Sure, the general economic downturn – particularly housing’s depths – has dealt a hit to construction jobs. But even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 437,000 loss in construction employment over the 12-month period ending in July, the looming labor shortage is not going away. And with the needs of the booming energy sector you could argue it hasn’t even been postponed.
BLS pegs the average construction craft worker’s age at 47. To replace retiring workers and meet expected growth, the Construction Labor Research Council predicts 185,000 new craft workers need to be recruited and retained each year until 2016. No, says the Construction Users Roundtable, the number needed is more like 200,000 to 250,000 new craft workers per year.
Whatever figure you use, the needs are daunting. The good news: the industry is beginning to face this crisis head on, using all the ingenuity it exhibits on the jobsite. In this Special Report, we visit a sampling of the efforts designed to get workers on your jobsites, tell you how you get involved with local image and recruitment efforts and offer some guerilla recruiting tactics.
– Equipment World Editors
Enough, say owners. It’s time to know
1.) just exactly what labor demands we’re facing and
2.) how to attract the people we need.
By Marcia Gruver
You could blame it on Katrina. After the hurricane left the Gulf Coast in shambles, Business Roundtable member companies and others ponied up $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to get workers available for the reconstruction effort. The Business Roundtable formed the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative four months after the storm.
Scheduled to end December 2009, the Gulf Coast initiative has to date put more than 18,000 people through two- to four-week construction introduction training programs (see sidebar below). But a national initiative was needed. That initiative would have to include both the union and non-union sectors, address supply and demand issues and finally figure out just what makes people choose construction.
So the Construction Users Roundtable, an offshoot of the Business Roundtable’s construction committee, re-opened its dormant Construction Workforce Development Center, formed in the mid-90s to address a specific regional issue. Now a separate legal entity from CURT, CWDC is about to unveil a two-pronged approach to construction workforce development it hopes will be “the glue that links everything together,” says executive director Daniel Groves.
Labor supply and demand forecasting: In the United States, this is currently done on a fragmented, regional approach; CWDC wants to create a common, national methodology for measuring need. The goal is pragmatic: if a large utility, for example, wants to start a project in Lafayette, Indiana, that requires 1,000 workers, are there 1,000 workers in the specific trades needed in that area? By early November, CWDC will be rolling out a free, pilot web-based program that allows owners to input and extract data to forecast such labor needs. (Some broad data segments will be available to the public.) CWDC is modeling the program after Canada’s Construction Sector Council website, www.constructionforecasts.ca, and hopes to eventually include government infrastructure projects in the demand picture. The CWDC website, www.cwdcforecasting.com, is scheduled to be fully operational by mid-2009.
Workforce marketing and recruiting: “There has to be a significant change in how people view construction,” Groves says. CWDC plans to pinpoint three groups with a compelling construction recruitment message:
- Current workers who may be underemployed, unemployed, displaced or looking for a better opportunity.
- Those preparing for the workforce, from K-12 to post-high school.
- Influencers, including parents and guidance counselors.
“We know each group needs vastly different approaches,” Groves comments. But what works? Research now being conducted will serve as the basis for a pilot program in Alabama, due to be unveiled by the end of January. The statewide effort, done in cooperation with the Alabama Workforce Development Initiative (comprising state Associated Builders and Contractors and Associated General Contractors of America chapters plus organized labor), will not come cheap. Groves says it will cost “$1 million minimum.” Although CWDC is relying on industry contributions to start, 90 percent of the eventual funding mechanism calls for an owner-required cents-per-hour funding agreement. Owners would require all contractors bidding on a project to include this cost in their bids. “Owners were the drivers of safety,” Groves says, “and we view this as a similar effort.”
CWDC’s plans are ambitious: Once the Alabama pilot is proved, plans are to radiate the program out to neighboring states, and become national within a year, with an anticipated life expectancy of around five to eight years. The timing, however, depends on how strong a grassroots network is built: this will require thousands of volunteers – for example, a retired pipefitter who’s willing to explain his former job to a teenager.
What isn’t included in CWDC’s plans is training – an area where the group felt there was no need to reinvent the wheel. “There are a lot of training programs out there, whether union or non-union, doing a splendid job,” Groves says. “Our job is to get people into the pipeline.”
Footprints in the sand
The challenge is daunting: recruit and train 20,000 new entrants into construction in the Gulf Coast region by the end of 2009. Spearheaded by the Business Roundtable, the public-private partnership Gulf Coast Workforce Initiative is headed by Tim Horst, a now-retired executive on loan from Bechtel Group.
The initiative concluded the best way to serve the region was to provide front-end recruitment and back-end job placement. “We treated it like a construction project, with a schedule, budget and oversight,” Horst says. First up: the “I’m GREAT” marketing program, which stands for “Get Rewarded for Education and Advancement Training,” designed to draw attention to the free training. The campaign used all media resources: newspaper, magazines, TV and radio ads and job fairs, but found the most popular avenue was word of mouth. “People told us they heard about it from a relative,” Horst says.
