AGC of America calls for government action on skilled trade jobs shortages during GR visit

On the heels of a recently released national survey showing a shortage of skilled workers available for hire in the construction industry, Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America Ken Simonson spoke to industry professionals and media members at Rockford Construction Co. in Grand Rapids about the organization's new workforce development plan. 

The AGC's workforce development plan is essentially a call to action outlining measures federal, state and local officials can take to make it easier for schools, construction firms and local construction chapters to establish construction training programs. 

Simonson cited recent federal figures that show a loss of more than 900,000 construction industry workers to retirement, school or jobs in other sectors over the last four years. In tandem with the rebound of construction projects and employment – which, in Michigan specifically translates to an increase of about 15,000 jobs since 2009 – Simonson says 83 percent of construction firms that responded to ACG's survey reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers for hire, with 70 percent expecting worker shortages to remain steady or get worse over the next year. 

"Unless the nation is prepared to go from a market where firms don't have enough work to one where they don't have enough workers, it is essential to take steps now to prepare the next generation of workers," Simonson told audience members at Rockford Construction Co. earlier this week. 

"While the AGC of Michigan and the local construction community are doing their part to prepare and train new employees, the sad fact is that the country has spent the last three decades dismantling what were once robust vocational education programs across the country," he continued. 

His workforce development plan includes a call for more federal resources dedicated to career and technical training, specifically a reform of the Perkins Career & Technical Education Act, which funds vocational education programs, to give states increased flexibility and autonomy.

Simonson also hit on establishing new charter schools with programs that focus on key skills like construction and manufacturing, saying it should also be easier for school leaders to "establish career academies and other skill-based programs," and states should enact legislation allowing high school students to enroll tuition-free in public community college career and technical programs.

"I think educating everybody that there's an issue, just like with everything else, and getting people involved and in West Michigan, we're obviously involved at a number of different levels from Grand Rapids Public Schools, all of our partner organizations to get people involved and educated and show them that construction can be a lot of careers in the future," says Rockford Construction Co.'s Chief Innovation Officer Pete Mitchell.

Later on Tuesday, the Michigan Workforce Development Agency made an unrelated announcement on the Michigan Strategic Fund approval of nearly $8.6 million in Skilled Trades Training Fund program grants to 23 Michigan Works! agencies around the state to implement skilled trades training to better match talent with employer needs. 

Click here for the full list of Michigan companies selected to receive MWDA funding, or visit AGC of America and AGC Michigan online to learn more about the organizations and the ACG Workforce Development Plan. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Rockford Construction/ACG of America