To solve the residential construction industry’s labor crisis, education leaders say you have to look to younger workers.
On Tuesday, career and technical education leaders with both the Boise School District and the College of Western Idaho took the stage at Boise Entrepreneur Week to talk about the future of the residential construction industry and the power of apprenticeship programs to fill the workforce gap companies are feeling now. Sean Kelly, assistant principal at Boise’s Dennis Technical Education Center, and Alex Beal, an assistant dean at CWI, encouraged construction companies to build partnerships with educational institutions to find and train workers.
Kelly said at DTEC, students have had several years of training at the center and work readiness programs before they are sent out on internships, but they need construction companies willing to look at younger workers. And then, if students do a successful apprenticeship, they can run crews and manage other workers at 25 instead of 30.
“We don’t give those opportunities to students anymore,” Kelly said. “Most companies’ HR departments are like, ‘we won’t hire a student under 18, no way,’ and we’ve lawyered our way out of hiring kids, so they haven’t had the opportunity to build a work ethic, and there’s that piece we have to as educators work on that and industry has to own that too because we’re not giving those opportunities like we used to.”
Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships
Some of CWI’s most popular programs, like its Diesel Mechanics program, have the strongest partnerships with private businesses.
Beal said the industry partnerships help fuel a positive feedback loop where students see the potential for job placements with workshops in the Treasure Valley, so it drives interest in the program.
“They see the writing on the wall, they see the industry partnerships, and those programs that have those strengths, they see the dollar amount they could be making, and they see how in our current community what are those industries that are advancing,” he said. “What are those industries that are changing? Do they look like they have a viable future?”
Kelly said despite myths out there that young people today don’t want to work hard, he said there are a lot of students at DETC who are actively seeking opportunities to build work skills even if they are traditional high academic achievers in AP courses. He said students interested in nursing will often want to pursue the CNA program to help them get into a nursing program later, or they will want some practical experience they’re hoping to go into STEM fields.
“We have students who want to be architects, and we tell them to take our construction program,” Kelly said. “We’re seeing a lot more students coming out to us, and they want to work, they want opportunities, and the cool thing is some of those higher achieving kids are finding ‘I don’t want to go the traditional path.'”
Well-rounded graduates still a priority
And just because students go through CWI programs doesn’t mean they won’t get the trappings of traditional education. Beal said in 2017, he instituted new requirements for students in the career and technical engineering program for writing, computer skills, and reading comprehension because of the growing demand in the workplace for these skills.
He said with the growing technology in cars and the need for students to produce written reports on every vehicle they service, these skills are a must.
“With electric vehicles coming down the pike, programs need to use technology to graduate successful students,” Beal said. “We’re still trying to plan the best way to make sure they’re not left behind, but it’s been successful to require academic skills up front so when they come into diesel, automotive, and the machining program they have these soft skills in place.”