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A Bright Outlook for the Construction Industry Need for skilled labor at all-time high, one Michigan school develops next generation workforce

For many, construction is a nuisance. Roadwork means detours, longer commutes, dirt, dust and orange cones. For others, it means putting on a hard hat as a way to provide for their families. According to the Associated General Contractors report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that private construction continues to grow, while public infrastructure declines.

While private residential projects continue to get funding and to grow, with new business and homes being constructed daily, government projects are struggling to find the funds to complete planned projects. These projects need workers, and one Michigan school has made it its mission to teach students the ins and outs of the construction industry.

Stephanie Davis, vice president of the Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) spoke about their goal.

“GMCA’s mission is to educate through the collaboration of the construction industry, their employees and our communities,” said Davis. “We do this by developing new workplace competencies and skills that promote the construction field as a career choice.”

GMCA first started its apprenticeship training program in 1983, and Davis says the academy has seen the need for skilled labor rise and fall over the last 30 years. “We are at a point right now where the need is at an all-time high and we are working hard to fill the need,” she said.

What started as a few trades offered with GMCA has grown into today’s program of 11 different disciplines: carpentry, insulation, electrical, instrumentation, HVAC, plumbing, sheet metal, pipefitting, ironworking, welding and industrial maintenance mechanic curriculums.

Differing from traditional university industry curriculums, students who complete programs at GMCA receive credentials on a nationally-recognized level, which are both portable and transferrable, according to Davis.

“Unlike college or university students, all of the modules that GMCA students complete stay with them in a national database through the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and can be reviewed by potential employers across the country.”

The NCCER is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit education foundation, created with the goal to develop a safe and productive workforce. Together, with the support of construction CEOs, thefoundation works to create standardized training and credentialed curriculum programs within the industry in over 70 areas at 4,000 locations nationwide.

Davis spoke about how the GMCA contributes to the industry as a whole by preparing students for the workforce.

“They are all receiving hand-on training within their classes that is preparing them for the job,” she said. “We also work closely with the industry to make sure we are staying up-to-date on the needs they have by keeping our curriculum current and offering the training necessary for each company’s individual needs as well.”

Careers in the construction industry can start at entry-level jobs making $30,000 a year, and can exceed well over $160,000 for CEO and senior management roles. Student loans for the tuition-based program ($1,400 per semester or $700 per semester for Associated Builders & Contractors members); can quickly be paid back soon after job placement; something that draws even more workers to the career path.

“We have graduated almost 2,000 students and we are very proud of our 100 percent placement rate for employment,” Davis said.

The construction industry is currently seeing brighter days, after the 2011 recession left it with its lowest values in decades. According to a story by Freddie Rohner, of iHire LLC, “The total monthly valuation for all construction put in place (public and private) peaked in March 2006 when it reached $1.2 trillion. Close to ten years later, we still haven’t returned to that level. As of May 2015 (the most recent month figures available), the total valuation had reached $1.027 trillion or approximately 86 percent of what it was in 2006.”

“Diving deeper into the numbers, we can see how steep the decline in production really was,” Rohner said. “When the industry bottomed out in February 2011 (two years after the recession “ended”), the value of construction in place had fallen to just under $755 billion, a level the industry had not seen since 1999. That translates to a 37.1 percent decrease in the total value of construction work done across the U.S.”

“The outlook of the construction industry is definitely a bright one,” Davis said. “One way we can help improve it is by continuing to train the workforce that the industry is in need of since the recession caused so many workers to leave the industry back in 2011. Not only the recession, but an aging workforce also plays a large part in the decrease of workers.”

According to data from the United States Census Bureau in 2013, the American Community Survey reveals the average age of construction sector workers in the U.S. is 42. This is one year older than the average overall workforce median age.

Attracting the next generation of skilled trade workers is important, and something that GMCA does through accreditation and programs for younger students. “The GMCA is proud to be the only building trade school of its kind in the country to have received a federal accreditation through the Accrediting Council of Continuing Education and Training,” Davis said.

Campuses are scattered throughout Michigan, including a campus in Lansing offering electrical, plumbing and HVAC programs.

“We also have a partnership with Lakewood High School, in which they offer a construction technology program to their juniors and seniors within their school,” Davis said. “This program will offer the same type of credentials to students while still in school. By partnering with local contractors in need of skilled labor, we will be able to help place these students in jobs when they graduate.”

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn

Sarah Spohn received her degree in Journalism from Lansing Community College. She’s a concert junkie; living and breathing in both the local and national music scene. She is proud to call Lansing her home, finding a new reason every day to be smitten with the mitten.