Virtual reality helps recruit teens into construction, mentorship motivates them to stay

For the job-hungry young adult, there aren’t that many requirements for suitable after-school employment, so long as the job works in conjunction with their current school schedule, doesn’t require extensive training or education, Is not a long-term commitment, and pays a decent amount of money. An afternoon shift as a grocery store clerk checks all of these boxes. So does a summer stint as a lifeguard at the neighborhood pool, or even the bi-weekly babysitting venture for a relative or family friend. These roles and industries are among those we have thought of as a good work option for a teenager who will probably go to college or pursue other opportunities once they’ve punched out from their position for the last time.

Historically, construction has not been one of these fields. But facing its own labor and workforce retention struggles, the construction industry has started using VR technology and simulators as added enhancements in their work, as well as the benefit of using it as a recruitment tool for a younger workforce. In conjunction with VR, technologies such as 3D modeling have proven beneficial in attracting younger employees. Eagan Building Group, a company I have worked with, has used this technology to generate a virtual reality mock-up of a particular building, allowing clients to stand to experience the design and space and what it will look like as a finished product. Demonstrating this technology in front of potential new hires has generated excitement for the company and the field as a whole.

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Virtual reality equipment is proving effective in generating a desire among teens to head over to a construction site and get fitted for their own hard hat. But when it comes to retaining these eager teenage employees, construction leaders will have to take real additional steps beyond these virtual measures. They need to become trusted and dedicated mentors to younger staff.

By embracing mentorship on the construction site, leaders and managers can potentially find dedicated workers who can learn the trade, take the place of retiring employees, while helping guide teens to an enriching new career.

Immediate benefits of mentorship in construction

VR construction simulators have been successful partly because they tap into something that teenagers generally enjoy: video games. But gaming enthusiasts will tell you that even the most state-of-the-art titles can turn redundant, and teens who do find themselves on a construction site may tire of the actual work they found so encapsulating in a virtual simulator.

This is where the immediate benefits of mentorship can be felt. Mentorship from construction managers, leaders, and veteran employees can provide these younger workers with a sense of belonging and guidance. Operating the machinery is a new found fun at first, but the relationships and support that they gain from their coworkers are the biggest value points.

There’s a part of a teenager that may be nervous climbing behind the wheel of a backhoe loader, and there’s another part that will wonder just exactly what they’re going to do with their life as they head home from work every day. Mentorship can help that teen build confidence and operate the backhoe with poise, and provide them with a sense of purpose that they’re part of something bigger, even when they’re not on site.

Effective mentorship goes beyond just helping someone do their job, but it can help an employee become a leader to others and take agency within their own career. The manager of a construction site probably started off just where the teenage employee stands today. That leader has the ability to inspire that teen to reach for new career heights, even if they extend beyond their current assignment.

Using mentorship to address construction’s challenges

The VR construction simulators and 3D modeling have been effective in generating interest in the field by showing just how fun and exciting it can be in the construction industry. But the technology does not elaborate on the conflicts and challenges that face construction workers and the industry at large.

Mentorship still plays a helpful role in preparing younger employees to be ready for certain challenges they will face within the construction field, now and in the future. Leaders and managers can encourage younger employees to always be adopting new skills and pursuing new knowledge bases to ensure they remain competitive in their careers, both within and outside of construction.

Plus, teens may be disappointed by not being allowed to operate a site’s heavy machinery until they get more training. Mentors can help teens stay enthused about other aspects of construction work beyond what the simulators show.

Sadly, construction itself is a field that has been unfairly associated with the stigma that it is apparently a job or industry that people should not want to work in, despite construction’s relatively high pay options and strong job security compared to other industries. Mentors can help younger employees build a passion for construction as more than just a job – encouraging them to view it as a trade where they are helping build new homes for people, new schools for children, new hospitals for the sick, and new museums and cultural centers for families and friends to enjoy.

For companies that want to instill a strong sense of pride and build a culture of passion, implementing both the technology and mentoring may be the trick. Mentors have the ability to help make their teenage employees proud of what they do, instill within them with a sense of respect, and generate a continued passion for a career in the field.

Mentorship in facing challenges beyond construction

For other professions with workforce shortages, like nursing or retail, virtual reality may not be the best option for getting teens interested in those industries.

Mentorship, though, can help younger workers in these industries brace for future challenges. As shopping trends have shifted from in-store to online, a younger employee in a department store can brace for future challenges in retail sales with the help of a mentor who has faced similar challenges in the field.

Mentors also don’t have to be older than the person they are mentoring. In nursing, younger practitioners fresh out of school can help veteran nurses learn new technological procedures or complex telehealth systems that are being introduced into the workforce.

All of these industries and the professionals who work within them will face challenges. In construction, an economic downturn could bring many projects to a halt. Advancements and evolutions in technology could lead to the replacement of some tasks or entire construction jobs. But effective mentorship, where experienced professionals inspire others to meet challenges and see them through, will help these industries thrive throughout the future.

Professor Brenda Bouse, adjunct professor in the Online Master’s in Business Administration at Maryville University