The stated numbers are stunning and probably low. There are 6.8 million Americans looking for employment and employers with 6.0 million job openings. Sounds easy to fix you say, but it is not so easy.
The major issue is job skills mismatch. The people looking for jobs are not trained in the skills that employers need in order to hire them.
President Trump, during his Workforce Focus Week recently signed an executive order that will bring together a task force to determine how to deliver the needed training through “apprenticeships” across a number of industries including construction.
Ivanka Trump, the President’s advisor, is “on point” to work with the task force to understand the issues, to propose solutions that fill those empty jobs, and to implement that program across a variety of government departments and industries.
The effort will be funded by an allocation of $200 million from the Department of Labor that will be spent developing new programs and incorporating existing training programs through the community colleges, vocational training schools, and the creation of ways to skills match. Currently, the US Government spends $16.7 billion per year in a minimum of 43 programs administered and funded by 13 separate departments. Strides could be made if some of those programs were focused on efficiency and apprenticeship programs.
Unfortunately neither side of the issue understands yet how to make it a reality. The community college programs run students through their training programs and expect that the construction companies will be beating down the door to hire those folks for their next project. That is not happening. The employers criticize the programs for creating “paper” workers without any jobsite training.
One of the biggest issues is that those folks with certificates have little or no experience in the construction field. Union programs take as long as four years to develop a candidate into a journeyman able to carry a load in the field. Some specialty contractors have safety training, but few have skills training available, and they are reluctant to take on what they say is an added “expense.”
We have been writing about this skills mismatch problem for a number of years. Across the Gulf Coast, community colleges have programs, the community based organizations have people who need jobs, but there are too few programs and job fairs that will make it happen. The Greater Houston Partnership’s (GHP) Upskill Houston program is working on the same issue. So is the Construction Career Collaborative (C3). Both are working with industry and organizations to develop new ways to solve the issues and meet the growing demand for an expanded workforce in the Houston region. SteelToePro, an online application, is also working with the industry to help foster the coordination and collaboration of these various groups.
This is a long-term issue that will be made very difficult when the Trump Administration and Congress embark on the infrastructure programs outlined in the current talks. The demand for skilled workers will skyrocket.
President Trump, by signing this executive order, at least realizes that there is a growing need for job training across the nation, and perhaps this move will develop creative programs that can help solve the issue. My question is how will they raise the bar for the “slow adapters” in the commercial construction field to the next level? Oh yes and the residential industry is another issue altogether, one that will likely take the next decade to resolve.
We are glad to see that the professional organizations and the US Chamber are getting involved. It will take a massive combined effort to make progress in the near future.