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With 41 Percent of Construction Workforce Retiring by 2031, the Industry Needs to Get Moving with C3

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The following article was authored by Scott Braddock and originally published on Construction Citizen.

Construction executives from around the Houston area gathered this week to learn more about how they can create “a robust craft training program in your organization and link it to a career path” through an initiative that continues to grow. Those were the words of Chuck Gremillion, Executive Director of the Construction Career Collaborative, as he kicked off an event at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston designed to give contractors more information about the kind of help available to them to invest in and retain their workforce.

Because a sustainable construction industry must be focused on “careers not jobs,” Gremillion said he hoped the executives would leave with three words in mind: “C3 is how.”

“C3 is how to solve the workforce shortage and how to improve construction quality and how we attract talent to the craft workforce,” Gremillion said.

“The construction industry must deliver strong craft training programs connected to career paths in order to create a sustainable workforce built on well-trained and safe craft professionals,” said President of McCarthy Building in Houston Jim Stevenson, who also serves as C3 Board Chairman.

The group this year is launching what they’re calling “The Craft Training Endorsement Program.” It’s a “rigorous standard” providing recognition to “world-class commercial construction firms that have documented and implemented training programs that demonstrate corporate leadership commitment to the development of craft workers, implement craft training programs for all craft workers, and establish a more sustainable workforce through craft training connected to career paths.”

As Gremillion has said many times, it is not uncommon for the leadership of a construction firm to have safety training in place – which of course a good thing – but, to have no idea where to begin when it comes to craft training. At companies where craft training has been implemented, it’s been transformative.

“Craft training has done a lot in my life,” said EJ Arroyo, a craft worker at MAREK. He said it has enabled him to move up the career ladder.

Arroyo was part of a panel discussion led by Angela Murphy, the Associate Director of People Development, Compliance & Operations at C3. She pointed out that the National Center for Construction Education & Research, or NCCER, estimates 41 percent of the current construction workforce will be retired by the year 2031. NCCER also says it takes a full 11 years to train someone such that they’ll have the same level of skills as the people they’ll need to replace.

“We better get moving,” Murphy said.

Craig Bundren, President of Bundren Painting and Drywall, told the crowd his company is building a craft training program from the bottom up. “If you have a guy come in and he’s pushing a broom for you, he doesn’t want to be pushing that broom for the next 5 years,” he said. “I need to service my clients and be the best at what I’m doing and I need to be the best at what I’m doing for my employees.”

Bundren admitted to having some initial anxiety about exactly how to get started.

“Something that was scary to us turned out to not be so scary,” Bundren said. “The fear was we didn’t know how to set up an educational program,” Bundren said when asked about it. But when Murphy and the team from C3 got involved, Bundren said they offered all the support and resources he needed.

“They have the framework,” Bundren said. “It’s like going to a library and you ask the librarian what you’re looking for and they’ll find the book you need.”

Charlie Mogab of SpawGlass Construction said they have about 625 employees, half of which are craft workers. “Our mission is to deliver to our owners the best construction possible,” Mogab said.

Pointing out that all the companies in the room and across the marketplace are competing for many of the same people, Mogab said “We want those people to look at our company and say ‘hey it’s safe, I’m going to get a fair wage, and I’m going to have a career path where I can move up.’”

“A lot of people are retiring. A lot of new people are coming in,” Mogab said. “They don’t have the experience and the knowledge,” he said. “It all just kind of came to a head,” Mogab said of the fact that it became critical to put something formal in place to offer craft training to their employees.

Managing Director at Jones Lang LaSalle John Roberts said there is a natural responsibility for industry leaders to think about the future workforce “by not only training them but also keeping them safe and paying them a wage, not piecemeal.”

Children should aspire to work in the skilled trades like construction, Roberts said. “It’s something that’s been lost in our industry,” he said. “Their future is to work for a company that will treat them like true employees and they’ll be retained,” Roberts said. Because they make up such a high percentage of the workforce now, Roberts said it’s imperative for employers to work harder to attract millennials into these careers.

But isn’t it difficult to offer training programs of this type?

Well, Director of Talent Development at MAREK Sabra Phillips said “I feel good that it was rigorous.” That's why MAREK applied for Champion Level C3 accreditation.

“Any organization that applies …wants to know that there is a standard,” said Phillips. She said company leaders thought it was important to also perform their own internal assessment of their craft training programs. “We’re also going to say ‘hey what is it that we want out of our program?”

To find out more about the Construction Career Collaborative, check out the group’s website.