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Building Up The Trades

Joe Schwengels

As the economy and the construction industry continue to recover from its long downturn, firms are seeking to add skilled workers and are not finding many available. The Associated General Contractors of America surveyed its members during the summer of 2015 and found that of the 1,358 respondents; 86 percent reported having difficulty filling hourly skilled workers (particularly carpenters, sheet metal installers and concrete workers) and salaried professional positions (especially project managers, estimators and engineers). As the labor shortages grow, the competition heats up for compelling firms, like us, to raise wages, increase benefits and rely more heavily on subcontractors and temporary labor firms.

This should be music to the ears of people who want to break the emergent perception that a four year college degree is preferred to any technical college or apprenticeship after high school. JP Cullen along with 14 area high schools have been working together to combat this perception. Nearly twenty years ago we established an Apprenticeship Committee, comprised of trade professionals who have all completed an apprenticeship, and are committed to building partnerships with area schools to help share our passion for the skilled trades with students by speaking with classes and inviting them to our job sites for first look tours of construction. Last year, for the first time, the committee held the 1st Annual Construction Career Fair for high schoolers to have the opportunity to participate in a non-traditional, hands-on Career Fair. These efforts have stemmed from a long-term commitment the Cullen Family has made to better the construction industry.

Last week we again hosted the Construction Career Fair at our Janesville headquarters. Much like last year there were interactive opportunities for high schoolers to learn more about the fields in the construction industry through mock-ups, hands-on demonstrations, and having the chance to speak individually with apprenticeship recruiters from the local building trade unions. The trades represented were electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fire protection,  ironworkers, carpenters, millwrights, concrete finishers, masons, operating engineers, safety, BIM and prefabrication.

Approximately 200 students and staff were in attendance from 12 different area high schools including: Albany, Parkview, Janesville Craig and Parker, Beloit, Milton, McFarland, Clark Street Community, Juda, Edgerton, Stoughton and Whitewater. New this year, we had a hand-full of parents participate along with their children treating it as if it were a college visit seeing firsthand what their students would be doing after high school through an apprenticeship if they chose to go that route.

Milton High School student smooths out the setting concrete with the guidance of Shawn Mielke, Cement Foreman at JP Cullen. As demonstration leader, Mielke commented that many kids enjoyed the hands-on activities and learned a lot from it.
JP Cullen Superintendent, Dustin Wanless showed students how to operate the boom lift, while giving them a bird’s eye view of the career fair.

Sean Cullen, Superintendent at JP Cullen said, “This year’s group of students truly seemed interested to learn. They not only received the vast knowledge of what careers in the trades can offer them, but they were able to see what it is like to put their knowledge to use through hands-on demonstrations. It’s also important for these kids to see that not all careers in construction have to be swinging a hammer; there’s something for everyone whether that is BIM, Safety, Marketing, Prefabrication or jobs in the field, we have it all and hoped to have opened their eyes to something new.”

You can check out more pictures from the event by looking at our photo album on our Facebook page.  To learn more or find out how you can get involved in promoting work in the trades, please contact Joe Schwengels at Or, if you simply want to learn more about the growing demand of skilled workers, visit the Department of Workforce Development website.

Lastly, we could not have made this event happen without our sponsors. Let us take a minute to thank each and every one of them: Ahern, AFS, Badger Contractors Rental & Supply, Bobcat of Janesville, DeGarmo Plumbing, Carpenters Local 314, Potratz Concrete Pumping South, Verona Safety, Westphal Electrical, General Heathing and Air Conditioning, BAC Bricklayers Council, L.W. Meyer, Inc., Jensen Equipment Company Inc., Lycon Inc., Hooper Corporation, Bandt Communications, Inc., Steamfitters Local 601, Penn Tool, Dayton Superior, Iron Workers Local 383, Symons, Hatch, Hilti, Lincoln Contractors Supply, Rockford Rigging and United Rentals. We would also like to thank our employees for taking time out of their schedules. We truly appreciate every one supporting our mission to build up the trades!

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May 28, 2024