Our industry cannot talk its way out of a problem we behaved our way into. That’s why the ABC Houston Board of Directors has tasked the group’s Industrial Committee with putting forward solid proposals for addressing workforce needs on the Gulf Coast. As part of that, we realize that maintaining a sustainable workforce will require clear career paths for those who choose to become craft professionals.
The Industrial Committee’s members have worked hard during recent meetings to formulate recommendations for the full ABC board. The ideas are wide-ranging, including changes to the way things are done on jobsites as well as improving the industry’s image in the eyes of potential future employees and their families.
One very positive and fairly recent development is there is broad agreement among the committee’s members and the contracting community at large that this issue cannot be ignored any longer. Change must happen starting soon and it has to be continued into the future.
The industrial construction industry must address the anticipated short-term shortage of craft professionals balanced with a long-term view of sustainability. For the near-term, we must determine the pool size and the location of the underemployed, unemployed and those transitioning from the military in our communities and reach out to them about the opportunities industrial construction can provide.
We must be more proactive in coordinating with community organizations in order to reach those who are underemployed, unemployed, making a transition from the military to the private industry sector, and those who want better jobs but need to overcome “employability deficiencies.” Those deficiencies can include English proficiency, getting a GED, and obtaining correct employment records or credentials. Community organizations are on the front lines every day assisting folks in improving their “employability” and helping with job searches and placement.
We need to do a better job of educating the leadership of those community organizations about opportunities in our industry and help them position their groups to assist us in screening and recruiting their constituents. They essentially need to be like a dating service, matching their constituents to qualifications defined by the industry that will lead to better jobs and a higher standard of living.
Looking to the long-term, we need to collaborate with the groundswell of initiatives focused on the high schools from K9 to K12. We should be communicating as directly as possible to parents and their kids about the possibilities if they choose careers as craft professionals. One way to work toward that is holding more career days – certainly more than one per year, to help students and their parents understand career paths.
Some of the recommendations formulated by the Industrial Committee are simple and others are more complex. Here are a few of the ideas the panel developed during its deliberations.
Owners of projects need to be convinced that on-the-job training should be increased on their sites. To be successful, we will need a strategy that incorporates all avenues of training and development across community colleges, private training organizations and onsite contractor training. It is incumbent upon leaders in our industry to make that case to owners.
Along those lines, we should convince owners and contractors to endorse transparency of training so that we can promote the progression of each individual. That will go a long way toward keeping people in the industry once they’ve joined. We must also go beyond project-only based training. For instance, craft professionals could take certain maintenance assignments that help them develop skills on their path.
Education is key. Our collaborative efforts with community colleges need to include a thorough understanding of their curricula and promotion of their programs to the ABC membership.
There should be more incentives for proper workforce development. How about a Houston-based workforce development award similar to the one given out by the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT)?
One thing ABC could do fairly quickly is establish a committee to formalize a mechanism to gain access to graduates then mentor them and help with job placement. If someone is being trained as a pipefitter in college but has no real-world experience as of yet, there should be an expedited way to place him or her in a job immediately. In that vein, we also need centralized career guidance personnel who can help potential employees receive the counsel they need to understand their options as to how to enter the industry then advance within it.
ABC should perhaps have a paid staff position for someone to bring a focus to workforce development at a high level within the association and get connected to other organizations in different sectors. This effort won’t have the credibility it needs without a unified voice through which we all speak to the owner community.
All this must put the craft professional first – training and skills development will be at the core of it with the industry focused on them. ABC can find the means and methods to elevate those employees. Branding this with the ABC logo will enhance the value of the organization, refine our value proposition as a group, and add value to the contracting community, the craft professionals themselves, and we’ll have a way to recognize and honor the people who will have made their way through the system.
Finally, ABC must endorse a marketing/media/messaging plan that promotes career development as a necessity. That plan should include a centralized group to provide unity among contractors, messaging, and marketing communications.