Originally published in the San Diego Transcript
San Diegans and many other Americans are ready to rebuild the neglected infrastructure in our communities including bridges, dams, schools, highways and streets, and public transit. One of the biggest obstacles to making it happen is the critical shortage of 500,000 skilled construction workers. This number could double if the promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill from Washington becomes a reality.
February is National Career and Technical Education (CTE) month. It comes at the perfect time to
address the topics of workforce shortages, global competitiveness, high school dropout rates through the efforts of educators, industry partners, and students themselves helping to increase the capacity in career readiness of America’s killed construction workforce.
Cynical observers might say presidential proclamations and specially designated recognition like National CTE Month are “feel good” window dressing, and I’d be one of them. But it’s a start toward making progress we need to achieve to get a grip on the emerging trends and complex business challenges faced by the conduction industry and other American industries.
There is often so much emphasis on attending college that other options aren’t always discussed with high school students. Unfortunately, policymakers, administrators and educators too often subscribe to the “college-for-all” mentality. This leaves those graduates who cannot afford college or who find that college isn’t the right fit for them unsure about what’s next. Policymakers at all levels of government should help bridge the skills gap and build the trades workforce of the future.
The good news is that solutions exist to these troubling issues and they are working. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one-third of the fastest growing occupations don’t require a bachelor’s degree or the enormous investment of time and money required. Through accredited career and technical education, students can earn an associate’s degree or a postsecondary vocational certificate, often through apprenticeship programs, ensuring they are adequately equipped with the skills to successfully enter the workforce.
According to the Association of Career and Technical Education, the federal government spends over $80 billion to assist students pursuing higher education. At the same time, the federal government only spends $1.1 billion to support CTE programs that lead to high wage careers in industries like construction. CTE availability needs more funding and program support.
CTE works, and we need to invest in providing more young Americans with educational opportunities that align with the careers that build and rebuild our communities. Nowhere is this need more acute than in the construction industry, where we must take action to help fill the skills gap created by an aging workforce that is retiring in greater numbers every year. Currently 19% of the construction workforce is over the age of 55 and these workers are expected to leave the industry for retirement.
Career training like the state and federal accredited program offered at the Associated Builders and Contractors Apprenticeship Training Academy in San Diego offers rigorous programs incorporating technical reading, mathematics, and science along with specific craft skills and safety training to prepare thousands of students for real-world careers. Students are challenged to push themselves to be successful in the classroom and on the job.
The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a workforce shortage of 1.6 million construction professionals by 2022. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.nr0.htm The construction industry’s need for workers is expected to grow twice as fast as the average across all industries over the next decade.
Eighty-seven percent of apprentices across all industries find employment after completing their training programs. Their average starting annual wage is above $50,000. Over the course of their lifetimes, workers who complete apprenticeship programs earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more than their peers who do not. Employers benefit too. According to multiple studies, employers see significant returns through increased worker productivity, greater innovation, and reduced waste.
A recent study found that construction workers are the happiest employees of any industry – and it all starts through career and technical education programs. With continued professional education and experience, skilled craft professionals can rise through the industry to become supervisors, company executives or owners.
Well-trained and highly skilled workers that hold industry-recognized credentials will be best positioned to secure high-wage and high-demand jobs over the next decade, and it will be Career and Technical Education programs giving them this opportunity. The next generation of craft professionals is here and ready to join an ever-expanding and technologically advanced workforce such as ours.
Walter Fritz is President and CEO of Nuera Group LP, and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego board of directors. For more information visit www.abcsd.org