Building a workforce to meet our economic needs

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As our economy continues to struggle to maintain momentum and consistently create jobs, the construction industry remains a source of untapped potential.

For generations, the construction industry has provided excellent career opportunities for millions of American workers. Unlike other industries, construction cannot offshore or outsource its jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the construction industry’s need for workers will grow twice as fast as the average for all industries. This growth, combined with an aging workforce, is projected to create a shortage of 1.6 million workers by 2022. To put this into perspective, the 1.6 million jobs projected to be available in the construction industry alone is nearly double the number of jobs created across all industries so far in 2014.

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Construction provides career opportunities for Americans from all walks of life, including high school graduates, those searching for a career change and veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. However, to qualify for these jobs, workers need high-quality and flexible skills training. Effective, targeted and accessible workforce training programs are essential to preparing new workers while also providing career development opportunities for current craft professionals.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and its member companies are leading the charge to provide quality training in these high-demand career fields. These hands-on training programs combine on-the-job learning with the most up-to-date curriculum. Once completed, students walk away with a credential that is industry-recognized, nationally portable and highly valuable to employers.

A perfect embodiment of how effective the blend of on-the-job training and technical education can be is Franklin Noble, a 24-year-old craft trainee from ABC’s San Diego chapter. Franklin makes a living working full time at Bergelectric Corp. in Escondido, Calif., while also taking classes at ABC San Diego. When asked why he chose a career path in construction, Noble said, “My parents told me to either go to school or get a job, and this solved both.”

The need for improved access to training programs, such as the program Franklin is about to complete, is recognized by both Democrats and Republicans, and matches the president’s call in this year’s State of the Union address to reform our job-training programs.

Congress is taking a big step in making sure that this opportunity does not slip through the cracks by introducing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in a rare bipartisan and bicameral agreement.

The WIOA makes important strides in streamlining and localizing the workforce development system by eliminating some existing programs and creating smaller and more strategic local workforce development boards. The bill also gives local small-business leaders a direct role in developing job-training programs, allowing them to use their knowledge of the local economy to help develop programs that best fit their communities and the economy as a whole. Improved collaboration between industry and training program providers is essential — after all, who knows the employment needs of the industry better than the industry itself?

Importantly, the WIOA also allows federal funding to flow to workforce training programs regardless of labor affiliation. For far too long, federal funding for training programs has been limited to union-affiliated apprenticeship programs, leaving the 86 percent of construction workers who choose not to be affiliated with a labor union out in the cold. By freeing up money for all industry-recognized job-training programs, this bill allows the maximum amount of trainees the access to programs they need to be productive members of our workforce.

The need for tailored and industry-specific workforce training programs is something that most in Washington, D.C., can agree on. This week, hundreds of construction business owners and ABC members will be on Capitol Hill reminding lawmakers that, without better access to skilled training programs, jobs will go unfilled, and our economy and our industry, will suffer.

Brodbeck is president and CEO of Compass Partners LLC in Brentwood, Tenn., and the 2014 national chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction industry trade association representing nearly 21,000 chapter members.