After contacting a 24/7 call center, respondents are connected with a local training partner, typically a community college. If he or she takes the two- to four-week introduction to construction class, then the initiative works to get them placed in construction. “We’re looking to place people into their first jobs in the industry,” Horst says. “Once they become confident they like construction, they can work with their employer to use one of the many ongoing training programs available.”
In addition to contributions by Business Roundtable member companies, the effort required several public grants to fund the estimated $1,250 per student training cost. Through July, the effort had logged 18,967 training completions, and had a current enrollment of 2,120. The U.S. Department of Labor tracks course graduates, and is finding approximately 60 percent of the trainees end up working in construction 90 days after their training. Even at a 60-percent initial return, the program should go over its goal, assuming it continues to recruit at the same levels.
Lessons learned? “We’re looking to leave footprints in the sand,” Horst says. “We can accomplish so much more with a single recruitment campaign. A great example is the independent milk producers who got together for the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign. We can find an avenue for collaboration and do the same thing.”
For more information, visit www.imgreat.org.
In this sampling of programs across the nation, you’ll see that several approaches make the cut. One might work in your area.
By Marcia Gruver and Amy Materson
How one Kansas contractor made the high school connection
With more than 1,000 employees, an eight-member dedicated education department and offices in four states, it might be easy for smaller contractors to dismiss Crossland Construction’s recruitment and training efforts as big-boy territory. Think again. When it comes to education, Crossland, based in Columbus, Kansas, has the materials to show how they think these efforts pay dividends for their company. And they are yours for the asking.
“Everything we’ve got, we’re willing to share,” says Brandon Brill, one of two Crossland education coordinators, who’s charged with promoting construction in grades 5 through 12 in a program called Crossland Connection. Brill goes to partner schools to simply, as he puts it, “give them the facts. The trick is not to sway them one way or another, just tell them what the opportunities are.”
Crossland Connection is just one facet of the company’s emphasis on workforce development. The company credits founder Ivan Crossland, Sr., who died in 2002, with establishing its education mission, now carried on by his six sons – Ivan Jr., Curt, Bennie, Mike, Christopher and Patrick. Four years ago, Crossland established an education department. One of its missions: help high schools expose students to construction in a positive way.
The company made an enticing offer to these schools: If you want to offer construction training in your vocational programs, we’ll supply the NCCER curriculum materials, give you a tool allowance and serve as your mentor. “We monitor their programs, perform audits, set up field trips to company projects and send in our employees to talk about the industry,” Brill says. To date, 15 high schools in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas have taken them up on this offer.
But Crossland Connection starts way before high school. It distributes a construction-themed activity book to 5th graders and takes classes on jobsite field trips. For 7th graders, the company sponsors two-week exploration labs on construction. Eighth graders start to see some serious action, which kicks off with an equipment rodeo, offering hands-on craft and equipment demos. These students can then be enrolled in the NCCER curriculum through high school.
Graduating high school students who’ve been through Crossland Connections can take a variety of paths. “We want the best of the best, whether they want to go to college or not,” Brill says.
Chad Gobl, Arma, Kansas, who started at Pittsburg State this fall majoring in construction management, is an example of the type of student the company seeks to influence. At the urging of a family friend, a Crossland employee, Gobl signed up for the construction classes at Frontenac High School, Frontenac, Kansas. “I could actually learn something I could use,” Gobl now says. He started working as a laborer for Crossland in the summer of his junior year and will continue to do so part time through college. “I knew a long time ago I wasn’t going to be an office guy,” he says. “With construction, when you’re done, you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was part of that.'”
To learn more about any of Crossland’s workforce development initiatives, contact Brill at (620) 429-1414 or email@example.com.
Getting boots on the ground
Dan Graham, president, calls the Northwest College of Construction, Portland, Oregon, “totally driven by industry.” After realizing their individual education efforts did not have the necessary economies of scale, four local chapters of ABC, AGC, the National Association of Home Builders and the National Utility Contractors Association pooled their resources, bought and remodeled a training facility, and opened the doors to NWCC in 2006.
The college is an example of the construction industry taking responsibility for its own future, says Graham, who served as workforce manager of the local AGC chapter for 10 years prior to his present position. “We’re one way to put boots on the ground – to put real investment in real programs that lead somewhere.”
NWCC’s core business is open-shop apprenticeship programs – around 85 percent of students are working full time, training at nights and on weekends. “Job placement is a big part of what we do,” Graham says, so drug screens are up front, which weeds out about 20 percent of the applicants. “Our reputation rides on our relationship with our contractors,” he says. “We have to send them good workers.”
