Growing Your Workforce with Pre-Apprenticeships
DETROIT, MI A few years ago, Cadillac Asphalt did a gap analysis on the asphalt industry and asked, "What will the employee pipeline look like in five years?"
Cadillac Asphalt (Cadillac) is Michigan's largest asphalt supplier, with the capacity to produce more than 4 million tons annually. Cadillac runs seven paving crews with 200 employees during the heart of construction season. However, with the growing economy, potential road funding increases and pending retirements, Cadillac predicts they will need to double their size by 2020. Filling the skilled trades employment gap is the biggest issue in the construction and infrastructure industries today, especially in Detroit, Michigan.
A fully functional paving crew takes years to develop. In order to be ready for the uptick in funding, hiring and training must begin long before the money has worked its way into the system. Several of Cadillac's construction industry colleagues are holding events to address this issue.
In the past, the asphalt industry has relied on word-of-mouth, website postings, and cherry-picking seasoned employees from competitors. None of these strategies worked really well, and Detroit's staggering under-employed and unemployed, approximately 300,000 city residents - kept staring us in the face. Caddilac knew they had to do something innovative to reach them, and two years ago, they partnered with Michigan Laborers' Union and developed a pre-apprenticeship program that creates a pipeline of opportunities for the asphalt industries' future employees. The union helps companies like Cadillac and others in the industry by setting up job fairs, and when they find someone with the right attitude, the desire to work, and who will fit in the demanding construction industry and company culture, they hire them into the Future Paving Professionals Program (FP3).
The intent of the program is to build, grow and strengthen. It is not the intent, now or ever, to replace a current journeyman laborer with a pre-apprentice laborer. Nor does FP3 circumvent the system to pay lower wages; it allows Cadillac Asphalt to carry additional personnel above their normal nine-person paving crew, at Cadillac's expense, and provides valuable on-the-job training. The program consists of a maximum of 700 hours on-the-job training, and pre-apprentices are assigned to a crew and mentor for training and assessment. Graduates are then enrolled in the union's apprentice program.
Cadillac's analysis told them that it was equally important to invest in their people, as well as their equipment. The entire process has several moving parts, but since kicking off their first class last year, they have brought on about 35 employees, with more than 50 percent of those still working for the company - a much higher retention rate than expected originally. These individuals work in a variety of jobs, ranging from quality control labs and office to paving crews.
The process has taught Cadillac a great deal. Their foremen and managers are looking at how well they develop people, and the company is getting better at all levels. With auto insurance rates so high in Detroit, transportation is a challenge, especially for employees whose normal day consists of moving from site to site. However, Cadillac is determined that it wasn't going to be a barrier and have implemented a buddy system where they map out rides. They are even considering purchasing a van in the future to transport employees who need added support.
Cadillac believes that FP3 is already an example of how innovative thinking and a partnership between a union and a contractor can push past major employment challenges and build a pipeline of opportunities. Cadillac will continue to closely monitor FP3 to develop and grow a skilled trades workforce that positions us for future success, and improves the lives of the people we hire so they can feel like they're a part of Detroit's success too.