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Building the American dream

The construction industry has provided fulfilling and high-paying careers for generations; unfortunately a shift away from encouraging careers in the skilled trades combined with industry growth has helped produce a shortage of skilled workers more than twice the size of the average congressional district.

According to forecasts by the Construction Labor Market Analyzer®, commercial construction will face a deficit of 1.1 million workers over the next decade.  Already more than four out of five Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) member companies report that they are facing a shortage of appropriately skilled labor, despite an annual investment of $1.1 billion in workforce development.

{mosads}One of the leading factors of this skilled worker shortage has been the shift in our education system to push every student down the path of college-prep classes while minimizing the attention paid to the skilled trades. While the four year college path opens opportunities for many students, career and technical education (CTE) prepares students for in-demand jobs in growing sectors. In the construction industry specifically, job seekers can earn their post-secondary training while working, either through a registered apprenticeship or craft training program, and without taking on debt in the form of student loans.

Last month Paul Tse, a project manager for ABC member company Shapiro & Duncan, Inc., testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce at a hearing on the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. At the hearing, Tse urged members of the committee to “recognize the fulfilling and lucrative careers that can be achieved in construction and skilled trades” and “remove any stigma that exists that choosing a CTE program over a traditional four year college is somehow settling.” Tse went on to say “I am the American Dream. I urge all of you to ensure that every child in America has the same opportunities as I did.”

Addressing the shortage of appropriately skilled workers has enjoyed rare bipartisan support over the past several years. If done properly, reauthorizing the Perkins Act will go a long way in stemming this shortage, while also raising awareness about the career opportunities Tse describes and providing a boost for business owners and local economies.  

In order to maximize the effectiveness of CTE programs for career seekers and employers, the reauthorization must provide a variety of mechanisms that allow states flexibility in determining how to best create and enhance programs that fit local industry and economic needs. It is also important to differentiate between industry credentials and other postsecondary awards. Increasing the acceptance of industry recognized credentials ensure that students are learning what they need to know for their careers in a targeted, specific way that drives career development most effectively.

Despite the shortage, construction remains, perhaps now more than ever, a great field to build a career for potential job seekers. In fact, a recent survey found that construction workers are happier than workers in any other industry.

I am a part of the fourth generation of my family business and the satisfaction and joy we find in our work is irreplaceable. This week hundreds of ABC members, many of whom are relying on Perkins-funded CTE graduates to be our next generation of highly skilled and successful craft professionals, will be on Capitol Hill reminding lawmakers of the important role the construction industry holds in our economy and our communities.

David Chapin is the president of Willmar Electric Service in Lincoln, Neb. and the 2016 National Chair of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). ABC is a national construction industry trade association established in 1950 that represents nearly 21,000 chapter members.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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