Hickory Construction Launches “Hickory-Built Careers in Construction”

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Hickory Construction celebrated its 40th year in business Wed., May 17, 2017, with an announcement at Knoxville’s Jackson Terminal that the company hopes will give local construction workforce development a much-needed boost in the career-consideration mindset of Blount and Knox counties’ Millennials and rising “Generation Z” high-school graduates.


            The company announced “Hickory-Built Careers in Construction,” a $40,000 investment of scholarships – including the start of a permanent endowment – at Pellissippi State Community College’s Engineering Technology program, which includes a Civil Engineering concentration with numerous construction-related course offerings among its associate’s degree options, as well as certificate programs such as “Construction Business Principles.” 


“Hickory-Built Careers in Construction” will provide $10,000 in funding to Pellissippi State over each of the next four years – with $4,000 per year invested in immediate scholarships and $6,000 per year set aside to build a permanent endowment. Funds invested in the Hickory Construction Scholarship Endowment will be matched one-for-one by the United States Department of Education Title III Challenge Grant. This special grant opportunity will build capacity for scholarships for years to come.


            “In this industry, we can’t simply build buildings – we have to build people, because people are the ones who build our business,” said Hickory Construction Chairman Burke Pinnell. “As anyone working today in a construction-related business knows, our industry is facing some serious challenges in its ability to recruit a large enough workforce that will meet the market demand for construction services. This challenge is nationwide, and it’s getting serious. We at Hickory want to do something about it.”


            According to statistics from Go Build Tennessee – a statewide industry workforce recruitment initiative – the urgent demand for construction services is far outpacing the necessary in-flow of skilled workforce.


            Hickory Construction President Ben Pinnell – Burke Pinnell’s son and a past Greater Knoxville Business Journal “40 Under 40” honoree – agrees.


             “Too many people – whether students, parents, school advisors or other points of influence – view construction through an extremely narrow and limited lens of actual career potential,” said Ben Pinnell. “Many people don’t realize how construction has evolved over time to integrate technology skills, interdisciplinary collaboration, creativity, management and solid upward mobility. Construction careers pay – and they pay well. And you can’t replace the feeling of satisfaction from being part of a tangible, built space – one that will stand for generations in service to other people.”


While many new high school graduates attend Pellissippi State through the Tennessee Promise scholarship, the cost of textbooks and other learning materials are not covered.  In addition, many non-traditional students who are 19 to 24 years of age don’t qualify for Tennessee Promise funding or Tennessee Reconnect for adult students.


Hickory’s scholarship program will aim to bridge some of these funding gaps and provide financial aid to students who show professional interest in a construction career. 


“Hickory Construction’s initiative not only helps students afford the cost of college tuition; it also positively influences a known workforce need in East Tennessee,” said Pellissippi State President Dr. Anthony Wise.  “We truly appreciate Hickory Construction’s choice to honor its 40th anniversary with this investment in Pellissippi State students and in the local community. We are excited to work with Hickory Construction in this partnership.”


Students or prospective students living in Blount or Knox counties interested in scholarship support will need to apply directly to Pellissippi State, which will oversee all recipient selections. The first round of scholarships will be granted in January for the spring 2018 semester. The application deadline will be announced later this summer. 


Pellissippi State will seek applicants with 1) successful completion of one or more technology / industry / construction-related courses who demonstrate an interest in the construction field, 2) previous instructor or advisor recommendation, 3) financial need, and/or 4) any noted prior work experience in construction-related employment / summer jobs, volunteer experiences (like Habitat for Humanity job site work) or other work that demonstrates the applicant’s interest in a construction-related field.


“Since the Tennessee Promise scholarship includes a community service requirement of eight hours per semester, we urge students interested in the Hickory-Built Careers in Construction scholarship to kill two birds with one stone by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity or other service opportunity that involves construction to get their documented volunteer hours while also giving themselves a leg-up competitively for the scholarship,” said Ben Pinnell.


In addition to plans for Hickory Construction to join the advisory board of Pellissippi State’s Engineering Technology program, the company plans to engage with school systems in Blount and Knox counties to speak to classes about career opportunities in construction and provide guidance about career preparation, whether working in the tradesperson capacity with a unique specialization or in seeking project management or, ultimately, management-level roles in a construction firm.