Gary Klebs portrait
Gary Klebs
The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
Building the Next Generation’s Construction Workforce—from the Ground Up
By Gary Klebs

o our members, our staff, and to everyone else reading the latest installment of The Alaska Contractor Magazine, I’d like to thank you for your continued resilience.

The past year has been nothing short of historic, and the way you’ve persevered has been equally notable. As we head into summer and prepare to put these challenging times officially behind us, I’d say we’re all due for a little celebration. And while spirits are high, I believe now is an appropriate time to tell you a little more about the guy who feels so lucky to be serving as this organization’s Board President.

I was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, a small town that isn’t famous for much, but once proudly displayed a welcome sign that read: “Home to 14,000 Busy Beavers.” When a popular adult magazine took a picture of the sign and shared it in their publication, our sign was quickly removed.

I graduated from high school in May 1970. That summer, I enrolled in a five-year apprenticeship program that led me to a position with a contractor. I worked for that same contractor for eleven years, gaining the necessary skills to become a construction professional and the financial means to start a family. In our industry today, they would call this: “earn while you learn.”

Like many of us, I moved to the 49th state in the early ’80s not for work, but for the Alaskan experience. With my then-wife and our three children, I figured we’d only stay for a decade or so before returning to Wisconsin. But after only two years, I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere. So, in 1986, I started Klebs Mechanical out of my garage.

During my almost forty years of running the business, we experienced our share of setbacks and successes—but through it all, we never stopped learning. When I was ready to step away, I was lucky enough to keep the business in the family, and sold Klebs Mechanical to my son, Mike, and his business partner, Heath Martin. I remain chairman of the board today.

I’m sharing my story because I’m a firm believer that a career in construction is so much more than a worthwhile vocation.

It can bring a tremendous amount of self-confidence in learning how to see a project to completion, as well as a great deal of joy in being part of a team. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to create such a meaningful, comfortable living with only high school as my formal education. If it weren’t for the skills I gained through my apprenticeship training, I’m not sure that would have been possible.

I’m also hoping my story inspires others to consider a career in the trades. I am living proof that with a lot of hard work and a little luck, you can build a fantastic career in construction. But how do we get more young people interested in working in this industry?

I don’t know the complete answer, but I believe a good place to start is to ask young people what they’d like to see in a training program. Is it a shorter term? Is it a new approach to on-the-job training? Is it a restructured curriculum?

Whatever the solution might be, we need to listen. And we need our industry to take a collective look at how our trade training and apprenticeship programs are not only attracting the next generation of construction workers, but how these programs are preparing them for a successful career in this industry.

There are countless opportunities available to prospective construction workers today. Modern construction uses modern technology—and our programs need to reflect that.

Our staff and leadership team at the Associated General Contractors of Alaska is committed to building this industry’s future workforce. I’m looking forward to the innovative ways that our industry develops to attract and prepare the next generation of construction professionals. As we get ready to launch Phase 2 of the Construction Industry Progress Fund’s Build Alaska campaign this fall, I hope you’ll join us in sharing this mission.

As always, I’d like to recognize the incredible staff at AGC of Alaska for their commitment to the mission and membership of AGC: Executive Director Alicia Siira; Assistant Executive Director Thea Scalise; Special Projects Coordinator Margaret Empie; Events and Communication Coordinator Kimberley Gray; Fairbanks Branch Manager Emily Braniff; and Membership Director Clare Kreilkamp.

Gary Klebs