Darrell Galloway started his construction career by helping his father in his work as a carpenter and painter. Every summer through junior high, under the intense Georgia sun, Galloway would serve as his dad’s “gofer” as he worked on various projects throughout the area.
The experience propelled Galloway into a wide-ranging career in the skilled trades. From estimating to project managing, painting to welding, Galloway has seemingly done it all. But one might argue his most important work is the role Galloway has taken on just this past year—as advocate and mentor for young people exploring careers in the construction trades.
As regional director for nonprofit Xcel Strategies Inc., Galloway now spends much of his time promoting careers in the skilled trades among youth aged 15 to 25 across Georgia. It’s a job of critical importance for an industry plagued with a nationwide worker shortage, especially among skilled trades roles.
In February 2022, US-based construction trade group Associated Builders and Contractors released a model showing that the industry needed to attract nearly 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2022 to meet labor demand.
The industry’s staffing problem is particularly urgent considering demand for building is booming, with equally lofty expectations in the years ahead.
This is thanks in large part to recently passed legislation in the US calling for $550 billion of new infrastructure investment over the next decade—a boon that global consultancy McKinsey estimates could create as many as 3.2 million new jobs across the nonresidential construction sector.
Put simply: the construction industry needs more workers—and fast.
This moment calls for people like Galloway, who are active on the front lines mentoring and encouraging young people to consider careers in the construction trades.
“Some young people have looked at college and they realize that’s not the track they want to go to,” Galloway said. “And so when we show them what’s possible with a career in the skilled trades, they jump at it.”
Headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, and started by Jay Thompson, Xcel aims to help young people find purpose, and it is hopeful that experience and exposure to the skilled trades will help many of them see the viability in pursuing a construction career.
Xcel not only mentors young people on the “hard” skills of the trades—construction, electrical, automotive, plumbing—but on “soft” skills as well, such as goal setting, time management, financial literacy, and health and wellness.
The program is especially geared toward at-risk youth who come from homes without “full or partial parental oversight,” as its website points out, including kids who’ve lost a parent due to abuse, addiction, death, separation or incarceration.
The ultimate goal, according to Xcel’s website, is to help many of the kids who go through the program find apprenticeships and internships, as well as part- and full-time jobs and seasonal employment.
What makes Xcel unique is that instead of having centralized facilities that students travel to, Xcel travels to where the students are. Xcel’s mobile training units, as Galloway called them, are equipped with everything needed to mentor and train the kids in the program.
“We use the car hauler, 26-foot trailers to build out and make workstations in them that are very flexible,” Galloway said.
Not everyone who goes through Xcel ends up in a construction career. And that’s OK to Galloway because at the end of the day, mentoring and helping the kids isn’t about forcing construction careers on them, but opening their eyes to what’s possible and letting them know that they can dream—and dream big. It’s also about helping them live a better life.
“Our ultimate goal is to see them eventually come back in and be mentors themselves and be the next generation of mentors that are going to come up behind us,” Galloway said.
“I really just try to help them get a strong sense of self-worth, but also to have a strong worth for others as well,” Galloway said.