not a place we could build California on Facebook show. Sure. But it’s a different it’s a different video. It’s a different audience that we’re targeting there. That’s where we’re targeting the parents because that’s where they’re communicating. And so we have different videos that are targeting that GNC, the Millennial, the influencers have their in. And the Gen X and baby boomer generations to really make sure that we can have the conversation that’s necessary. So one of the industries that actually did a really good job of targeting through marketing was the military. And so we took a page out of the military. And we started realizing that we have to have different messages to different audience. Yeah. You know, one size won’t fit all. Yes. And so that’s been our opportunity with Build. California has been able to drive different messages out to where the people are that we want to have the message, but then bring them back to one central repository, which is to find information and find the truth about our industry. 

Eric [00:06:55] How would you sum up that fundamental core message that you are looking to communicate? 

Peter [00:07:03] That there are lots of great careers in construction, period? There is opportunity in construction, and that could be through a trade that could be going through an apprenticeship program, that could be going through a certification program at a community college or a degree program, whether that’s in construction management or engineering or architecture, even technology where we need advancements in construction from a technology standpoint. There are so many ways to find careers in construction that can meet people’s needs, whether again, it is you need to go straight from high school into an apprenticeship program to you need to go to a four year program and get a degree. But what we want to make sure is that people understand that the breadth of opportunity with in construction, because right now there’s a stereotype around what a construction job is. 

Eric [00:07:51] As I observe the industry, I’ve been involved in it myself, you know, for 15 years. One of the things that has always struck me about construction is that idea of the full spectrum of opportunity for the full range of people’s interests and abilities. 

Peter [00:08:10] That’s the beauty of construction, is that you can get in many different facets or avenues and be involved in creating something, creating a legacy. Eric, we create and build tremendous foundations and buildings and infrastructure that last generations, that impacts generations, that impacts our future. When we can talk and show young people and adults opportunities to make impact in our society through construction, we have to have those conversations. 

Eric [00:08:42] It’s interesting because often when you’re doing something and you excel at it, you’re not really conscious of why it is that you’re doing so well and where you find the pleasure because you don’t think about it so much, you just do it. And and that’s why I think it’s important for construction company executives and owners to take that step back and to really think through what it is that makes construction unique and why others should come into the business. And it seems like that’s what Build California is all about. 

Peter [00:09:13] That’s right. It’s it’s really an authentic way to show what construction does. Yeah. And the work that we do. And that’s important because it’s not just the finished product. Yeah, right. Yes. Buildings are beautiful roads when they are done and bridges, they are phenomenal structures and infrastructure. But we have to show them the actual process of the work and how it comes to life because it is in that process of how we build that. There is a lot of passion. There is a lot of excitement. There’s a lot of energy. But we’re not showing that. That’s not part of the conversation. What we typically show in those conversations is the stereotype of a lazy construction worker. Yeah. And that’s not what we do. But that’s the stereotype that we allow on television, in print and pictures, you know, is. Is that dynamic? Look at that guy just standing around, right? That’s not what we do. And so our pictures show action. They show movement. They show the work we do in an authentic way. It’s also informative and cool. Yeah, because work we do is super cool. 

Eric [00:10:15] Yeah. See, now that’s the key there. Because. Because I think that the one thing that construct construction gives people the opportunity to do is construction is both a product and a service. It is something that is conceptual as well as tactile. It takes into account the full range of of human aptitude and experience. And it has a place for every single person, no matter what your aptitude or interest is,. 

Peter [00:10:45] You’re 100 percent right here. And Eric, this is this is why we get so excited here at AGC of California is because we can bring so many different and unique people together with different skill sets and we can create something together. 

Eric [00:11:02] So what’s interesting to me, though, is, and I think I can hear some of my audience thinking this way is we’ve had this conversation before in construction. It’s been sort of brewing here for the past 10, 15 years. When 2008 hit from much, much of the industry, so many people left. And there’s this gulf between, the folks in their 50s and 60s and the folks in their 20s and 30s. What’s different about Build California from the other efforts that have been made to do something similar that, in my opinion, at least misfired in some ways. 

