Our initiative work extends into the policy arena in many ways, around both the internal processes of the construction industry and the external conditions that affect the industry. From bidding specifications and contracting procedures to hiring and recruitment practices – impacting policy is of critical importance.
The shortage of skilled labor currently facing the construction industry has been described as “A Perfect Storm”, being driven by at least three major factors:
- Increased demand for skilled labor fueled by an expanding industry;
- Shrinking supply of skilled labor due to the beginning waves of retirement by an aging workforce;
- Fewer available qualified replacements to fill the growing needs, creating a “skills gap”.
As construction competes with other sectors to attract a new talented workforce of young adults, wage scales will increase to make the industry more attractive. However, wage increases alone will not suffice to meet the demand for construction services. Workforce development in construction consists of two components – recruitment and skills training. Simply hiring “bodies off the street” will not do. In depth training is required to prepare workers for this highly skilled and often dangerous industry.
In Ahead of the Curve, Gerard Waites emphasized: “Unless changes are made in the ways the industry currently does business, the skills crisis will grow progressively worse and all sectors of the industry will suffer”. Addressing the growing gap in the highly skilled Rhode Island construction workforce impacts the economic health of the state in important ways.
Fortunately, these changing dynamics have lead to creating models of workable solutions. For example, the Construction Users Roundtable, a national project owner trade association, advocates for project owners to “take the lead in driving training and education” by “only doing business with contractors that invest in training and maintaining their workforce.” (Confronting the Skilled workforce shortage, June 2004)
Building Futures has built this approach into our Apprenticeship Utilization Program (AUP), which gives project owners control over the skills being developed in their current and future workforce by adopting a skills training requirement for construction contractors with which they do business.
Supporting the framework of our AUP, our Industry Services provide the tools and assistance that project owners and contractors need to change recruitment and hiring practices, further complimented by our work around Access and Entry to quality apprenticeship programs.
Across the country, similar approaches have been successfully implemented, on both private and public sector construction projects. Some municipalities have chosen to incorporate skills training into broader Responsible Contractor Policies, which create minimum qualifications for bidding contractors to ensure “best value” instead of “best cost”. Others have passed state legislation that sets a goal for apprenticeship utilization on projects.
Building Futures works with the project owner community inclusively, partnering with private developers, government agencies and institutions alike. Our goal is a policy framework in which intentional strategies are adopted to ensure that a diverse and skilled construction workforce is developed in Rhode Island.