Whoever has the best skilled tradespeople wins—or so the saying could go.

Not so easy, though, in light of the glaring shortage of such workers. Contractors can use their own personal networks—referrals from their top workers, for example—or they can find potential workers at a temporary agency and bring them on for a “working interview.” Temporary agencies are always an option, too, when you land a job that’s bigger than usual or you come under a super-tight deadline.

To date, the responses to this skilled tradesperson shortage have all been short-term fixes. If the skilled trades shortage is going to be solved long term—permanently—it’s going to be solved by contractors rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.

But where do you start?

The Associated General Contractors of America convened its inaugural National Construction Industry Workforce Summit in St. Louis, Missouri, at the end of 2021. The event brought together people involved in construction workforce development in some way—contractors, educators, union reps, etc.

Attendees broke into small groups to brainstorm. Here’s what they came up with on the topic of “recruitment”:

  • Contractors participate in career days/job fairs at local high schools or technical schools. These firms develop strong working relationships with the schools and spend a lot of time on campus setting up and supporting construction-specific programs that can then serve as a pipeline for new craftspeople into that firm.
  • Some contractors use career fairs to bring students from multiple high schools to a single point, such as a fairground, where they can be exposed to a wide range of craft skills, construction equipment, and construction technology.
  • Some states, notably Florida with its Florida Apprenticeship program, offer workers’ compensation waivers for firms that hire students out of local high schools. In exchange, contractors agree to pay those high school “apprentices” the same pay rate as other apprentices.
  • Some contractors engage with middle- and high-school-aged girls and their mothers during PowerUp sessions that offer after-hours demonstrations and introductions to construction careers to help make them comfortable with the idea of working in the industry.
  • Some contractors use digital advertising and social media to reach high-potential industry recruits as well as target key influencers, such as coaches, teachers, and parents.
  • Some contractors suggested working with state education authorities to create a training program for construction industry outreach specialists. These specialists then work with high school students to help them explore different career paths within the industry and work in coordination with local high school guidance counselors.
  • One contractor used virtual reality glasses to provide OSHA10 and OSHA30 training to high school classrooms. Other firms use VR headsets to safely expose high school students to different construction opportunities, including equipment operation and welding.
  • Some AGC chapters have worked with workforce investment boards to secure funding for scholarships for childcare so their parents can earn a living in careers such as construction.
  • AGC chapters have created special summer construction academies. These academies offer multiweek paid opportunities for rising junior and senior high school students. The students split their time between CTE programs and being on actual construction jobsites.
  • The AGC Georgia chapter hosts Trade Talks, where they bring in high school guidance counselors and explain the construction career opportunities that are available, what it takes to qualify for them, and how much students can earn in their careers.
  • Other chapters work with local school districts to offer “intro to construction careers” programs to younger students. In Georgia, students are introduced to construction careers at the second-grade level.
  • Construction firms are being more strategic about who they send to do the recruiting. They send diverse role models into school programs and other recruiting events to speak to increasingly diverse student populations.
  • One school official from Oklahoma recommended that when construction firms visit schools, they bring more hands-on activities; bring teachers out to jobsites; and recruit older, semiretired contractors to teach.
  • Many construction firms and chapters also talked about the work they do to create single online job boards for all available local construction career opportunities. This way, potential applicants have a one-stop portal for finding available career opportunities.
  • Some suggested promoting the fact that workers can pursue careers in construction and earn college degrees at the same time. Many construction career paths offer young workers an opportunity to earn an Associate in Applied Science degree while they learn their craft. They can then transfer those credits when they enroll in construction management and other four-year programs. In addition, some apprenticeship programs have partnered with colleges so that participants can also earn degrees.
  • Someone suggested making educators feel like an extension of the industry: Bring them to jobsites, explain the earning potential in the construction industry, and bring them to construction firm offices so they can experience the many different types of career opportunities available in construction.
  • Some suggested playing to the industry’s strengths—highlighting the sense of accomplishment that comes with building structures: Talk about the teamwork aspects of construction, the fact the challenges are different each day, the sense of accomplishment from “I built that,” and the earning potential in construction.
  • Some suggested that labor and management work together to improve entrance into the industry. Individual trades have different time requirements, application periods, and expectations. No interested individual should be turned away if a specific trade doesn’t have an opening in its apprenticeship programs. The trades need to create portals to track openings and improve reciprocity so that individuals can begin earning and learning Day One even if they ultimately prefer a different trade.
  • Some suggested community events to raise the profile of the industry. For example, go to community festivals and fairs or participate in neighborhood cookouts or local Boys and Girls Clubs events.

Wrapping up

AGC of America concluded the summit with two challenges to all attendees. The first was to understand, appreciate, and operate with the knowledge that they are not alone—to look for opportunities to collaborate with other workforce development programs. The second challenge was to take at least one idea covered during the summit and implement it back home. Which of these ideas could work in your market?


Did you like this post? Check out How contractors can team up with local schools to reverse the skilled trades talent shortage


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