Course offerings are a mix of NCCER courses – the college offers state-registered apprenticeship training in eight crafts – and AGC Supervisory Training. The school tracks participation by number of enrollments, which counts classes rather than students. There have been 1,900 enrollments this coming school year, including around 250 management class enrollments.
Recruiting is a full time job. One recruiting effort this spring, though, exceeded Graham’s expectations. NWCC put together a week of construction training for high school students – over spring break. “They didn’t have to be there, it wasn’t a day off and we sold out,” Graham says. After getting rave reviews from the students, NWCC followed up with an invitation-only hiring event, where high school vocational students met one-on-one with contractors.
NWCC has a 30 to 50 percent graduation rate, which Graham says tracks in line with local community colleges. Although Graham sees the college becoming profitable in five years, for now it’s depending on the generosity of its founding associations to make up shortfalls in its $1.7 million 2008-09 school year budget. NWCC is projected to be 90 percent self sustaining this year. “We’re really young – this is only our third school year – and there are tons of contractors who haven’t heard of us yet,” Graham says.
For more information, call (503) 256-7300 or visit www.nwcoc.com.
A curriculum foundation
You’ll see the NCCER acronym – which stands for National Center for Construction Education and Research – a lot in this report. NCCER calls itself a “not-for-profit educational foundation created to develop industry-driven standardized craft training programs with portable credentials.”
It quite simply has become the foundation for the majority of craft education in the United States. NCCER’s main mission is to provide a defined construction career path with industry-recognized credentials. The group currently has curriculum for more than 40 crafts, plus safety and management education. Recent course additions: green construction and bi-lingual English/Spanish jobsite language skills.
NCCER is hardly an overnight sensation. The group traces its roots to the fall of 1991 when the Associated Builders and Contractors started to standardize curriculum in five crafts. It became independent in 1996, and is affiliated with the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. In addition to its training mission, NCCER created the National Careers in Construction Week (see page 42). Funding comes from several industry sources, including a voluntary cents-per-hour training fund from contractors.
For more information, go to www.nccer.org.
NCCER National Registry stats*
38,382 craft instructors
3,869 master trainers
4,558,685 module completions
*As of July 2008; NCCER’s National Registry gives credentials for training completions
“Send us the bill”
In 1997, when nine construction associations formed the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, they went to the state legislature with an intriguing proposition: bill us. The group petitioned for a $100 a year increase in contractors’ license fees, which then went into a state educational fund. MCEF gets $600,000 from this fund each year, money that underwrites the groups’ high school thrust.
MCEF oversees providing NCCER credentials for 4,800 students in 186 high school trade programs throughout the state. Every high school construction trade class in Mississippi has an NCCER-certified instruction and issues skill documentation through MCEF and NCCER.
While the high school initiative is the foundation for MCEF, its overall mission is to “lay a career path out,” says Gary Bambauer, president. The group calls apprenticeship the “new four-year degree” and shows students they have a choice. “They can come straight from high school and be an apprentice, they can come through a vocational school, a community college, or get a four-year degree,” Bambauer says. “We can say, here are the pathways and they all connect.'”
In addition to the high school programs, MCEF oversees eight U.S. Department of Labor-approved apprenticeship programs. “We’ve found that 52 percent of the people in our apprenticeships had high school vocational training,” Bambauer says.
That applies to Chris Winter, now assistant project manager with Mid-States Construction, Jackson, Mississippi. Winter enrolled in an MCEF-sponsored program in his junior year of high school. A score of 100 on a carpentry test lead to an internship with Mid-States, where he has worked for nine years. During that time, Winter continued his education, and moved up from laborer to carpenter to assistant superintendent to his present position. Now he’s working on his MBA.
Nick Apostle got into construction after three years of college. He worked for a year as a helper with Moses Electric, Jackson, Mississippi, before he enrolled in an apprenticeship program. “I dug pole bases, bent pipe, everything to try to learn,” he says. Now a journeyman electrician, Apostle is trying out the office side, serving as a junior estimator. But he has his eye on becoming a master electrician, which he estimates will take him another two years. Moses Electric has paid for all of his training.
As an employer, Mike Upchurch, co-owner of Upchurch Plumbing, Greenwood, Mississippi, and a MCEF board member uses MCEF-sponsored materials to train his workers in rural Mississippi. “It’s still a struggle,” he says, “but we try to put our guys on a 4 day/10 hour schedule so they can train for six hours on Friday.” This year, Upchurch started paying each participant $6 for each hour they spent in training. His advice to contractors who are forced into a more DIY approach? “Just keep trying,” he says. “I don’t think a lot of these guys realize how quickly they could advance if they were trained.”
