Getting Young People Interested In Construction Careers – NEF Block Kids And More

It’s no secret that the construction industry is facing a skilled worker labor shortage. Over the past few months there have been a number of news articles published in both national and local media outlets regarding this topic and how it’s already affecting some areas of the country. How this happened should not be a mystery to anyone. After the recession hit, the demand for commercial and residential construction slowed to a crawl. As a result, many workers either retired or sought employment in a different industry. Now that the economy and the construction industry are both back on the upswing there aren’t enough workers to keep up with the growing demand.

The entire AEC industry needs do its part to close skilled worker shortage gap, from small businesses to large corporations to the various trade associations and organizations. In previous blog posts we’ve discussed ways to deal with the skilled worker shortage and whether proposed immigration reform would really have any significant impact.  We’ve also discussed programs dedicated to helping veterans transition to careers in construction and how the construction industry committed to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

One of the big pieces to solving the skilled worker shortage puzzle is getting more young people interested in careers in construction at an early age and keeping them interested as they get older and closer to joining the workforce. Maybe there needs to be a larger emphasis on the national level similar to the way students are being encouraged to choose careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

The good news is there are a number of programs out there to encourage and inspire young people to pursue careers in construction. Too many, in fact, to cover them all in a single blog post so over the next few months we will be highlighting as many of these programs as possible. We’re kicking off this ongoing series with three programs developed by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Education Foundation (NEF) aimed at getting school age children interested in construction: Block Kids, the CAD/Design/Drafting Competition and the Accessory Structure Project.

Block Kids

The Block Kids program is an award-winning program created in 1990 as a fun way to introduce elementary school children to careers in the construction industry. The building competition is open to children in grades K-6 and is sponsored on the local level by NAWIC Chapters. Local winners go on to compete at the regional level. A semi-finalist is selected from each of the 14 regions to compete in the national competition where prizes are awarded first, second and third place winners.

Participants are required to build a structure using up to 100 interlocking toy blocks along with three of the following items: string, foil, small rock and poster board. Once construction is complete, participants must give an oral presentation explaining why they chose to build the project they built, what they like about their project, what, if anything, they would change if they were to build it over and how it will be used. The projects are then judged on oral presentation, creativity of the project, enthusiasm of the participant, use of materials, reason for participation and attention to detail.

The competition is held annually and the national winners for the 2014 NEF National Block Kids Competition were announced last month and the winning project was for a “Triple Energy Farm” that incorporated wave turbines, solar panels and wind turbines.

CAD/Design/Drafting Competition

The CAD/Design/Drafting Competition is for high school students in grades 9-12.  Like the Block Kids Competition, judging takes place on the local, regional and national level. The competition is split into two divisions: CAD Drafting and Hand Drafting. Cash prizes on the national level are given for the first, second, and third place winners in the CAD Division and for the first place winner in the Hand Drafting Division.

Each participant is required to tackle a “Design Problem” created by a licensed architect, engineer or design professional. Participants are required to draft a site plan with roof plan, floor plan, exterior elevations, electrical plan and building sections. The must also provide specifications that include materials, finishes and products along with a design narrative explaining the design elements and how it meets the requirements of the “Design Problem”. Projects are judged on detail, accuracy and originality of work.

This year’s “Design Problem” required contestants to design a 3,000 SF house for an aging couple that includes an number of specific requirements such as an ADA-compliant bathroom, a greenhouse and a wheelchair accessible patio or porch. National winners will be announced next month.

Accessory Structure Project

The Accessory Structure Project is NEF’s newest program and is designed for students in grade 8-12. According to the NEF website, the Accessory Structure Project is the “next generation to the NEF Shed Project”. The Shed Project required students to design-build a shed to meet a client’s design, time and budget requirements. Project elements included creating a floor plan, elevations, quantity take-offs, project cost and site layout. Students were also required to write a career report and a project report and also build a scale-model of the shed.

The Accessory Structure Project is a cross-curriculum program that incorporates math and English skills in a construction oriented project. Teams of three students are tasked with creating a company identity that includes designing a company logo and letterhead. The teams are then required to draft letters and proposals in order to be contracted to design and build a mock-up of an accessory structure. The project was written and pilot tested by teachers and was created to be used in the classroom.

To learn more about the NEF, Block Kids, Accessory Structure Project and the CAD/Design/Drafting Competition you can visit their website here.

If you know of a program geared to engaging and inspiring young people to consider careers in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction fields that you would like to see highlighted in a future blog post please let us know in the Comments Section below.

4 Responses to “Getting Young People Interested In Construction Careers – NEF Block Kids And More”

  1. Bill Seyler April 23, 2014 at 7:35 AM #

    One organizaiton that is also helping young hiigh school stuends become interested in the ACE is the ACE Mentoring Program. A great program that exposes young students to these three fields. Seeing the interest and creativity by the young students is really quite amazing. If there is not an ACE Program in your area, start one. Go to the ACE web site at and learn more about the program.

    • Kendall Jones April 23, 2014 at 8:06 AM #

      Thanks Bill, the ACE Mentor Program is definitely on my list. Are you involved with the Raleigh affiliate? If I remember correctly, someone with the Raleigh Lend Lease office is the contact person in this area.

  2. Stacey Ehring April 28, 2014 at 1:03 PM #

    Great article! We currently participate in the ACE Mentor Program, The Big Build at the Washington Building Museum is a great annual event to get younger kids excited about our industry. We also work with the public school systems in Maryland and have employees spend a few hours talking to kids about their careers in construction for career day. DC Students Construction Trade Foundation is also a great organization to be a part of Something else to look forward to is the new theme park Diggerland coming this summer to New Jersey.

    • Kendall Jones April 28, 2014 at 1:32 PM #

      Thanks Stacey. I will have to look into the Big Build and the DC Students Construction Trade Foundation. I remember reading something about Diggerland a few months back. They have four parks in the UK so hopefully there will be more on the way in the US.

Leave a Reply