Peter [00:11:39] And that’s what we studied before we launched this program. We spent really the last 18 months looking at other programs, looking at things that were successful, things that weren’t successful. And candidly, within construction from a recruitment marketing effort, we weren’t having much success. So we had to look at programs like the military. We had to look at brands like Taco Bell and Pepsi and Coke and say, what are they doing? 

[00:12:01] That’s getting to this Gen Z and that millennial the way that we need to be having those conversations. What we had a tendency to do is when we said tell our story, we’d put an old dude standing in front of a camera talking about his story. Right. And that is not what captures this next generation. That’s not what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for long words. Right. Candidly, most of those videos were between six and 10 minutes long. Right. You have six to eight seconds to capture this generation. See, that is their attention span right now. Right. So if in that six to eight seconds, you can’t, again, communicate something that is authentic, informative and cool. All right. In that six or eight seconds, you have lost them. And if they then click hypothetically, you know, and in our case, we’re hoping it’s all the time if they click and then they learn. You only have that one chance for them to go. Oh, they they’ve got their stuff together. They’re ready to go. I want to learn more about this. So we have we have very few opportunities to prove ourselves as worthy of their time. And so what we’ve learned is that when we would put people who are currently in the system just talking about what they do, that’s not what they’re looking for. 

Eric [00:13:13] It’s interesting. It’s interesting. So tell me, what is the in your mind, the role and the responsibility of the educational system in terms of the growing interest in the construction industry? 

Peter [00:13:30] So we see education as a partner. Right. And we have to see them as a partner. They are educating our children across this great state of California and across this country. They have in some ways outside of parents, the second most the highest ability to influence. Yes. These students about careers and about their futures. Right. So what we’re doing through Build California is we’re developing curriculum. We have three pilot programs that are launching in the new year in 2020, one in L.A. Unified, one in Clovis Unified and one in Oakland Unified. Right. To get us in the classroom to help educate teachers, career counselors. Yes. And students. Yes. About what are what are what are the careers in construction? Yes. But candidly, there is a lot that people don’t know about our industry. And so instead of actually learning about them, instead of getting the whole truth, we have people who are influencers who are doing the best they can with limited information. But because it’s limited, they aren’t pushing these young people into it, into looking at careers in education right there. They’re sometimes misinformed about starting salaries or potential for job we had a family who had a twelve year old who a career counselor was meeting with them. He said, I want to be a welder and a career counselor looked at him confused, said, why would you want to do that? You know, gave him a number for salary that is a starting wage and said it was a capped wage. Yep. And then said it has no potential for growth. Which is a 100 percent untrue, you know. And so this is our dynamic that we’re up against where education needs to be a partner, you know. But right now, they don’t have the information and they don’t know what they don’t know. Right. And this is our opportunity to actually get in. Be partners with education and really start changing that narrative again with teachers, with career counselors, with even parents then and with the students. 

Eric [00:15:26] So that curriculum. Is it a test pilot in these three areas? 

Peter [00:15:30] Yeah, we picked a very I mean, two very big school districts, L.A. Unified, Oakland. These are urban. I don’t have a very diverse school district with lots of dynamics at play and a rural area out in Clovis. Right on. So we wanted to be able to show that this is a a program, a curriculum that can be used in. Any size school district from the largest to the smallest and in any kind of diversity of students and clientele. So we’re really launching this across the state. And there was great intention to make sure that the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Southern California, that we could test and pilot this curriculum and really get into these schools and show opportunity. 

Eric [00:16:15] So let’s wave a magic wand here. Let’s say we’re having this conversation five years from today. What’s changed in light of the perception of the construction industry and the involvement in the construction industry as a result of Build California? 

