In addition, the same survey found that 91 percent of residents support expanding job-training programs at two-year colleges. That’s because getting Alabamians back to work is not only about creating jobs. It’s also about preparing our young people for an evolving work force.
The road to the corner office has gotten crowded with more college graduates than ever and fewer businesses hiring. Young people who are the most likely to find work in today’s environment are those who have mastered a specific skill. Suddenly, “vocational training” is deservingly trendy.
One set of skilled-craft trades is particularly hot — commercial- and industrial-construction crafts such as plumbers, welders, electricians, equipment operators, carpenters, millwrights and more. In addition to an anticipated boom in job openings in these fields, they often pay more than traditional “white-collar” professions. In fact, 27 percent of construction employees with post-secondary licenses or certificates earn more than the average bachelor’s-degree recipient.
The anticipated job openings in the construction industry are as much about replacement workers as it is about new jobs. Nearly one-third of all construction craftsmen are older than 50 — and the average age is increasing every year. As these craftsmen begin to retire, the skills gap will continue to widen. Meanwhile, in Alabama and across the nation, America’s infrastructure is aging and the commercial-construction industry is poised for a post-recession boom. Construction companies in Alabama are already seeing a shortage of skilled laborers.
With that in mind, the state Legislature, in partnership with construction industry leaders, is at the forefront of a national focus on reintroducing students to skilled craft-trade jobs to address a looming work force shortage. The Legislature supported the formation of the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute, which developed the Go Build Alabama recruitment program.
Aimed at recruiting a new generation of skilled craftsmen for the commercial- and industrial-construction industry, Go Build Alabama has attracted students to two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs and put people to work. According to a recent survey, 70 percent of community-college instructors feel students entered their program because of the Go Build marketing campaign. Plus, Go Build has connected more than 3,000 displaced workers and young career-seekers in direct contact with education providers and employees through its online career database.
The success of Go Build Alabama has earned attention across the nation. The Georgia Office of Workforce Development recently launched its own Go Build program following Alabama’s success.
The Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute and the Go Build Alabama program are not funded by taxpayers but by the construction industry itself thanks to labor-neutral support from the Alabama Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, the Alabama Association of General Contractors, the Alabama AFL-CIO, American Subcontractor Association of Alabama, Alabama Road Builders Association, and a long list of other industry groups.
But the Legislature still has a role to play in its continued support of programs like Go Build. Growing our state economy is not just about attracting business, it’s about recruiting and developing a work force that is ready when the jobs arrive. It’s also about opening our collective minds to the idea that what was once an “alternative” career is not alternative at all, but rather a path to success.
Tim Alford is executive director of the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.gobuildalabama.com.