AAccording to the United States Chamber of Commerce, more than 47 million workers left their jobs in 2021. Many have called the disruption in the US labor market “the great quit.” Others – more recently – are calling the state of labor a “big shakeup” as hiring rates exceed quitting rates (as of November 2020). In the field of construction, these semantic terms do not quite reflect the current labor market. If it had to be given a nickname, perhaps “The Great Disparity” would adequately represent the environment of the construction workforce.
Even amid a great need for skilled construction workers, organizations like the Arizona Builders Alliance (ABA), local contractors, and educational institutions are doing their part to tip the scales. By forming apprenticeships, partnerships and focusing on training-based recruiting, the hope is that today’s efforts will fuel a more stabilized future.
READ ALSO: Here is a breakdown of the current construction market in Arizona
LEARN MORE: Click here for more information on the Arizona Builders Alliance
Closing a significant gap
“Across the country, there are 600,000 construction jobs open,” says ABA President Tom Dunn.
By now, it’s clear the pandemic has left a huge hole in the job market, but local experts say employment disparity — particularly in construction — existed before COVID-19. “The size of the labor market has shrunk over the last 10 years or so,” says Dunn, “due to baby boomer retirements and many economic upheavals in the past. Now everyone is chasing the same people to come to market to support projects. »
The dwindling supply of local labor in construction has caused some contractors to seek the skilled workers they need from out of state.
“We started looking out of state [for new employees] and we have been successful in recruiting talented and motivated staff,” says Grenee Celuch, CEO of Concord General Contracting. “The business environment has changed significantly since COVID where working from home opens up many recruiting opportunities. Although our business does not operate remotely, we are finding that out-of-state recruiting is possible as spouses can relocate as they work remotely.”
Celuch goes on to explain that while in the past Concord generally avoided out-of-state hiring, now that has its perks. “Hiring new employees from different geographies has helped us see the way we do business differently and has been amazing to see the positive effects our new talent brings to Concord,” she says.
Training and education solution
Even though out-of-state recruiting is a necessity that has paid off for many contractors and developers, there is an ongoing desire to formulate a viable construction job pipeline within the state.
“This [labor supply issue] is not a new challenge for the construction industry in Arizona,” said Justin Dent, senior vice president of McCarthy Building Companies Southwest. “For years, McCarthy has focused on developing a sustainable and skilled craft workforce.”
Part of nurturing a healthy and strong construction workforce is attracting new generations to the industry – something the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) says hasn’t been an easy task, which resulted in a “shrinking candidate pool”. Outdated perceptions of what construction work is are part of the problem, the NCCER noted.
Common past impressions of a career in construction include: it comes with a minimum wage, is very
dangerous and dirty, and environmentally friendly
disruptive, for example.
The emergence and expansion of vocational and technical education (CTE) pathways are helping to combat these and other more archaic notions of what construction employment is. Locally, West-MEC and the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) provide early exposure to a range of construction-related career options.
Dunn adds, “In Pima County, we have a very close relationship with the Pima County JTED, and we have advisory boards where our member companies sit and help train instructors, because right now it’s is also another problem.
Dent notes that McCarthy has focused on working with a diverse coalition of industry partners to educate new audiences, including young people, the underemployed and veterans, about opportunities and high-paying careers in construction in the trades. “McCarthy continues to invest in our partnerships with technical training programs at West-MEC, EVIT and community colleges as well as our own craftsmanship and innovation center,” he says.
McCarthy’s own apprenticeship program includes a required 144 hours (about three weeks) of training, with 2,000 hours of manual on-the-job training per year. Those enrolled in the program learn a host of invaluable skills ranging from safety and equipment operations to communication, material handling and more.
ABA has its own training and apprenticeship programs (registered and approved by the US Department of Labor, the Arizona State Apprenticeship Advisory Committee, and (NCCER).
“Our apprenticeship program is the third largest in the state,” says Dunn. “And that’s mostly focused on electricians and mechanics, but that’s only a fraction of what we do.”
Benefits for ABA apprentices are a typical starting salary close to 50% of the journeyman rate, increasing approximately every six months as the apprenticeship progresses. Upon completion of the ABA training program, apprentices can earn almost 95% of a journeyman’s wage.
“Coaching [workers] helping them become more efficient and effective, and giving them better tools to be more efficient and effective, that’s where we come in most of the time,” says Dunn. “Erica Lang is our vice president for our educational services. And we’ve gone from two programs in the last seven or eight years to 15 management training programs.
Apprentices who complete the apprenticeship program enjoy the opportunity to act as skilled tradespeople and be placed before ABA members, 95% of whom are general contractors in Arizona.
” The bright side [of ABA’s training options] is that we’re going to have great workers over the next few years who are going to really excel and stand a chance,” Dunn says. “Sky is the limit.”