Peter [00:16:30] So in five years, what our what our strategic goal that we have set up for ourselves in five years is that that we have real metrics that are coming in now that show that students are choosing careers and construction. Now we see enrollments up in apprenticeship programs. You know, that we see programs in high demand, in construction management, engineering, architecture, technology that, you know, are are geared towards construction. So one of the things that is unique about Build California is that when when a student, a parent comes in and and signs the signs in with Build California, our back end is in partnership with LCP Tracker. OK, LCP Tracker is used by many in the industry on how we track workers in meeting certain local utilization goals and in zip code utilizations so that we can actually go and see how we are employing and making impact in the workforce. Right. So we have that LCP is already doing LCP Tracker is already doing that in the workforce, in the industry. That’s now part of our back end. Right. So has these students are coming in. We’re going to be able to track them as they’re actually doing work within California, as they’re getting employed by our members for different projects. So in five years, we’re hoping to see that person who first signed up through Build California to get information on how to get an apprenticeship as being an operating engineer, let’s say. And in five years, we should actually be able to see them working in the industry. 

Eric [00:18:03] And so what you’re saying is true is through the back end that you’ve set up, it won’t just be throwing some money at a problem, putting some cool videos up and hoping for the best, but you’ll actually be able to track the impact over a long period of time. 

Peter [00:18:13] That’s what makes this such a big and important program, is that we are putting metrics and putting metrics on ourselves for success. And then we are at. We’ve actually built it ends that we can track impact. That is something that our industry hasn’t done. Again, we can buy as many advertising as we want, but unless we’re actually tracking and holding ourselves accountable, we won’t know if that’s successful or not. Right. 

Eric [00:18:35] That’s right. So that tracking will enable you to to adjust and tweak things as it goes along. 

Peter [00:18:39] Everyday. And again, every year, attention spans change. You know, the generation shifts in their their desires and what is cool, what is not. Trust me, I’ve haven’t been cool in decades. 

[00:18:50] Leave me, you know, so my kids remind me of that every day. 

Eric [00:18:54] So we have to we have to be nimble as an organization. We can’t believe that if we just keep putting the same thing out there, that it will actually change the conversation. So, you know, we’ve produced over 30 videos that we’re putting out and social media putting out onto television, into radio, our traditional media markets and our in our in our new media markets. You know, in that sense and we are making sure that after a year, you’re not seeing the same video. Right. I mean, yes, we can all remember different military videos that you’ve seen on television. But they’re not still showing the same one from 2003 that they’re showing today. Right. They’ve learned to continue to evolve those conversations. Right. So that they’re they’re relevant to the the generation they’re talking targeting. And that’s what we do. And that’s why, again, advertisements for any major brand have shifted over time and the communication in the way they do it. If you look at most and this is what we learned that was fascinating, if you look at most marketing, it’s not really about what they’re selling. It’s about a lifestyle. There’s nothing like that through their product. You get this lifestyle. 

Eric [00:19:58] So then let’s talk about that. What is the lifestyle that Build California is promoting? 

Peter [00:20:05] And that’s exactly the piece that we’re putting in those videos. And you’ll see it. We’re talking to them about real salaries. We’re showing them the things that you will be able to have from a from a quality of life dynamic, whether that’s the cool truck, whether that’s the house, whether that’s having a family. You know, they get in some of this. It’s designed for the parent to show them that they’re going to be able to provide for themselves. Yes. Raise a family. Yes. And be okay in the future. 

Eric [00:20:31] Now, I’m wondering, construction CEOs, construction executives listening to this episode, what would you like them to take away from our discussion? What would you like them to do as a result of what they’ve learned today? 

Peter [00:20:50] So we have great partnership opportunities with. Bill, California, one of the things is the work you do is really cool. It’s really exciting. You know, there’s a lot of energy on the projects that you’re building. Those pictures are great. We have the ability to work with you through our filters, through our programing to further for you to be able to market Build California and your company and the work you do to that next generation. through our support at AGC of California, we are focused on making sure that our industry can succeed and help develop a better and stronger state of California. So we want every company out there to be pushing the work they do, you know, not having to reinvent the conversation around what’s a carpenter, what’s the labor or all of you do the same dynamic. Right. You all have a unique way of bringing a perspective, a culture, you know, to to your job site. Yes. But when it comes to the actual work of an operating engineer, of a carpenter, of a cement mason, you know, of an electrician, there is a standard out there. And so you don’t have to reinvent that standard. And we’ll talk about that, Bill. California has all of that information for you so that when you’re talking about what makes your company cool and exciting to work for, you can pitch your company. All right. Well, at the same time, using the same language that universally our industry needs to use to support, here’s the work you can do for us. 

