The biggest challenge affecting the construction industry isn’t a lack of projects to build, but rather a shortage in the amount of available skilled laborers to build new projects.
Industry experts agree the best solution is to implement effective workforce development strategies to replenish the talent pool of skilled laborers.
Thus, the Arizona Builders Alliance (ABA) and Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) partnered in a commitment to spread awareness and expose the younger generations to viable career opportunities in the construction industry by facilitating the training and on-the-job experience to be successful.
ABA is an alliance of the Arizona Chapters of the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) and the AGC that represents more than 300 member companies, which includes contractors and professional service firms.
A shared concern among many of those member companies centers around the limited supply and increasing demand for qualified skilled workers.
To address that, ABA has deployed different workforce development programs over the years that give anyone the opportunity to learn a trade and find work in the industry based solely on their individual merit.
ABA says, its registered apprenticeship system of training is unique because it’s the only formal, structured and nationally recognized education and training program that combines the two most common forms of career and occupational learning: classroom instruction and on-the-job training.
In Southern Arizona, its JTED Explorers program is a partnership with local high schools along with career and technical education (CTE) instructors that consists of taking interested high school students on tours of active jobsites like the Banner-University Medical Center Tucson project.
While these programs focus on replenishing the pipeline of builders and laborers, ABA also leads the industry in Arizona in Management Education for contractors, offering programs like the Project Manager Development Program (PMDP), Leadership Development Forum (LDF) and Senior Executive Program (SEP). Each program provides education at the management level along with the ability to meet peers in the same level in order to share Best Practices and not only learn from instructors, but from one another.
None of these programs would be possible if not for the ABA’s proactive efforts to improve the construction industry through the continued support of its members, sponsorships, donations of time and money.
The other 4-year degree
While the idea that a college degree is the only way to secure a successful career still remains prevalent, construction apprenticeship programs are gaining more traction as alternative paths to viable careers.
Fred Ingersoll, vice president of development and training for ABA, refers to this as “the other four-year degree.” He is tasked with coordinating, managing and achieving desired results as it relates to the ABA/AGC’s Education Fund Apprentice Training Programs.
One example is a Registered Apprenticeship, which he describes as an employer-driven model that combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction that increases an apprentice’s skill level and wages.
Unlike attending college where students pay tuition to learn, apprentices earn a salary while learning. Not only can this lead to gainful employment but apprentices also graduate without mounds of potential student loan debt.
The apprentice program’s curriculum and style of instruction focuses on the necessary knowledge, skills and traits that are required by a journey-level worker in the trade. Under the supervision of a journey-level trade professional, workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation, explains Ingersoll.
The ABA’s main Apprenticeship program at the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) is electrical, but Ingersoll says, the ABA will also be starting a carpenters’ apprenticeship in August.
Graduates who successfully complete their apprenticeship training will receive nationally recognized Journeyman Certifications from the U.S.D.O.L. that allow them to seek job opportunities in their respective trades at projects across the country.
Ingeroll says, “Thanks to the partnership of ABA and EVIT along with the support and donations of many vendors and companies, apprentices have instructor designed labs and workstations that are second to none.”
“The attendance and enrollment for new apprentices has more than tripled in the first and second semesters and overall head count continues to increase,” adds Ingersoll. He predicts enrollment for the fall 2017 programs will substantially increase in size again.
Southern Arizona’s JTED Explorers
In the 1950s, Boy Scouts of America started developing a program, known today as “Explorer Posts,” that provides children between 14-20 years old with educational hands-on and interactive activities facilitated by trained business leaders in the community.
By 1981, the growing popularity of the Exploring programs led to the creation of specialty programs across the nation such as aviation, business, law enforcement, social services, law, government and many others.
As a former Eagle Scout, Tom Kittle, ABA member and owner of Kittle Design & Construction, was aware of the Explorer programs and saw an opportunity to create a program in 2014 that enabled local students to learn about diverse careers in the construction industry.
“Other national Explorer programs tour construction sites,” explains current ABA Vice President of Southern Arizona Tom Dunn. “However, we were the first Explorer Post in the United States to focus strictly on commercial construction,” which was recognized later that year by the ABC as a “Best Practice for Career Outreach.”
Better known today as the ABA JTED Explorers program, the collaboration of ABA and Pima JTEDs still provides CTE students with a chance to explore possible future careers in the construction industry.
“From the beginning of the program, we’ve focused on creating an action plan that attempts to get as many future employees in front of as many future employers that we can,” explains Dunn.
Through the program, students tour manufacturing sites, commercial construction jobsites, projects and other facilities that may present students opportunities for employment, internships, apprenticeships and scholarships.
Dunn describes the program’s first few years as very successful with 35-50 students attending the weekly 8 a.m. Saturday morning tours, but transportation became an issue and many that wanted to attend could not.
Last summer, the tours were changed to weekdays and the JTED CTE instructors assumed the transportation responsibility. As a result, Dunn says, the program has expanded and now averages about 85 students per tour from seven participating high schools.