It is no secret that the construction industry needs workers. The Associated General Contractors reported in September labor shortages, which is leading to longer times to complete projects. Michigan has taken many steps to address the issue, including Going PRO, a campaign established by Michigan's Talent and Economic Development Department (Ted).
“There are so many myths, stereotypes and misperceptions about professional trades,” said Jeremy Hendges, Ted Interim Director. “We are dealing with robotics, cybersecurity and all kinds of high-wage, high-demand careers.”
Michigan is experiencing a shortage of professional trades workers, with an additional 15,000 new job openings expected annually through 2024.
Hendges said that while there is still a need for careers that require college degrees, it’s important to note that there is a vast opportunity for thousands of good-paying career opportunities in professional trades, too.
“Going PRO aims to help change professional trades misperceptions and make sure Michigan’s young people understand these are not the dirty-shop-floor jobs of the past; these are rewarding careers leading the way in innovation here in Michigan,” said Hendges.
The Going PRO campaign includes a website for students and adults looking for new careers and information about the top 25 high-demand job opportunities and the skills required.
“This site is another resource in connecting Michiganders with great paying careers and closing our state’s talent gap,” Hendges said.
Michigan is also focusing on helping employers find the skilled workforce to meet their needs. The Going PRO Talent Fund, administered by the Michigan Talent Investment Agency, makes awards to employers to assist with training, developing, and retaining new and current employees.
“The program allows for collaboration between employers and their local education, economic development and Michigan Works! partners to provide demand-driven training that addresses critical talent shortages,” Hendges said. “Going PRO Talent Fund helps further promote the need and significance of professional trades.”
The Going PRO Program has also secured some pre-apprenticeship funds. Those programs are drawing in young people interested in construction careers.
Michigan Construction READY Going PRO
The Michigan Talent Investment Agency provided funds for the Michigan Construction READY Going PRO Apprenticeship Readiness scholarships, valued at $14,000 each, to 20 young people in Ingham, Clinton, or Eaton counties, so they could participate in the program, developed by the Michigan Construction Foundation. Heavy civil contractors in the state support the foundation, in Okemos, Michigan.
During the first two months, participants spent 20 hours per week taking part in an intensive training program with multiple components, including earning National Center for Construction Education and Research core certification.
“We wanted to give the trainees a chance to get real-world certifications that meant something and an opportunity to learn first-hand what the construction industry is about,” said Brindley Byrd, Grant Manager for the program. “This Going PRO initiative is all about providing experiences that would shepherd them into a professional trades career path.”
Twenty people started the modules, and 16 achieved the certification.
Michigan ConstructionREADY Going PRO also educated the participants about how to become an electrician or plumber or other trades, offered trust-building and team-building experiences, and taught them about safety, first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Officials also discussed employability skills, such as arriving on time to the job site, being prepared to work the entire day and coming back to work the next day. Attendees had to maintain a 90 percent attendance rate.
“No matter where they ended up, we wanted the content to be valuable to them,” Byrd explained.
The AIS Heavy Equipment Training Institute offered the participants a one-day heavy-equipment experience. The trainees experienced operating an excavator, a bulldozer and a backhoe. This first-hand experience of running heavy equipment might spark further interest in becoming an operator.
“We hoped the trainees would want to choose the heavy civil sector to go into for further training and opportunities, but we also realized it might help them decide not to do that,” Byrd said. “Some participants said, ‘This is not for me.’”
Learning that a career is not to one’s liking is beneficial for the trainee and an employer who may have invested money in his or her training.
The last component of the program was a construction management class at Lansing Community College, which enabled trainees to earn college credit. For participants unable to enroll at the college, Byrd arranged for an alternative, delivering a similar lecture and hands-on component through a partnership with the Lansing Makers Network.
Upon completing the pre-apprenticeship program, trainees are ready to enter a full-time job or registered apprenticeship having the skills, qualifications and character to start their construction career. Participants were released to potential employers.
Emily Meister, one of the trainees, called the program “amazing.” She appreciated the time spent on helping her with her resume and experiencing options.
“It was hands-on, and we had a great instructor,” Meister said. “It was a lot of fun, and I made friends through it. I was never singled out for being a girl.”
Three companies signed on and agreed to hire graduates of the Michigan ConstructionREADY Going PRO Program and pay no less than $14 per hour. The companies were MacKenzie Cos. of Lansing; Davis Construction in Grand Rapids; and M.L. Chartier in Webberville. Seven trainees were placed with construction companies. After the program’s completion, four individuals were hired, and two are still employed.
Participants received tools, personal protective equipment, books and tuition.
“It was a robust program,” Byrd said. “We overcame challenges in getting folks to continue in the program.”
Detroit Workforce of the Future
The Black Caucus Foundation of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Solution Association, the Michigan Aggregate Association, and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, and seven contractors came together to offer the Detroit Workforce of the Future Program in three high schools.
“We are at a deficit,” explained Ken Bertolini, Director of Workforce Development with the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association in Detroit. “We have more people retiring than new people coming in.”
Bertolini and others are working to educate high school students about the construction industry. Competing companies are working together to bring new people into the industry. Additionally, the Operating Engineers (OE324) and the Laborers Union (Local 1191) also played a big role in the program.
“We wanted to introduce high school students to the opportunities construction has and to get them placed and hired immediately,” Bertolini said.
Thirty students participated. During the school year, every Friday for 10 weeks, students received 2.5 hours of training about estimating, use of tools and other construction information. During that time, they earned their OSHA 30-hour card.
In the second half of the program, the students worked 40-hour weeks with Michigan contractors Cadillac Asphalt, Ajax Paving, Dan’s Excavating, Barton Malow, Ideal Construction, Angelo Iafrate Construction Co., CA Hull and The Energy Group. They learned about what the companies construct and how they do it.
Twenty-four students graduated from the program. And as with other programs, some decided construction was not for them. The companies have hired four participants, and additional students are interviewing.
“They will go to work and earn $20 to $26 dollar an hour, working with big companies on big projects,” Bertolini said. “It worked out really well, and the contractors were excited about it.”
Photos courtesy of Talent Investment Agency of Michigan
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