ASA President’s Letter—March 2018
Dear ASA Members,
On Thursday morning, Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan will make a special guest appearance at SUBExcel 2018 in Tempe, Ariz., and will discuss construction trade workforce development, particularly what Arizona is doing to address this critical problem facing our industry.
For the past several years, “skilled trades” has ranked No. 1 on ManpowerGroup’s list of hardest-to-fill positions for employers. McGraw-Hill Construction, furthermore, states the top five trade areas with the greatest feared skilled labor shortage are carpentry/millwork, electrical, HVAC/boilermaker, concrete finisher/cement mason, and ironwork.
One of the reasons our industry is facing a trade shortage is that the average age of a tradesperson is 56. The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers, reports there are currently 600,000 skilled jobs, such as electricians, carpenters, and masons, going unfilled. By 2020, the Institute projects there will be a need for 10 million new skilled workers!
Another reason for the shortage, according to Tradesmen International, is that when the recession hit, many skilled workers who were unable to find jobs dropped out of the industry—and never returned. To make matters worse, Tradesmen International says, a whole generation of younger workers are no longer even considering construction as a viable career option. Many high schools have phased out shop classes and parents and counselors have increasingly steered graduates to four-year colleges and white-collar careers.
Dan Taddei, director of education and certification for the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, told Angie’s List that the elimination of high school shop classes has played a big role, as this was many students’ first exposure to the kind of hands-on experience that could ignite a career in a trade.
Not so long ago, that focus would have been shifted more toward vocational and technical schools, CareerProfiles notes, adding that many claim that this is the result of elitism—that academics hold the skilled trades in disdain, despite their crucial importance to society. The education system, CareerProfiles says, needs to recognize that a four-year university isn’t the best fit for every student, and that vocational schools can offer students valuable skills which can result in immediate employment.
John Courson, president and CEO, Home Builders Institute, says: “There is a great need to educate schools and parents as to the dignity of these professions. Not everyone can, or wants to, go to college. The building industry is a great place to get started in the working world with a good-paying job in an honorable profession that has a path to advancement.”
So, what are some solutions?
- The National Conference of State Legislatures recently reported that 37 states enacted 97 workforce development laws in 2016. Additional states must follow suit to enact legislation focusing on such strategies as assisting employers with the cost of apprentices and job training.
- Construction employers must invest their own resources in workforce development, including hiring apprentices; providing employees with specialized training; and working with local high schools, technical schools and community organizations to develop training programs to fill their needs.
- The construction trades have an obligation to develop young people’s trades skills, but until incentive programs are established to help the trades offset their costs of training and apprenticeships, few companies will likely do so, as training and apprenticeships cut into their already thin margins and put the business at an immediate disadvantage on bid day.
- Parents and educators need to embrace vocational training and apprenticeships as viable, realistic alternatives to colleges and universities.
- Owners of family construction businesses must talk more with their children about the values of the family business and encourage them to consider following in their footsteps.
The bottom line is the skilled trades afford young people an opportunity to gain an education, develop a skill, and earn good wages without accumulating any student loan debt. The construction trades must do a better job telling our story and describing what makes our trades so appealing and fulfilling. I encourage you to work locally with your peers in the construction industry to develop programs aimed at workforce development. Your local ASA chapter is a great place to start the process!
2017-18 ASA President