The Indiana Construction Roundtable Foundation Teams with State to Address Construction's Workforce Shortages
The Indiana Construction Roundtable Foundation (ICRF) is working with Indiana's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) as both strive to identify likely candidates for construction careers, to change unwarranted perceptions about working in construction and to help those future workers navigate the sometimes confusing pathways into the industry.
It is not an easy set of tasks but Chris Price, President of the ICRF and Steve Braun, Commissioner of the DWD, keep their lines of communication open as each has launched innovative programs in the past year and are moving forward with other programs that promise meaningful assistance to an industry sorely in need of it.
"We have met or exceeded all of our goals so far," said Price, "but, of course, we are only just beginning. It took years and years for negative images of working in construction to develop. We are now just starting to get the truth out and to change that image. It will take time but I like what we are seeing."
"The workforce shortage is an economic development issue for the state," Price says. " Indiana, as we have been moving out of the great recession, has a backlog of building and infrastructure needs. This means many, many years of potentially expanding our economy. But if we are not able to build the facilities future employers need, we will not be able to attract the businesses the state desires."
Construction has always been a significant industry for the state, says Steve Braun, Commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development.
"If you don't have the people to build infrastructure, it doesn't matter how much capital you have, infrastructure does not get built," says Braun, adding. "It is going to take a true commitment from leaders in the state and education community willing to acknowledge we need to expect new requirements [of employers] in the state."
Price reports that parents seem to favor their children going into a technology field, rather than construction, even though the pay rates are comparable.
"The construction industry is not the only industry to experience worker shortages," says Price.
"The technology industry, for example, is also facing a significant worker shortage. However, they are not burdened with a negative image, as is the construction industry, so they have a much easier task in meeting their demands. People are quicker to look down upon the career path of construction, thinking that our industry only offers seasonal and low paying work. To the contrary, most of the construction industry is neither."
"There are a lot of benefits of going into the construction industry, but there is a lot of misunderstanding about the realities of a career in construction. We really need to fix that," Price says. "We are trying to change the perception of our industry and to promote the benefits and rewards of a career in construction."
With part of the $1 million in state funding, the ICRF has developed a network of 78 ambassadors, who are professionals from the construction industry, who go into the schools to talk with students, teachers, parents, guidance counselors and other "influencers."
The ambassadors have met with more than 20,000 people, including at special events, during the past year. They explain the different type of jobs and sectors within the construction industry.
"When you are a high school student, it's pretty powerful to hear from someone who went to the same high school and hear his or her story of success," Price says. "For years we had similar programs but we usually ended up sending company CEOS to high schools to represent the industry. While these people were eager to help, and certainly through the years they likely influenced a number of students, we needed a more effective messenger if we wanted to reach potential craft people. Our new ambassador program is more realistic and therefore we think more effective."
The ambassadors will talk to the students, leave printed materials about the various construction career paths and the earning potential, as well as provide the information on where they can receive training. The Roundtable Foundation provided all 1,080 Indiana schools with packets of information, and opportunities to order more. These free materials supplement classroom learning. The packets were also mailed to over 4,000 construction industry professionals across the state. In the ensuing year, over 15,000 packets have been provided to people requesting them including interested students, parents, guidance counselors and others.
Additionally, the Roundtable Foundation has created a presence on cable television and social media. Over 30,000 commercials and online ads have aired while the website has recorded thousands of hits and the Foundation is active on Twitter and Facebook.
The Roundtable Foundation plans to keep in touch with those teens and adults it has met through social media during the first year with multiple follow up contacts including videos and advertisements. As Price explains, just one contact is not enough for someone make a career choice.
"For us to change the perception, they need more and more touches," says Price.
Collaborating With Others
Price and other members of the Roundtable Foundation have worked closely with the DWD. Braun has spoken at Roundtable events, including the 2015 annual conference "Building Indiana's Future," when he talked about shortages in different regions and trades, and projected shortages during the next five years.
