A shortage of qualified workers plagues the construction industry here and abroad. While the problem has been slightly less prevalent during the last few years as production fell and many workers were laid off, it is likely to become a challenge once again as the housing market begins to recover, with the promise of commercial construction increases along the horizon.
As I toured Liebherr’s plant in Guaratingueta, Sao Paulo, Brazil, it was interesting to see how the company answered that challenge. The manufacturing facility produces the R 944 C, R 954 C, and R 964 C crawler excavators; the A 924 C material handler; and the L 538 and L 580 wheel loaders.
During the last decade, the company’s workforce has grown at about 17 percent per year, increasing from close to 300 employees in 2001 to more than 1,200 workers in 2011. Employment numbers mirrored sales revenues, which increased more than eightfold from $19.3 million to $258 million during the same time frame.
“Besides the volume of staff, one of our most persistent challenges is the question of qualification,” says Klemens Stroebele, managing director of Liebherr Brasil GMO LTDA. “In contrast to Liebherr’s traditional European home markets, acquiring the qualified labor needed for our high product quality standards is a very difficult task. That’s why we decided to establish our own training and education facility, which was opened in 2011.”
Three training programs are offered, including the following:
- Welding Course — Throughout 12 course offerings, more than 160 participants have graduated from a 190-hour training program. Stroebele says that 75 percent of the students were successful and are now part of the company’s labor force.
- Young Talent Program — Created in partnership with SENAI (National Industrial Training Service), this program provides the after-sales service skills required by the manufacturer. To date, 45 students have received more than 1,000 hours of practical and theoretical instruction throughout a two-year period. Of the program’s graduates, 92 percent are employed by Liebherr.
- Apprentice SENAI Program — This program is designed for young people who want to acquire technical and professional skills to advance their careers. This two-year program also includes practical and theoretical instruction. Of the 68 participants to date, 24 work for Liebherr.
As this manufacturer grows by leaps and bounds in Brazil, it is tackling the challenge of finding qualified workers by training them itself. When worker shortage once again becomes an issue in the United States, how will you respond?