“Parents are starting to recognize construction has a career path,” Bambauer says. “We tell them at the end of four years apprenticeship, their kids will have earned $100,000; with the four-year college route, they will have paid almost that much for their education. And both the journeyman apprentice and the college graduate will be earning about the same wage when they get out.”
For more information, call 800-358-3788, or visit www.mcef.net.
Construction high school stays rifle focused
In 2004, when her mother talked to her about attending St. Louis’ Construction Careers Center, Gabrielle Fields was skeptical, but she quickly fit in at the nation’s first charter construction high school. A 2008 graduate, Fields now works as a project engineering intern for S.W. Wilson Construction and this fall entered the construction management program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. “Some students don’t understand, saying ‘construction’ is like saying ‘sports,’ it’s so broad,” Fields says.
The brainchild of the St. Louis Associated General Contractors, CCC was the result of a 1999 strategic plan, says Len Toenjis, president. “We knew we had to look outside of the traditional workforce pool to replace the skilled trades workers who were retiring at a rapid rate, and to keep up the demand for qualified workers,” he says. “We decided a construction-related high school was the answer to both challenges.”
The process was complex and expensive. The AGC chapter formed a task force to research state legislation, find a school district to sponsor the program and raise money to get the school off the ground. After the St. Louis public school system agreed to sponsor the school, the chapter raised the $1.5 million needed to open it. The group renovated an abandoned building, and welcomed the first freshman class of 105 students in August 2001.
The school graduated its fourth class June 26, and 75 percent of the class is either already working in the construction trades or beginning college, says Gina Washington, principal. Overall, CCC says 50 percent of graduates pursue either related employment or education, including apprenticeships.
For the 11-month 2007-2008 school year, the CCC had 453 students; 293 males and 160 females with a 20-to-1 student/teacher ratio. Since its inception, the school has required regular substance abuse testing and all students must wear uniforms. The school also has a service learning component – participation in community service learning opportunities is required.
CCC recruits eighth grade students and accepts transfers from area high schools. Fields says the school offers opportunities unavailable in traditional high school settings. “There are numerous networking opportunities and a lot of people who serve as mentors to the students,” she says. “If you show an interest in construction, the faculty will most definitely take an interest in you.”
Scott Wilson, president of S.W. Construction, a St. Louis-based general contracting firm with more than $500 million a year in projects, points to Fields as an example of CCC’s excellence. “She’s been an intern here for two years and is really a shining star,” he says. “If we could get a hundred Gabbys we’d be ahead of the game.”
“Ninety-nine percent of my expectations have been met or exceeded,” Toenjis says. “For the future, we need to stay rifle-focused on educational advancement.”
For more information, visit www.constructioncareerscenter.org.
Shaping a trend
Others have taken notice of CCC’s success. The school hosts a number of visitors, all looking at how to replicate CCC in their own communities. As a result, construction charter high schools are now operating in New Orleans, Louisiana; Reno, Nevada; Cranston, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
School districts are also getting into the act. This fall, Portland, Oregon’s Architecture, Construction and Engineering Academy – a collaboration of four area school districts – will open to juniors and seniors. In Washington, D.C., renovations are almost complete on Phelps High School, where educators plan to remake vocational education through an offering of construction, architectural, engineering and college-prep courses.
Developing construction’s farm league
“This issue requires putting aside politics and completion,” says Scott Shelar, executive director, Construction Education Foundation of Georgia, “and I think people get that. When we all speak with one voice, construction is a very big industry.”
CEFGA’s mission primarily targets the 370 vocational high school programs in Georgia. Twenty percent of its revenues come from a contract with the Georgia Department of Education, which helps fund the group’s NCCER curriculum oversight. To date, 72 of the 370 programs have been NCCER accredited, with another 25 due to come on board this year.
Another mission is recruitment. The group’s annual Career Expo drew 4,193 attendees this past April, including students from 107 different high schools. Also part of Career Expo is a SkillsUSA student competition, which this year saw 171 students competing in 16 construction-related contests.
Another component is a paid summer internship program, which takes students as young as 16 and puts them on the job for eight weeks. “They get to truly experience what’s going on in the industry,” says W. Kevin Ward, CEFGA director of operations. The four-year-old program has grown from an initial five participants to 68 interns this past year, with plans for 100 next year.
CEFGA is starting to get involved in the next education phase, overseeing NCCER-training certification in four technical schools. The goal: 100 post-secondary NCCER-accredited programs.
Shelar advises those wanting to establish similar efforts to have patience. “It took us 15 years to get to this point, and I anticipate it’s going to take us another 10 years to really build the farm league we want,” he says. “If we could get 200 of the best programs in the nation in the state of Georgia, it will be a pretty remarkable pipeline for feeding people into the industry.”
For more information call (678) 889-4455 or go to www.cefga.org.
How unions train and keep their operators
Solidarity has its advantages, including extensive training and retention programs, and long term commitments from their workers.