Construction industry must tackle skilled worker shortage together

October 31, 2016

by Nick Novak

This column was originally published by The Daily Reporter.

Think of the number 82,246. It is almost hard to conceptualize at first. You might ask yourself, “what is a good representation of something that large?”

Just to give you an idea, the seating capacity at Camp Randall – home of the Wisconsin Badgers football team – is 80,321. Lambeau Field holds 80,978. If you filled both the Kohl Center in Madison and the Bradley Center in Milwaukee twice, it would still be 10,000 short of 82,246.

Clearly it’s a big number. But why am I rambling on about it? The reason is that it’s a number that will affect almost every single person in our industry. In fact, over the next three years, Wisconsin will need 82,246 new skilled craftsmen and women to fill the jobs openings in construction.

Think about that. We could take every single person that watched the last Packers home game from the comfort of Lambeau, and it would still not be enough to meet the demand. Not to mention, it would take a heck of a lot of training to get all those fans ready for the job site.

That is why everyone in the industry needs to pitch in and do his or her part. At ABC of Wisconsin, we are out recruiting and training the future leaders in construction.

Over the past two years, ABC of Wisconsin has been working with various high schools to promote the skilled trades — specifically construction. By partnering with ABC and NCCER — a national foundation that provides curriculum and training to develop a safe and productive workforce — more than 150 high school students have received their Core Certification. To prepare more young people to enter the industry, the Core program provides students with introductory construction techniques and knowledge.

Many of the students who have completed Core are now working in construction, and more high schools are taking advantage of the successful program.

In addition to the partnership with NCCER, ABC of Wisconsin has amped up its promotion of Youth and Adult Apprenticeship. With eight in 10 ABC members reporting they have trouble finding skilled workers, apprenticeships provide an immense opportunity for them to develop future workers.

ABC of Wisconsin is training more than 1,100 apprentices in 12 different trades – that makes it the largest ABC apprenticeship program in the country. And our work does not stop there. On a national level, ABC member contractors spend $1.1 billion each year on workforce development. The goal is to ensure their employees are properly trained to tackle everything they can encounter on a job site.

But this is still not enough. No one contractor or trade association will be able to tackle the massive difficulties faced by

the industry. Remember, Wisconsin’s construction industry will need 82,246 new skilled workers by 2019.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a proclamation that declared October as Careers in Construction month. Over the last few weeks, ABC of Wisconsin has hosted various events encouraging people all across our state to consider construction as a career.

As the month comes to a close, however, we cannot let our efforts lapse. From contractors and associations to Tech Ed teachers and elected officials, we must all continue to promote the careers that are available.

Contractors should continue to invest in their workers to ensure projects are being built to as high of a quality and as safely as possible. Trade associations must remain committed to recruiting top talent and preparing the next generation of skilled craftsmen and women. High schools and Tech Ed teachers need to promote the trades as a viable option for students – not everyone needsto or should attend a four-year university. And elected officials should work closely with the industry to find new ways to eliminate the industry’s lack of skilled workers.

Together, we can solve the labor shortfall. But, with 82,246 new workers needed, we cannot waste any time.

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