By Greg Schniegenberg
Vice President of Helix Electric in Oakland and currently serves as Chair of the Associated Builders & Contractors Northern California Chapter
For more than 100 years, Labor Day has been observed as a tribute to the achievements of American workers and their contributions to our national strength and prosperity. This year, the holiday has even more special meaning, as there has never been greater opportunity for careers in construction.
Consider that today the construction industry needs to hire a staggering 500,000 workers just to fill a backlog of existing jobs. Assuming modest economic growth, that number will jump to one million jobs once America’s infrastructure rebuilding initiative begins thanks to federal action.
Construction unemployment experienced its lowest June national not seasonally adjusted (NSA) rate on record. Additionally, all states had estimated construction unemployment rates below 10 percent. According to an analysis released by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), NSA construction unemployment rates were down in 31 states on a year-over-year basis, and the construction industry employed 204,000 more workers than in June 2016.
Clearly, the construction industry is healthy and the demand for skilled labor is high. However, the Bay Area and America remain shackled by a substantial skills gap in numerous industries. When jobs go unfilled, our national growth slows and our ability to compete internationally suffers. We need to clear the barriers to meet our workforce needs.
Fortunately, we are seeing signs of change. In June, the federal government initiated efforts to expand current apprenticeship models by inviting trade associations, companies, unions and other stakeholders to the table to design the kinds of programs businesses need. Sanctioning high-quality, industry-recognized apprenticeship programs will go a long way to bridge the skills gap and open the floodgates to train the construction workforce we need today and tomorrow.
This order is great news for the construction industry and members of ABC—the large and small businesses that build your airports, hospitals, military installations, courthouses, schools and power plants. Here in California, we have made significant investments to attract, train, and retain a safe and productive professional workforce. We are developing the construction workforce of the future—one that is diverse and inclusive, and where workers are presented with limitless opportunities.
Expanding apprenticeship programs is a tremendous step, but more can be done. Skilled trades are a viable alternative to college for young students. Student aid could be expanded beyond the traditional four-year college model to give Americans better access to training programs that lead to industry credentials and quality careers.
Opportunity lies before us to expand access to satisfying, well-paying careers in construction for women, minorities, veterans, students, non-graduates and people seeking new careers, re-entry to the workforce or a second chance. Working together, we can stem the skills gap and unleash a next-generation workforce that will make the vision of rebuilding America a reality.
Visit workforce.abc.org or http://www.abcnorcal.org for more information on training opportunities and careers in construction in the Bay Area and California.