A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Construction Conversations: Investing in a Skilled Workforce

Following the bold prediction that housing starts will be around 1.6 million in the next couple years, we at Construction Citizen thought it would be interesting to explore what's being done to ensure that there will be enough skilled workers to meet that demand.  What follows is part of our conversation with John Courson, President and CEO of the Home Builders Institute.

Braddock: With housing starts predicted to get back to “normal” levels of 1.6 million annually by 2016 at the latest, what is HBI doing to ensure that there will be enough skilled workers to meet demand?

Courson: Home builders are planning to hire more workers as they see improvements in the market, but they are concerned about worker skill levels.  In fact, according to data HBI released in July about the construction labor market collected from NAHB’s HMI survey of home builders, 41 percent plan to hire skilled workers during the next year, but 62 percent of home builders have concerns about workers needing training before they are ready to begin their work.  Because 44 percent of builders say they will consider a worker’s training and skills, HBI is positioned to help provide skilled trades workers the best training and experience to help them get those jobs.

HBI’s pre-apprenticeship certificate training programs (PACT) are taught in local communities across the country to youth and adult populations, veterans, ex-offenders and displaced workers.  Students gain the skills and hands-on experience they need to build careers in construction and related fields.  With an 80 percent job placement rate for graduates, HBI training programs consistently benefit our graduates, the communities in which they live and work, and our nation.

HBI also has industry-developed materials for high schools, two-year community colleges and technical schools, the Residential Construction Academy (RCA) Series, whereby students learn the primary residential construction trades built on industry skill standards.  Further, the NAHB Student Chapters represent schools and students who largely are studying residential construction management at the high school, two- and four-year levels. That represents about 150 programs and 4000 students.

In addition, HBI is seeking expanded funding through foundations and the government to train workers needed for the now growing industry.  HBI is expanding the PACT programs across the country to reach various populations with skills training and job placements, including veterans and other adult populations.

Braddock: What do business owners need to understand about investing in a skilled workforce? It seems many business owners fail to keep that asset healthy when they're not busy, which is understandable, but doesn't seem like a good long-term strategy.

Courson: Business owners need to play a role in growing the next generation of builders and workers by advocating in their communities.  They need to advocate at the school-level that the construction sector needs an ever-flowing pipeline of new recruits with solid academic and technical skills.  Advocating for recognition of HBI’s construction training programs and HBI/NAHB's certification program at the state-level through state departments of education and labor is another way to do this.  Also, businesses need to emphasize on-the-job learning for young entrants into the industry.  HBI has strategies to help businesses do this, as much of our training incorporates a significant majority of hands-on training versus solely classroom learning.

Braddock: Mike Holland, a division president of Marek Brothers Systems in Houston, recently said this during a panel discussion in Washington at the Aspen Institute: “It’s a sad day when a skilled craft worker is described as having a low-wage job.  There is very little training or structure, and it’s only driven by demand.  Contractors want skilled workers but they’ve done very little to make it happen.”  Your thoughts on what Holland had to say?

We agree that employers must be involved in training.  There are many ways to engage, as stated above.  We need a groundswell of support to show education leaders that we require skilled workers on residential construction jobsites and that training needs to take place through traditional school settings – and HBI has the materials and skill standards to drive that training.

Braddock: John, thanks for your time today.

Courson: You're very welcome and thank you.

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