Richmond Area Municipal Contractors Association offers initiatives, training and more

Vanessa Patterson

Executive Director, RAMCA

Workforce development is a topic in any sector of the construction businesses that cannot be discussed enough. Demand for qualified employees and future leaders is high and supply is low. You can argue it is a good problem to have, to have so much work and opportunity you cannot hire fast enough.

Many factors contribute to the shortfall of qualified employees in construction, particularly heavy construction:

  • Construction companies traditionally have been locally, or at the most, regionally based. Large regional or, even now, national companies are only a more recent phenomenon due to mergers and acquisitions. Most have not had dedicated recruiters visiting college campuses, nor do they have the internal infrastructure in place to develop internship and apprentice programs. It is difficult to compete with industries that have had long histories at college career fairs. The consequence of not having a major recruiting presence on campuses is that we, as an industry, cannot sell our story to potential future employees.

  • The number of universities and colleges that offer Building Construction or Construction Management degrees are limited, and the programs or departments tend to be small or a subset of engineering programs. The smaller the number of programs, the smaller the pool of qualified graduates.

  • Not every career in heavy construction requires a college degree. The trend away from vocational training in high schools and within the community college or technical school systems in the 1980s has led to the shortage of employees we now face. Our challenge today is to sell our career opportunities to middle and high school students and, perhaps more important, their parents. The reality is that college is not for everyone, and as the cost of education sky-rockets, a great choice may be a future in the building industries. A young person can be making a competitive salary by the age of 22, have four years of on-the-job training and experience, and, unlike a recent college graduate, not have years of student loan debt. Fortunately, school systems, starting as early as middle school, are now re-introducing vocational training. Many high schools now offer four-year academies dedicated to the trades, including senior-year internship opportunities. High-schoolers are graduating not only ready to go on to college, but they are career-ready in the event they prefer to go straight into the working world.

Business leaders have their work cut out for them to partner with educators, both high school and college, to develop curriculum and programs that produce graduates ready for careers in the construction and building businesses. Individual companies must invest in developing training and mentoring programs, and use recruiting to create their own bench of future leaders. Workforce development will continue to be a conversation for the foreseeable future.

Vanessa Patterson can be reached at vanessa.patterson@ramca.info.

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