Workforce Development: work•force dih-vel-uhp-muhnt [noun] [verb] [buzz phrase] [challenge] [collaboration] [effort] [partnership] “’[What] in the world [is it]?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

The phrase itself is about as clear and concise as the brackets used above to describe it. Trying to completely define it could take you down a rabbit hole long enough to age Alice from adolescence all the way to retirement. Funny enough, retirement – along with misconceptions and incorrect facts about construction careers – are exactly what is creating one of the biggest challenges the industry has ever faced: A workforce shortage. How do we solve that? With workforce development, of course.

The workforce shortage is nothing new. Everyone in construction has seen this coming for nearly 50 years. Those in other sectors either didn’t know or didn’t care or both. We went from a “next-generation, male-dominated, basic-skills” pool of workers in the 1970s to a “take whoever’s left” pool in the 1990s as we saw the push for “something better,” and that something better was a college degree. Somewhere in that era of big hair and big colors, the brain lost connection with the definition of success. We now have a generation of college graduates with debt greater than their starting salaries snacking on cookies while a generation of construction workers are having their cake and eating it too. The icing on that cake is those same workers are often getting a college degree later in life and getting paid to do so. Their entry-level work experience is simply enhanced by their degree.

Knowing the shortage was coming, the industry fought hard – but only against itself – to do something about it. There were meetings upon meetings about what to do. The question was never about how to train the workers once you hired them. Instead, the question became how to recruit workers, so you had someone to train. As ideas flowed in, no action was ever taken until the two biggest seats at the table ventured off and came together in a way they hadn’t before. Associated Builders & Contractors – Virginia Chapter (ABC-VA), and The Associated General Contractors of Virginia (AGC-VA) moved their chairs to a dinette and created the “Building Virginia Partnership,” to form “Build Your Future Virginia,” otherwise known as “BYF Virginia” through the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) platform.

The mission of BYF Virginia is to educate Virginia residents about high paying construction careers, training opportunities and mapping career paths to employment in these high demand occupations. Both ABC-VA and AGC-VA created full-time Workforce Development Director positions. I have been with ABC-VA for almost 20 years, and Courtney Baker has been with AGC-VA for over three years. Both associations made big investments in the BYF website, in their organizations, and ultimately in the industry.

Courtney and I travel with the BYF booth all around the state. We showcase construction careers anywhere and everywhere we can in a variety of ways, including college and career fairs, educator conferences, sporting events, and individual classroom presentations. The website traffic continues to grow, along with industry interest. “BYF Virginia represents a lifeline for parents, teachers, school counselors and students thinking about their future [in construction],” said Jennifer Wilkerson, director of marketing at NCCER.

While the target audience is the high school age range, it is never too early or too late to think about a career in construction. The website is an interactive, literal tool in the belt to help with building a path for getting started in the industry. Visitors can start by browsing the digital trading cards for general information about different craft professions, or by answering a few questions about themselves to see where their interests and personalities lead them.

Additionally, BYF offers the following features:

Craft labor demand map: In addition to workforce needs here in Virginia, this map shows the demand all over the country.

Training center directory: A complete listing of public and private entities that offer training by desired field of work.

Interaction with BYF staff: If you cannot find what you are looking for, you can reach out to BYF, and a staff member will contact you to assist directly with your needs.

Event promotion and registration: Career events being held by employers and schools are promoted here to promote ongoing activities, career fairs, and other informational sessions.

The partnership with Courtney, me, and our respective associations goes beyond just the website management. We have expanded it to SkillsUSA, a year-round construction competition initiative, and to other efforts supporting business and industry. We talk about our favorite part of our job, and we can’t come up with just one or a few things. It’s pretty much everything: Building relationships, building careers, building the people who build Virginia and beyond. It’s us building futures together. We invite you to be a part of that. n

For more information, visit virginia.byf.org or contact us directly:

Darlene Hart, ABC-VA at (804) 346-4222 darlene@abcva.org

Courtney Baker, AGC-VA at (804) 364-5504 courtney@agcva.org

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