Construction and Human Resources

Region builds its construction profile

Two of four nominees for national craftsmen award are from West Michigan.

February 26, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Need any proof that West Michigan is a big part of the now-booming construction industry?

Two of the four nominees for the national Associated Builders and Contractors Craft Professional of the Year hail from the Western Michigan chapter of the organization: Kent Companies Superintendent Michael VanBemden and Dan Vos Construction Superintendent Scott Walters.

Both candidates will fly to Fort Lauderdale Tuesday for ABC’s annual Workforce Week and an awards presentation Friday.

The other two candidates are Bryan Feller from the Indiana/Kentucky chapter and Christopher Goodwin from Virginia.

The winner takes home a 2016 Ram Tradesman truck, a Bosch ReaXX table saw and a trophy.

The winner also will be featured in an upcoming edition of Construction Executive Magazine.

VanBemden said the two nominations from West Michigan show that, while there is a need for more skilled workers in the construction industry, the ones who call the region home are very talented.

“West Michigan — and Michigan, in general — is in a good boom right now,” he said. “The work is out here, but skilled labor isn’t, and we’re trying to bring it back. These honors speak highly to West Michigan and the craftsmen we do have, and maybe people should come here.”

VanBemden and Walters were nominated by their respective companies. The process includes proof of a journeyman designation; a 250-word essay; documentation of current craft certificates, licenses and awards within the last three years; and three years’ worth of recognition for industry, community or civic involvement.

To be eligible, nominees must have mastered 90 percent of job duties that include such things as use of tools or direct supervision of tradesmen using tools.

VanBemden started his career as a craftsman in 1984 and Walters in 1988; both have since climbed up the leadership ranks within their respective companies.

Both West Michigan nominees said they and their companies are trying to increase the awareness of the need for craft tradesmen in the area.

Walters said it’s now rare to see students go from high school to a career in construction, as was often the case a few decades ago, and puts part of the blame on the elimination of shop classes in many high schools.

“At Dan Vos, we look toward the colleges and go to the job and career fairs and talk as much as we can,” Walters said. “Parents who ask if this is a great field — I just tell them there’s so much out there. In the construction industry, there are more than 100 fields, from insulation to concrete to electric to general contractors.”

Kent Companies uses college students — often construction management students from Ferris State University — in summer internships.

VanBemden said the company often will hire because of a candidate’s attitude rather than because of experience, because the skills are teachable.

“We have a number of employees come through the door who are inexperienced,” he said. “We can see how they’re doing and what they might be good at. We can teach the skills they need to succeed.”

Both Walters and VanBemden hope the recognition of the nominations, and a possible Craft Professional of the Year win, can bring more students into the field and draw other talented craftsmen to West Michigan.

“Everyone is busy,” Walters said. “There is a need for a lot of skilled trades around here, and it’s a very good time to be in the industry.”

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