NEWS

Construction Industry Workforce Development

09-20-2012

TRICON members and staff have been working on workforce development for the construction industry for many years. Three programs of focus this Fall are the High School Construction Industry Work-Based Learning program, the ICC Highway Construction Careers program and the 8th Grade Construction Industry Career Expo. These programs promote careers in the crafts, architecture, engineering, estimating and project management.

The value of these programs is significant for a few reasons. First, the union construction industry expects a shortage of workers due to an aging workforce retiring out of the industry. Second, the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2012-13 edition released by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics states the construction industry is in the top 20 occupations with the largest growth from now until 2020. The continued success of our local union construction industry depends upon attracting, recruiting and training a diverse, qualified and skilled workforce.

TRICON and Peoria Educational Region for Employment and Career Training (PERFECT) partner together for the High School Construction Industry Work-Based Learning program. This program is available to all Junior and Senior year high school students in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties. This year's class just started. Under careful instruction and guidance from Deb Johnigk (Laborers #165), students receive high school course credit while getting hands-on training at area apprenticeship schools and participating in an internship with an area contractor. The strengths of this program are numerous for both the students and the construction industry.

The ICC Highway Construction Careers program is sponsored by IDOT and based on the High School Work-Based Learning program. It serves minorities, women and disadvantaged adult populations in our area. The goal of the program is to teach students the skills and knowledge necessary to get them into an apprenticeship program. This program began in 2010 as an 8-week class. It graduated 10 students its first year. This year there are 16 students and the program has expanded to a 12-week class.

The 8th Grade Construction Industry Career Expo is a partnership between the Building Trades Council, union contractors, associations and educators in the Tazewell, Peoria, Fulton and Woodford county EFE regions for a four-day, hands-on, construction career experience. This event was the first of its kind in the United States. Students receive unique opportunities on Career Expo day. With hard hats and safety glasses on, they lay brick, hammer nails, operate machinery, etc. at mock construction sites set up by participating trades. Students are provided with a neutral environment to participate and experience construction activities. This program has been in existence for 15 years with the next Expo set for September 25th through 28th.

These programs have benefits to both the construction industry and the students who participate. The industry receives exposure to young people who might not have considered construction as a career or likely did not know about apprenticeship programs being an "earn while you learn" scenario. For the students in the High School Work-Based Learning and ICC Highway Construction Careers programs, math skills and work ethic are improved by the end of the program. All three programs provide exposure to minorities and underprivileged populations.

Unfortunately, the barriers to these programs increase with each passing year. All three are always on the chopping block for funding. The high school students in the Work-Based Learning program no longer receive mileage reimbursement for the distances traveled between home and training facilities and back to school which is difficult for students on the outlying edges of the counties. District 150 will no longer sponsor their students in the high school program, leaving families to pay for their student's participation. Given the fact that 74% of District 150 families live at or under poverty level, District 150 is under-represented in the program. Another barrier is lack of general community knowledge of work-based learning programs and awareness that a career in construction can be rewarding and provide a safe and secure financial future.

TRICON members and staff continue to work to keep these programs alive. Please encourage your school board to continue to participate in these programs. Encourage high school counselors to tell students about these programs. Success relies on active participation from the public, educators and the construction industry.

Much more can be learned from the Better Built website under "Careers."

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