Workforce Development: We’re All in This Together
By Bill Imhoff
One doesn’t have to look far in Texas cities to see evidence of a construction boom. The skylines are dotted with cranes, and construction trucks are everywhere.
But the shortage of skilled tradespeople is taking its toll. In a recent Urban Land Institute conference in Austin, construction law specialist Joe Basham said that as a result of skilled trade shortages, “It’s going to take longer to complete projects, it’s going to cost more and the quality is going to be worse.”
Skilled Labor Shortages are a Long-Standing Issue
At Intertech, we’ve been advocating for building the skilled trades pipeline for decades. The labor shortage is real, but it’s not new. Workforce shortages were the most pressing agenda item when I first chaired the Capital Area Workforce Solutions board of directors in 2006. The issue was on the industry’s radar even before that – back in 1999, when I chaired the Construction Sector of Austin @ Work.
The Texas construction industry represents the lion’s share of non-bachelor degree job openings in the state currently, according to GoodJobsData.org. Its data shows more than 259,000 good construction jobs in Texas that pay a median salary of $55,000. So just how serious is the workforce development issue in Central Texas right now? We asked that of Tamara Atkinson, CEO of Workforce Solutions Capital Area. Read what she told us.
The Need for Workforce Development is Now
Tamara Atkinson: Workforce development is relevant in difficult economic times, but particularly most needed when there’s economic prosperity. In the recession of 2008-2009, we had a lot of workers out of work and hurting. What we have now is 2.2% unemployment and our economy is strong. What that tells me is that we have businesses that could grow, prosper and do more if only for more skilled talent.
What Got Us Into This Situation?
Tamara: As a nation, we bought into this notion that the best future for our kids was a four-year college degree. As a society, we lost sight of the fact that the trades offer good family-supporting jobs that command good salaries and are in demand. For too long, we undervalued and underrated jobs that are perfectly good and admirable jobs for what we thought were “better” jobs. As a society, we finally are waking up that not everyone wants to go to college.
What is Workforce Solutions Doing to Alleviate the Shortage and Change the Mindset?
Tamara: Our board, which includes Bill Imhoff, passed the first master community workforce strategic plan in the country. It says that by year 2020, we want at least 10,000 people who started out their lives in poverty to have the skills to compete at these good middle-level jobs that sustain our economy.
We’ve identified the four areas with most need: skilled trade, information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing. Our plan is to raise awareness about these jobs; make sure people connect to programs to get that skilled training, including at high schools and dual credit programs; get people connected with the jobs that they train for; and support companies to grow their talent from within.
How is Intertech Contributing to the Solution?
Tamara: Intertech and Bill Imhoff, in particular, are leaders among leaders in early adoption of ways to grow their workforce. Early on when I met Bill, he shared with me that he had an apprenticeship program and how he used that to grow his business. Now we have all sorts of folks talking about apprenticeships and the value of combining earning and learning together to grow the talent pool.
Bill sets an example through his continued leadership on our board. By volunteering his time and the level of commitment he has made, he is demonstrating the best in how private industry can get involved. He didn’t delegate that to someone else on his team, though he very well could have. The CEO personally invested time, and in exchange, he is helping the community.
What Role Do Apprenticeships Play?
Tamara: There’s never been a hotter market than now for apprenticeships, and I say that based on the level of prioritization from this current administration. The US Department of Labor is talking about prioritizing apprenticeships, and that filters down to the state level. There’s a policy/appropriations reason for apprenticeships being hot. But it also goes back to low unemployment. All parties win by individuals advancing their skills on the job.
How Can Other Companies Take the Lead in Workforce Development?
Tamara: Step one is to reach out to your local workforce board. Get involved, identify where your skillset and passion intersect with a community need. Some businesses may have a passion for the K-12 system and want to go out and speak to schools. Workforce boards can be the one-stop-shop to put any business in front of a classroom of kids if that’s your passion. We can help you put together a blog. We can help you navigate through the apprenticeship application process.
For more information on ways to support workforce development, check out the Trade Up Texas campaign which is raising awareness about the demand from businesses for occupations in skilled trades.
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