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San Diego Transcript: Skilled worker shortage threat to building industry

Originally published in the San Diego Transcript

You may be surprised to learn the construction industry is the second largest employer in the United States.

With the economy roaring ahead, and investment in infrastructure and building increasing in both the public and private sectors, an obstacle is looming that could derail this economic boom for our business with devastating consequences. There is no short time fix, but we must turn our attention toward working to find the solutions now.

The growing shortage of skilled craft professionals is a real threat to the industry. The construction workforce is aging at an alarming rate with fewer skilled workers entering the profession. Eighty-seven percent of contractors report having a hard time filling key professional and skilled craft worker positions. Effective workforce development strategies require that contractors attract, educate and retain a diverse workforce.

This problem isn’t restricted to our industry. It affects our entire nation. The skilled trades are critical to our country’s infrastructure and our economic competitiveness in the world. Increasing shortages of talented craft professionals are slowing down our industry’s potential for expansion, job creation and prosperity. Individuals are missing out on accessing the training they need to build a lifelong career with good pay, benefits and opportunities for career growth.

To call attention to this issue and help open the conversation about creating solutions, President Barack Obama declared the first ever National Apprenticeship Week in 2015. Because of the recognition, 300 events in 47 states including San Diego helped educate employers, job seekers and educators about the potential for apprenticeships in creating the workforce of the 21st Century.

Now in its second year, National Apprenticeship Week 2018 takes place from November 12 – 18, 2018. As part of this event, the Associated Builders and Contractors of San Diego Apprenticeship Training Academy will hosts its first ever onsite Career Open House on Friday, November 16, from 5 to 8 p.m. at our facility in Poway, California.

We encourage anyone interested in learning more about construction careers to attend: educators, parents, veterans, and students of all ages. We even encourage people thinking about a career change including college graduates to come and learn what the construction industry can offer them.

While attaining a college degree is an admirable goal, it is not the only road to professional success. Apprenticeship training is increasingly sophisticated and demanding to insure graduates have the upgraded skills to keep pace with the demands of today’s workplace. Without the skills to get new, higher-wage jobs and without the knowledge to adapt to new tools, systems, and technology, American workers will fall behind the rest of the world.

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.

Cynical observers might say presidential proclamations and specially designated recognition weeks like National Apprenticeship Week are “feel good” window dressing. But it is one way to call attention to the emerging trends and complex business challenges faced by the conduction industry and other American industries – and alert people looking for new career opportunities to consider construction.

Workforce development experts are placing an increased emphasis on apprenticeship as an excellent post-secondary education alternative to a college degree. In California, apprenticeships are available for over 1,000 highly-skilled occupations including nursing and health care, public safety, computer science, food preparation, manufacturing, and construction.

Ninety-five percent of the graduates in the ABC San Diego Apprenticeship Training Program Class of 2018 were employed full-time in their chosen profession on the day they graduated. None of them will be paying back student loans for thousands of dollars in tuition even though they earned college credit throughout their apprenticeship. But you can bet they are paying their fair share of taxes. And they vote, too!

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

ABCSD  I  13825 Kirkham Way Poway, CA 92064  I  Tel: 858.513.4700  I  Fax: 858.513.2373  I  I

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