This month I had an opportunity to ask Mike some questions about where he works and why he takes so much of his time to help develop a more robust workforce system in Georgia. Read our conversation below:
BLU: Why did you get involved in workforce work?
Mike: I have a history of working on things that aren’t easy. As the construction industry was struggling to find employees, I thought this was a great place to focus my energy. Helping the industry find solutions to complicated issues is one of the areas I found myself able to make a valuable contribution. I have now become passionate about developing a solution to this issue, I’m all about the solutions!
BLU: As busy as you are, how do you find time for workforce development?
Mike: I have a very unique role. About 20 years ago, Holder Construction Company’s CEO gave me a role with incredible flexibility to get involved in business critical initiatives. I spend a significant amount of my time on working with various trade associations within the construction industry and the initiatives and priorities these groups establish. Virtually all of these groups have been discussing the topic of workforce for years, but not making any real progress. Building on the experience I learned from BLU, I have significantly stepped up my efforts to increase and coordinate the various group’s efforts in the area of workforce development.
BLU: What do you value about being a part of BLU?
Mike: At this year’s BLU meeting, it clicked for me that we are a collective of businesses focused on Workforce Partnerships. The future of our country is dependent on being competitive with our workforce, so we need to band together as a business community to address these issues nationally and at our local level.
BLU: Why should other employers get involved in advocating for employer-led workforce partnerships?
Mike: Advocacy is critical at all levels - national, state and local. We can’t do this alone and we as employers have a much stronger voice when we come together to advocate. As a matter of fact when I came back to Georgia after my first Fly-In, I was looking for our local BLU. Since we didn’t have one, I’ve been partnering with my local industry association and looking to expand to our chambers to work on these issues at a local level and to see if we can organize businesses around workforce issues.
BLU: Tell me about Holder Construction Company.
Mike: Holder Construction Company is a commercial general contractor with approximately 750 employees and offices across the United States. We are consistently ranked as the largest data center builder in the U.S., and are involved in many other interesting projects such as a number of corporate headquarters, aviation projects and the new Falcon’s football stadium. One thing that I am especially proud of is that we have competed for the past 11 years in Fortune magazine’s best places to work for medium businesses and have been listed every year.
BLU: What is a hot button issue for you?
Mike: I was surprised to find that out of every 100 kids, approximately 22 don’t graduate high school; 26 graduate but are not going to college; 21 go to college but don’t finish their degree and only the last 30 or so go on to get their college degree. There is a lot of focus on the 30% that are going to and graduating from college, but we lose the other 70%. I don’t think we are doing enough for that segment of our population; we need to focus more on the 70%.
I think the community college debate is getting lost in the framing. The debate has become around the word “free”. I have learned from my engagement with BLU that spending on workforce training is an investment, an investment that is not lost for society. While people don’t necessarily want more “giveaways,” we need to make people aware that the community college and career and technical education create an environment for people to gain technical skills that will lead to jobs and self-sufficiency, thus increasing our nation’s ability to compete globally.
The business community needs to stand up and push for technical training and community colleges. As we have said through BLU, a four-year degree is not the only option. Effective community colleges engage businesses of all sizes, like those in BLU, to be sure the skills being taught are delivered in a consistent and high quality manner and meet the needs of the business community so that when they graduate they have the skills required for the jobs that are available. It is the responsibility of the business community to leverage workforce partnerships to communicate the skills that we need so that the journey from K-12 to community college to a career is seamless.