If you take a look around Boston, and the number of cranes and building projects in the works, the need for a larger construction workforce should be no surprise. This worker shortage comes at a time when the construction industry continues to adopt the latest technology, leading to new roles opening up without the workers to fill them.
As a former educator, I’m passionate about partnering with schools to help light the pathway to AEC jobs for the next generation. To showcase the incredible roles available in construction, we recently hosted local high school students from Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and Dearborn STEM Academy, skilled trade workers, elected officials, and three-time Super Bowl champion James Develin for an inspiring day of learning and connection.
In celebration of the Make It Modular Design Challenge, students visited our Boston office on Monday, May 23rd to hear from a panel of construction professionals and receive advice for their future careers in the building trades. They also toured the Autodesk Technology Center and participated in a hands-on design challenge.
Vice President of Business Operations for Autodesk Construction Solutions (ACS) Paul Blandini welcomed the crowd of influential Bostonians—including City Councilor Erin Murphy, Kristin McSwain, director of the Office of Early Education and senior advisor to the Mayor, and Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space.
He brought attention to the dire need for new, highly skilled workers in the construction workforce and noted that students in Boston, like the bright minds represented in the room, should be first in line for the opportunities in this growing industry.
My former student Ayub Sharif, who is now a Project Software Engineer for the NBA, moderated the conversation with James Develin and panelists from Gilbane Building Company, Digital Ready, Sheet Metal Workers Local 17, Pipefitters Local 537, and ACS. Panelists weighed in on their career journeys, lessons learned, and insight for young people who are just getting started.
“The high school that I went to was very college-oriented, so I went to Tulane University to study architecture. I didn’t really want to go to college, but that’s what you do,” panelist Shamaiah Turner shared with the group about her academic experience. “I was fortunate enough to take a gap year, and I went down to Florida to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and build houses. And when I was living in New Orleans while attending Tulane, that’s when Hurricane Katrina ran through the city. And I was much more interested in helping people rebuild than going to class.”
At that point, Shamaiah realized her aptitude for the building trades and joined Boston’s Building Pathways program, which was geared toward getting more people of color and women into union construction.
During the event, City Councilor Murphy shared that there should be more opportunities to encourage students interested in the trades. “My takeaway as a teacher, and now as a City Councilor, is that we don’t do a good enough job letting students know that if a path isn’t college that it’s also just as good. You’re obviously smart, and you have to be really smart and have all the skills you would need in college to succeed in this pathway.”
Former New England Patriots fullback James Develin, who has partnered with Autodesk for the last three years on the Make It Real program, was also on the panel. “I really took to some classes I had in high school centered around AutoCAD. I fell in love with the creativity of it,” he shared. “I studied engineering and got my degree, and 10 years later, after my football career had ended, I decided that I wanted to entertain my creativity and follow my entrepreneurial passions to open my own business.”
After speaking about his own career after he retired from the NFL, he shared important lessons he has picked up from his experience as an entrepreneur and working with building professionals who have helped bring his vision to life.
“The clearer the communication is, the better, especially in a construction project where there are so many different trades involved and so many different people with insights and expertise, and you all have to come together to work cohesively,” James said. “You have to be able to put your ego aside and give your two cents, then sit back and listen… It’s the secret to any successful team.”
After lunch with James, the students headed out on a tour of the Technology Center. On their tour, students spoke with trade professionals, learned about cutting edge technologies, and even got to meet Boston Dynamics’ robot, Spot.
At the end of the day, the students participated in a hands-on design challenge inspired by Make It Modular, where they were asked to construct models of their designs using Build-It Disks, sourced from recycled materials.
While the students built their original structures, they spoke with Kristin Mcswain, Director of Boston’s Office of Early Education and Autodesk’s Circular Economy and Construction Researcher Dr. Fope Bademosi about the potential impact their designs would have in the local community.
As part of the contest, students are challenged to incorporate circular design principles—strategies for improving the built environment by upcycling waste, circulating existing materials, or regenerating nature—and repurpose a shipping module for a structure that provides a public benefit for their neighborhood. Having the chance to interact with elected officials and learn from local professionals helped the students see just how significant a role they can play when centering the needs of their community in real-life construction projects.
After the students departed, their impressive structures remained standing in the office—leaving us with a visual reminder of their impact at the day’s event, and a monument to their future greatness as the next generation of builders.