Labor Day: Women are the key to next generation workforce development 
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This Labor Day there is much to celebrate: the economy is growing, unemployment is down, and people are reporting high rates of job satisfaction! Furthermore, the data show there are 3.5 million fewer people living in poverty in the United States over the past year. This good news is not simple good luck, but the fruits of collaboration between Americans companies and government leaders. 

Over the past few years the private and public sectors worked together to unleash economic opportunity for millions of Americans by rolling back stifling regulations and expanding alternative education programs that help people launch careers. 


But this is just the beginning. Last month, industries from multiple sectors traveled to the White House and pledged to expand and grow their employment rolls through apprenticeship programs. The construction industry alone committed to educate and reeducate a half million craft workers over the next five years.

How do we reach such an ambitious employment goal? Women are the key. Today, women make up a mere 9.1 percent but that number is on the rise thanks to innovative programs across the country that are opening doors and providing career mobility to women in the construction industry. At the White House workforce event, many women shared their success stories of building successful careers to support their families in the skilled electrical, pipefitting and welding trades.

S & B Engineers and Constructors has been proud to be part of this exciting progress. Through our Women in Construction Skilled Craft Education Program, which focuses on lifting single-head-of-household families out of poverty, we see first-hand how the opportunity for dignified work changes lives – not just economic circumstances, but self-esteem and self-worth. It is a cooperative effort between private business and local employment and community organizations incorporating four essential components – candidate screening, a fast-track earn while you learn pipefitting and welding apprenticeship program, educational services in life skills and financial management, and last, a guaranteed job upon completion of the program.

This pilot program earned us a seat on President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s Council for the American Worker created to expand workforce development like ours. We’re excited to lead by example and share our model employer program with a history of demonstrated success and changed lives.

For women, these are career-launching jobs, with ample opportunity for skills enhancement and career advancement. This is critical. Other educational programs and models that don’t lead directly to employment or lead only to dead-end jobs leave their participants struggling, which is a great disservice.

Upward mobility is only possible by helping people gain the skills they need to fill family-sustaining jobs – not by welfare programs. In 2017, there were over 5.5 million unemployed people who wanted a job, and anywhere from 12.5 percent of those working in the labor force were actually underemployed, whether part-time or full-time at a lower rate. Yet, there are currently 6.6 million jobs in the U.S. in high-demand industries that remain unfilled because there are not enough workers with the right set of skills to fill them.

President Trump and Congress have taken positive steps to create a better business and jobs climate. To stay on the road to prosperity, we must encourage and incentivize business and community partnerships at the local level and provide them with a roadmap of a successful program, combined with the flexibility to meet local needs with the freedom from government bureaucracy. This will help us leverage our untapped employment resources not just with women, but also with young adults seeking an alternative to the crippling cost of a four-year college, veterans seeking a next chapter after their service, and even convicts seeking a second chance for a different path in life.

Together, we can meet our pledges and lift entire communities out of impoverishment, creating great social benefit while equipping our employees to meet the high-skilled needs of our growing economy.

We owe it to the American worker.

James G. Slaughter, Jr. is the CEO Emeritus of S & B Engineers and Constructors, Ltd.