ONE THING’S FOR CERTAIN: WHEN IT COMES TO PRODUCING THE NEXT GENERATION OF SKILLED WORKERS, WE’VE GOT OUR WORK CUT OUT FOR US…
BUFFALO’S CONSTRUCTION WORKER SHORTFALL
Buffalo is at the near top of a list of cities that have faced a severe shortage in skilled construction labor. In a 2015 column in the Buffalo News, writer Jonathan Epstein discussed these pains contractors and labor unions were shouldering. It became clear that the pace of development was a double-edged sword. As Epstein put it, “it’s great to have work… as long as you have workers.” From laborers, masons and painters, to electricians and plumbers… the demand was high. And the supply? Not so much.
“It’s great to have work… as long as you have workers”-Jonathan Epstein
Finding the skilled labor needed to support the influx of multiple large-scale projects (John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Roswell Park Cancer Institute Clinical Science Center, a new SolarCity production facility…) was no easy feat. The entire Buffalo region’s labor supply was strained. What’s worse: the shortfall of construction workers is a theme still today—across all fields.
JUST ONE CASE AMONG MANY
Buffalo wasn’t alone in their struggle to find skilled workers to support a booming construction sector. Contractors across the country faced a similar dilemma trying to reconcile a surge in construction with a shrinking workforce. Trade Group Associated Builders and Contractors confirmed that more than 80% of its members were facing a skilled worker shortage at the time of Epstein’s article.
“…it is only a matter of time before the lack of workers impacts broader economic conditions…”-Stephen Sandherr
This shortage in construction workers persists today, nationally. The latest labor report from the Associated General Contractors of America confirms that 71% of construction companies are ramping up their 2016 workforces, afraid they will be faced with a shortage of qualified workers.
This leads us to wonder, how are these construction companies faring? In Buffalo’s case, trade groups and contractors were pulling workers from nearby cities like Albany and Syracuse. This tactic isn’t viable long-term, as relocation and housing costs eat into a contractor’s margin substantially. Not to mention, the relocation of workers only shifts an overarching problem: our nation doesn’t have enough skilled tradesmen and women
CLOSING OUR NATION’S SKILL GAP FOR GOOD
So… what’s the solution? Consider that the skilled worker shortage affects all sectors of the economy and therefore all kinds of people. It would then follow that the task of producing the next generation of skilled workers is upon all of us.
The task of producing the next generation of skilled workers is upon all of us.
Realizing this, we propose the following tactics aimed at closing our nation’s skills gap. Check it out… what role can you play in solving the skilled labor shortage, long-term?
LOCAL TRADE GROUPS AND UNIONS:
- Aggressively recruit new members through community outreach to assist in securing employment in their field
- Expand apprenticeship programs where young tradesmen and women can learn from a journey-level craft person or trade professional
- Connect with local high schools to offer scholarships and tuition assistance for students considering a technical or vocational education at a community or trade school
- Join forces with prospective graduates of trade schools, vocational schools, technical schools and community colleges to recruit new members and assist them in securing employment in their field
- Revamp shop classes and other technical or vocational craft classes that introduce students to hands-on tradeswork
- Encourage students, especially women, to explore and pursue a career in the trades
- Educate guidance counselors in communicating the tremendous opportunity of entering an industry with a dire demand for a talent that students can supply
- Adapt your recruiting process to aggressively seek out and hire veterans: an untapped yet unmatched talent. See our recent blog post for tips on this
- Build an apprenticeship program that aligns all company executives on goals, fosters public-private partnerships, and integrates classroom instruction with on the job training. See The Manufacturing Institute’s guide for assistance
- Offer tuition assistance and scholarships to students who opt for a technical or vocational program at a community or trades school
- Build a Workforce Development Plan to improve the scale and quality of the skilled workforce
- Hire with employment agencies like CraftForce that connect local skilled workers with opportunities through direct placement or employee leasing
What can be learned from Buffalo’s skilled labor shortage is that we must have a long-term plan for building the skilled workforce of tomorrow. This plan calls on the talents and skills of all of us involved in the skilled trades. From educators to employers. Workers to trade groups… It’s upon us to invest in our nation’s skilled talent. For this up-and-coming generation will ultimately support and sustain our economy, long-term.
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