It’s no secret there’s a shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry. Older workers are retiring. And younger people just aren't as interested as they once were in a career in the trades, possibly in part because, according to industry organizations like the Associated General Contractors, there’s a lack of training at the high school level, and students aren’t getting the message about how lucrative a career in the trades can be.
Establishing a mentoring program can help you attract and retain workers, and reaching out to millennials where they are can help you recruit them. But if you’re serious about creating your own workforce, consider instituting an apprenticeship program, which can help you build the custom workforce of your dreams.
Unions have held fast to the concept of training new workers as a way to beef up their ranks and ensure quality labor, and many of their apprenticeship programs — paid, on-the-job learning experiences — have waiting lists. Even the federal government promotes apprenticeships and maintains that for every dollar it spends on such programs (currently numbering almost 40,000) they receive $50 in tax revenues from future salaries.
What can the private sector take away from this? There absolutely are people out there who would jump at the chance to learn a trade and earn a paycheck at the same time.
To register or not to register?
Companies looking to create an apprenticeship program should check in with the Department of Labor, which regulates and registers U.S. apprenticeship programs. It’s certainly possibly to create a program without registering it with the DOL, but unregistered programs lack the benefits and quality assurance of their registered counterparts.
For example, people who complete a registered program receive a certificate that lets future employers know they've completed a DOL-qualified apprenticeship, which includes classroom training that could count toward college credits.
Employers benefit from an increased rate of employee retention — according to the DOL, 91 percent of apprentices retain employment after the program ends — and a steady supply of workers in the pipeline. And since employees who’ve completed a registered apprenticeship program are trained in proper safety procedures, companies could save on workers' compensation insurance — and see fewer accidents. Businesses could also qualify for state tax credits and be eligible for federal funding.
Standard elements of a qualifying program
In addition to nationally recognized credential upon completion, the DOL lays out four other standard elements of a qualifying program:
- Business involvement: The sponsoring company should stay engaged in the execution of the program and pursue partnerships with local councils and industry associations to help them.
- Structured training: Hands-on training is required and should reflect industry standards.
- Related instruction: In addition to fieldwork, the apprenticeship program should include a classroom-style component. Businesses often partner with local community colleges and technical schools to fulfill this requirement. If designed correctly, this phase of the program could earn participants college credit.
- Reward for learned skills: Apprentices should receive pay raises commensurate with gains in proficiency. This motivates them to do well and often creates a sense of loyalty to the sponsoring employer.
The DOL offers a toolkit for businesses wanting to create a registered apprenticeship. With the construction labor market only getting tighter, starting an apprenticeship program could be the key to developing a pipeline of employees with exactly the skills you need, not to mention reducing turnover and potentially diversifying your workforce.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.