Help wanted: 500,000 construction jobs need to be filled
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The Department of Labor’s recent employment report showed continued steady growth, with a better than expected rise in hired Americans and more people jumping back into the labor pool. These are all encouraging signs, but more can be done to get Americans back to work in expanding industries like construction where we face a severe skilled workforce shortage.

The construction industry and members of Associated Builders and Contractors — the large and small businesses that build your airports, hospitals, military installations, schools and power plants — need to hire a staggering 500,000 workers just to fill existing jobs.

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That’s half a million open construction jobs ready to be filled today. And that number is projected to grow to more than a million once America’s infrastructure rebuilding initiative begins under the Trump administration’s leadership.

 

You might be wondering why this is a Washington problem. Well, it is and it isn’t.

The construction community recognizes that it’s up to us to attract, train and retain a safe and productive professional workforce.

That’s why the Associated Builders and Contractors has more than 800 apprenticeship and training programs around the country, and associated members spend $1.1 billion on training annually. We work with technical and vocational schools, community colleges and training centers to develop the construction workforce of the future — one that is diverse and inclusive, where workers are presented with limitless opportunities.

Still, America has a substantial skills gap in numerous industries, not just construction. When jobs go unfilled, our national growth slows and our ability to compete internationally suffers. This is where government can help. 

The U.S. Department of Labor sets the regulations for registered apprenticeship programs, which define the standards and definitions of required competencies and skills. Government-defined apprenticeship programs play an important role in training, but they can be prescriptive and inflexible, and industry needs more quality options to train a safe and skilled workforce that satisfies current market needs.

By putting industry in the driver’s seat, policymakers can ensure that job seekers will get exactly the training that’s required for success on the job and meet market demands related to emerging technologies and innovation driving growth and efficiency in the construction economy. That means skill-based learning, just-in-time task training, competency-based progression and work-based learning, in addition to registered apprenticeships and other industry defined models that allow workers to earn while they learn.

Thankfully, our voices are being heard in Washington. On June 15, President Trump signed an executive order expanding 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.

We stand ready to work with the secretaries of labor, commerce and education to implement the executive order and develop new, innovative and effective models to train our workforce. We ask Congress to help as well, by extending student aid to the full panoply of training programs that lead to productive careers that help us build America. Working together, we can 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 realizing their American dream.

Mike Bellaman is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction industry trade association representing more than 21,000 members.


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