ISC Constructors LLC Partners with NCCER and ABC to Improve Workforce Training
One of Louisiana's largest specialty contractors is working to address the need for tens of thousands of skilled craft workers as a result of an upswing in construction activity. ISC Constructors LLC (ISC), an industrial electrical, instrumentation and controls company headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has become an industry leader in workforce development through its use of NCCER training and assessment resources, which are delivered both internally and at Associated Builders and Contractors' (ABC) Pelican Chapter in Baton Rouge.
After years of downturn, the industry is on track to generate the need for well over a million craft professionals by 2020. Robert Clouatre, the Director of the ABC Pelican Chapter Training Center, reports, "The Gulf South region, especially south Louisiana, is seeing quite a bit of construction activity. Lake Charles, in particular, is booming - with over $40 billion in expansion projects on the books."
The bright outlook for economic growth and industry potential does not come without major challenges, however.Many projects have been delayed due to the serious lack of skilled craft professionals to perform the work. This is not limited to Louisiana, and is being seen across the Gulf Coast and across the nation. It is a frustrating problem for the industry, and not one easily solved. Although construction can provide a high paying, rewarding, and safe career choice, a negative perception of the craft trades as a career persists among far too many of these potential new workers.
The Decline of Skilled Workers
Jennifer Wilkerson, Director of Marketing and Build Your Future for NCCER, says the problem has been decades in the making. "The beginnings of the skills shortage can be traced back as far back as the end of WW II when returning veterans were encouraged to attend universities with their new GI Bill funds. Unintentionally, this seems to be the start of America equating success to a four year university degree. This new opportunity led many people to choose the college route over skills training, and unfortunately began the decline of the image of skilled professionals.
"In turn, vocational education began to be seen as an alternative rather than an option. This stigma eventually led to the renaming of vocational education to career and technical education but has remained difficult to overcome. Over the years, fewer and fewer students chose this option which has contributed to the skills gap we are vehemently trying to overcome in the construction industry."
She adds, "I do believe that we are seeing a resurgence of career and technical education as more students, parents and educators understand the value of providing education that directly correlates with career opportunities."
NCCER is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) education foundation created in 1996 as The National Center for Construction Education and Research. It was developed with the support of more than 125 construction CEOs, associations and academic leaders who united to revolutionize training for the construction industry. These companies and their organizations created a standardized training and credentialing program for the commercial and industrial construction industries. This program has evolved into curricula for more than 70 craft areas and a complete series of more than 70 assessments offered by NCCER accredited sponsors in training and assessment locations across the U.S.
As Wilkerson explains, "All of our curricula and assessments are developed in conjunction with Subject Matter Experts from across the nation. NCCER Curricula features competency-based modules with measurable objectives, modular format for flexibility and custom task training, compliance with Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship requirements for time-based training and portable industry-recognized credentials."
Enhancing Outreach Efforts
NCCER also drives multiple initiatives to enhance career development and recruitment efforts for the industry, primarily through its Build Your Future initiative. 2015 marks the fourth year of the Louisiana Workforce Commission and NCCER's Build Your Future partnership for construction recruitment and image enhancement in the state of Louisiana. Wilkerson reports, "Since the Build Your Future/Build Louisiana initiative began in 2011, NCCER training module completions have increased by approximately 95 percent throughout the state. Additionally, NCCER training level completions within the Louisiana Community and Technical College System have risen by an astounding 145 percent."
ISC, which offers engineering, construction and maintenance services, has been a leader in workforce development in the construction industry for more than two decades; at the center of ISC's workforce development efforts is utilization of NCCER's resources to ensure that all of its journey-level craft professionals are NCCER certified.
"ISC has always been a leader in workforce development and is a progressive contractor with a commitment to its people," says Don Whyte, President of NCCER. "The quality of ISC's training and assessment programs is evident in their personnel. ISC is actively involved in all NCCER programs and provides subject matter experts for the development of our curricula and assessments. Whenever we need anything, we know ISC is there to support us."
ISC offers a broad range of NCCER training programs; NCCER's Core Curriculum is a prerequisite has become an industry leader in workforce development to all of Level 1 curricula and covers topics such as safety, introductions to hand and power tools, employability skills and more. Trainees who complete the curriculum have the basic skills needed to continue training in any craft area he or she chooses. The "Fundamentals of Crew Leadership" module teaches the skills needed to be an effective leader, while the "Project Supervision" curriculum is a comprehensive, competency-based program for both veteran and new field managers. Also offered is a certification program for safety instructors and a Supervisor Assessment tool.
Building a Partnership
The bulk of ISC/NCCER classes are held at the ABC Pelican Chapter Training Center. ISC began using the chapter for craft training in 1990, and in 2000, ISC associates started taking NCCER assessments through the chapter. Courses at ABC include a comprehensive, four-level Electrical curriculum and an Instrumentation curriculum which covers important processes and knowledge areas, including piping, tubing, fasteners and metallurgy.
Says Clouatre, "By far, ISC Constructors is our largest company when it comes to training in electrical and instrumentation, with 350 to 400 students a year in our programs. They are a major player in supporting our chapter; they are consistently very engaged and involved, and play a major role in our curriculum development."
Clouatre agrees that the perception of craft training is changing. "Especially in the last two to three years, training has ramped up," he comments. "Our classrooms are filled, because there is a large demand for people certified in these craft areas. We have four levels of classes, and multiple classes at each level. People are starting to see that there are good careers in construction, and not everyone needs to go to college; there's a lot more attention now as people realize that high school graduates have other options."
The ABC Pelican Chapter has established a high school program in the Baton Rouge area, which has an enrollment of over 200 students. The chapter recently received a National Center for Excellence in Education recognition for this partnership with a local school system, Clouatre reports.
In addition to developing the skills of its own workforce, ISC supports NCCER initiatives that improve workforce development throughout the industry. The company contributes to NCCER's National Training Service Agreement (NTSA), which is a cents-per-hour training fund. As part of ISC's NTSA contributions, the company also provides additional funding for NCCER's Build Your Future initiative.
ISC's President/CEO, Jerry Rispone, currently serves as NCCER's Chairman of the Board, and in 2009, Eddie Rispone, Co-Founder and Chairman of ISC, was appointed by Governor Bobby Jindal to serve as Chairman of the Louisiana Workforce Investment Council. This council consists of members from public and private entities, industry associations and labor organizations - through the council, ISC has been a driving force in implementing NCCER training in secondary and postsecondary schools throughout Louisiana.
"ISC fully supports NCCER and its vitality to the industry's future," states Jerry Rispone. "As the perception of a career in the trades continues to gain more esteem, it's imperative for us all to not fall victim to complacency. We must continue to improve on our public and private collaboration and also the first class options for training and certification we provide our valued craft persons."