Eric [00:22:20] So that’s interesting because if I’m a a billion dollar contractor, perhaps I have some budget for this kind of marketing effort. If I’m a smaller contractor and maybe I’m a I’m operating my own business and I’m out in the field and working with clients, I may not have that same financial opportunity in terms of marketing, but it sounds like with the Build California, there is a cost effective and very sophisticated way for someone who’s a smaller contractor to communicate their message. 

Peter [00:22:49] Absolutely. And so we’ve actually gone through with some of our members already and showing them how they have some great photos. We’ve talked to some big companies out there who are phenomenal photos they posted on Facebook as if someone’s going to randomly stumble upon their Facebook page, and yet they have one to three likes from somebody within their company. Right, right. Right, right. This great photo that has energy and passion around what they do is being lost. Yeah. And part of it is that they don’t know how to apply the right filter. Yeah. They don’t know how to then actually put actionable items in there. You don’t put a lot of words, but you still need to show them that what you do is, oh, this is what an electrician does or this is what an operating engineer does by just adding some language to the picture. It helps define oh, I didn’t know. So we had a great electrician company who was building out at SFO. Yep. Great photo. Very cool. But why would an electrical company have a photo of an airport there? Right. They didn’t they didn’t show them. The electricians build California. Right. Build airports. Right. You can’t just assume they can connect those dots. So it’s very simple dynamics. But if you look through the Build California, you’ll see it’s electricians build California. Yep. Right. It’s operating engineers build California laborers build California. Carpenters build California, where women build California. And we build California and even rebuild California. Yeah. Yeah. Because we are the first responders after the emergency personnel who come in to make sure that after a disaster, you know, that things get up and running again. That’s right. We do the cleanup. We rebuild. We make society come to life again. 

Eric [00:24:41] So you’re providing people an outsourced opportunity to tap into some marketing expertise that perhaps is not their core competency, and neither should it be. And yet that that marketing expertise can enable them to attract folks to their organization. 

Peter [00:24:59] Exactly. We need them focus on the work they do. Our job here at Agency of California and through our Construction Education Foundation is to provide these services so that we can support the industry. Our job every day is to lift up the industry and support it and its success so that our members can do what they do best, which is build California. 

Eric [00:25:19] That’s beautiful. So as we wrap up here. Peter, what are a couple of next steps that my construction industry audience members can take your. 

Peter [00:25:26] Reach out to us, visit, build California dot com, sign up, get information. Look at our our website. Look at our materials. We would love feedback for each other. We love partnerships. Again, all of this does have a cost to it. And we want to be able to launch this into every school district out there. Yes. You have connections out there. Get involved with Get involved with AGC of California in supporting our mission we believe the construction industry is vital to the success of California. Together, our members actively create opportunities to build and strengthen our state. We are passionate about shaping policy, improving industry relationships and developing our workforce. If those are things that you’re passionate about, stand with us so that we can continue these efforts and support your ability to again build California. 

Eric [00:26:18] That’s terrific. Peter, I really appreciate your time. I think there’s some great takeaways. I will put the link to Build California in the show notes. Thanks again for joining me. 

Peter [00:26:27] Thanks for having me. Eric, thanks for what you do. And in talking about our industry, we really appreciate that. 

Eric [00:26:32] Yeah, I have a passion for it, too. And I know you do. And it’s a kick ass industry and I’m looking forward to it continuing to move forward. 

Podcast Reviews

Why the Construction Industry is Foundational to the Success of California | Ep 12


How to Win the Battle Against Silos | Ep 19

Pat, Glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate the feedback. I'll have some more episodes in the same vein, coming soon. Eric

How to Win the Battle Against Silos | Ep 19

Eric, really enjoyed this podcast. Extreme Leadership is one of my favorite business books. Nice to see that you are incorporating some of their leadership strategies into your podcasts.

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