The state has created a strategic plan to beef up education and training with an eye on what employers need.
"It starts with understanding what job openings are out there today and what openings will be out there in the future," says Braun, discussing the state's aggressive data-driven approach to workforce development.
The state then asks employers what skills and competencies are needed. The state then works with the education communities to provide that coursework which is more finely tuned to the actual and projected needs of real jobs that are opening now and into the future. At the same time, educators help students to understand what is needed to secure those jobs that will be open in their region.
A consistent refrain heard at the respective offices of DWD and the Roundtable Foundation is that the myth that in order to get good-paying, satisfying jobs a student must attend college is just that: a myth.
"We are finding in industries like manufacturing and construction, there are good jobs that provide good lifestyles and incomes that are available straight after high school," says Braun.
The Build Your Future Indiana (BYFI) program, a collaboration between industry and educators that also coordinates its activities with employers, state agencies and industry associations, including the Roundtable Foundation, assists the state with its needs. And those needs are huge. The average age of construction workers is 48 and more people are leaving the industry than coming into it. Indiana construction companies expect to hire 62,000 workers through just 2017.
The recently adopted motto of Indiana is, "A State that Works."
"To achieve that goal we have got to populate the pipeline of future construction and maintenance workers," Price says.
Braun said the roundtable was "out in front of the curve" and that Build Your Future is doing good work toward the goal of training people for what employers need.
One concern of the Roundtable Foundation is the lack of enough career and career technical education (CTE) centers to teach high-school students trades in addition to regular course work. Price would prefer to have CTE programs more easily accessible to every student who could benefit from them in Indiana, which would involve a significant expansion. "CTE is part of the solution, and one of our goals for our program is to increase CTE programs and enrollment," Price says.
Braun indicates the state is working to help students graduate and immediately go to work in a good job, that does not necessarily require a college degree. About 35 percent of the 70,000 students who graduate in Indiana do not pursue college after graduating from high school.
Price commented, "With only about 500 students completing CTE training programs each year, this presents a real opportunity to grow CTE enrollment in Indiana."
Braun suggested schools include education programs about construction for those students who want to learn industry skills such as framing or plumbing.
The Roundtable Foundation also has partnered with various educators, including school superintendents who are involved on the board of the foundation.
"While there are many facets to this program, the fact is that our Board is populated with industry professionals and educators. It is critical that this partnership remains ongoing and productive. This remains an initiative between educators and construction," Price says.
Creating a More Diverse Workforce
Reflecting national norms, women comprise just 2.8 percent of the state's construction workforce and are more than half of Indiana's population. In addition, construction in Indiana and elsewhere has historically failed to attract minority workers.
"From an early age, women are conditioned to think that they cannot do construction," Price says. "We have to change that perception, or we will continue to have shortages."
Price believes women can do many of the construction jobs and a path exists for women in every trade. About one-third of the people the Roundtable Foundation has met with are women.
But social barriers must be overcome in order to effectively reach those who are dramatically underrepresented in construction today.
The Roundtable Foundation is also reaching out to schools with diverse populations to promote greater minority involvement.
"There has been interest from schools around the state in urban and rural environments," said Price. "We have been pleased to find a higher level of student engagement from under-represented populations, than is represented in our industry."
In its second year, the Roundtable Foundation will continue the successful aspects of its first year but has already reached an agreement with Grand Park, a new 400-acre sports campus that hosts a wide variety of athletic events throughout the year.
The Park estimates that 1.6 million student athletes and just as importantly their parents and coaches will spend considerable time at the park in the coming year.
In their agreement with the Park the Roundtable Foundation will have generous signage throughout the facility and will also have displays set up where interested students and parents can learn about careers in construction and have their questions and concerns addressed.
The Roundtable Foundation also plans to air commercials on live television and news shows, advertisements on college sports radio, and YouTube videos. The ads are targeted at the students and the parents and other influencers.