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Filling the Construction Skilled Trades Gap

Workforce Development

, from Construction Executive

In today’s world, technology is everywhere. Children are mastering digital devices at ever-earlier ages. While technology is critical to many jobs, certain robust industries also require a skilled trade. Unfortunately, these industries are struggling to find the skilled workforce to fill these well-paying positions. The construction industry faces a projected job shortage of more than 90 percent, according to a recent report published by the Conference Board, a 501 non-profit research organization.

Project design, planning and logistics have all been improved by advances in computer technology. But the construction industry also requires skilled people to assemble, install and build things. These critical positions include trades such as masonry, concrete, roofing, welding, pipefitting and plumbing.

According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook report, the construction industry will require an additional 1.7 million workers by the year 2020. However, unlike the computer and manufacturing industries, there isn’t as much focus on the need to develop future workers for the construction industry.

Qualified, skilled workers are needed to build manufacturing plants, schools, hospitals and homes; repair aging infrastructure; and maintain existing facilities. Many baby boomers left the industry during the last recession and never returned. Others are simply entering the stage in their life where they are ready to retire. With the demand for construction work at an all-time high, the shortage of a skilled workforce is currently the most prominent issue in the construction industry.

Many people incorrectly believe the construction industry offers poor working conditions, low pay and long hours. But today’s skilled craft professionals earn very competitive wages and benefits, and have access to various training and development opportunities to support their career objectives. They also have opportunities to advance into management positions or become future business owners. There are plenty of lucrative and fulfilling career opportunities in construction.

Today, too few students are being exposed to construction careers. Most high schools are increasingly focusing their curriculum on preparing students for success at four-year colleges rather than introducing them to the skilled trades. But for many young people, learning a valuable and marketable trade skill can offer them a lifetime of income, stability and professional fulfillment.

Fortunately, many of the educational opportunities available have experienced a drastic shift in emphasis during the last 30 years. Traditional vocational classes have evolved into what is now referred to as Career and Technical Education schools (CTE). CTE programs offer a blend of academics and hands-on training to prepare for in-demand jobs. After graduating from high school, they earn post-secondary training while working through an apprenticeship or craft training program that does not require them to take on high student debt. CTE provides opportunities to earn certificates and degrees that are stackable—meaning the credit received can be built on through continued education in the future.

The construction industry is striving to promote educational and career opportunities because its future depends on the ability to recruit, train and employ the next generation of pipefitters, electricians, plumbers, welders, masons and service technicians. Organizations such as Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)—and its 70 chapters and nearly 21,000 member companies—are offering apprenticeship and training programs and are partnering with local schools, technical colleges and universities to increase industry awareness and provide education. In addition, ABC members are hiring and training veterans.

The image of the construction industry needs to be enhanced with school counselors, youth and parents. Introducing construction career opportunities in elementary and middle schools will help expose younger students to the industry, opening up the possibility of pursuing apprenticeships, as well as engineering degrees. High schools should reintroduce shop classes, which show students the merits of various skill sets. The construction industry needs to elevate its commitment to reinventing its image as well as educating children, their parents, and school administrators and counselors regarding the viable career opportunities offered by the construction industry.

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