Working to Close the Skilled Labor Gap in Construction

by Melanie Baravik
January 11, 2018

The skilled labor shortage is one of the construction industry’s most pressing problems — there are plenty of jobs, but no employees with the training needed to fill them. According to the AGC’s survey in August 2017, 70 percent of contractors reported having trouble filling hourly craft positions, like electricians and carpenters.

Not to mention, in recent years there’s been a push for high schoolers to attend four-year colleges. Trade jobs have fallen by the wayside, despite the potential for career advancement and high pay. So, across the U.S., construction companies, labor organizations and local governments are finding ways to encourage job-seekers to explore the trades.

Alabama Craft Training Act

The Alabama Craft Training Act was passed in 2015, allowing funds to be allocated specifically for skilled labor education. The funds are generated by adding an extra $1 per $1,000 in project value to the cost of building permits. The Act created the Craft Training Board to disburse the funds, typically as grants. The first $1.8 million round of grants was awarded in September 2017, funding craft training programs across the state and reaching an estimated 500 people.

Go Build America

Go Build America is a nationwide effort to recruit and train skilled construction labor. The initiative launched first with programs in Alabama, Tennessee and California. To expand the program, Go Build was endorsed by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the Ironworkers Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT). Go Build’s website contains a job board to connect skilled workers with hiring contractors. Currently, workers can post their resumes, and soon employers will be able to advertise available jobs. The initiative also aims to provide contractors the tools to recruit skilled labor and gives would-be journeymen apprenticeship information.

California Doing What Matters

The Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy campaign in California allows community colleges the freedom to create classes for in-demand professions in their regions. Community colleges can rework or suspend programs that are not meeting a need in the state’s labor market. The campaign has produced more trade education initiatives, including the Strong Workforce Program, a $200 million recurring annual investment into the state’s community colleges. Doing What Matters’ main focus is to create educational opportunities for high-demand, high-paying jobs in California.

Heritage PCHE

Heritage Plumbing, Cooling, Heating & Electric is a company making an effort to recruit and educate skilled workers, focusing on the New England area. Heritage built an HVAC training facility at their New Hampshire headquarters to train new workers and offer continuing education to their employees. The company also offers two $3,000 scholarships to students in New England and New York, as long as their school offers HVAC, plumbing and electrical training.

Indiana Plan

The Indiana Plan for Equal Employment is an pre-apprenticeship program launched in 1970. Its aim is to provide opportunities for minorities and women to get into the construction industry. Pre-apprenticeship involves basic training in skills needed for construction, like math, and OSHA 10 safety training. After participants complete pre-apprenticeship, the union-sponsored Plan helps place them in construction apprenticeships in their chosen field.

In addition to that program, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb recently created the Office of Apprenticeship. The Office’s purpose is to make sure high school students are aware of postgrad opportunities besides attending a four-year college.

Colorado WORK Grant

The Colorado Skilled Worker Outreach, Recruitment and Key Training Act was passed in 2015 and established the WORK Grant, a three-year, $10 million effort to increase awareness of and enrollment in the state’s skilled labor training programs. The grant is being utilized by six recipients made up of community and vocational colleges and construction organizations in the state. One of those recipients is Solar Energy International — their outreach program, Solar Ready Colorado, aims to recruit and train skilled labor for the booming solar industry.

It’s clear these efforts all have one thing in common: education. But education without spending all your time in classrooms or reading textbooks. Apprenticeships give you the chance to learn on-the-job, gaining real experience while you learn your craft. And training for a trade is usually quite a bit cheaper than earning college credits.

An important component of these programs involves changing young people's perception of jobs in the trades. Contrary to popular belief, blue collar jobs provide fulfilling, lasting careers, with plenty of opportunities for advancement and raises. Skilled trades command high wages off the bat, and with so many jobs available, a career in construction just makes sense.

Further reading on the skilled labor shortage:

Working Shorthanded: The Construction Labor Shortage

Bringing Women into the Construction Trades

Top 6 In-Demand Construction Jobs

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