By Chuck Gremillion
It has been almost a year since I became the executive director of Construction Career Collaborative (C3). While I have learned a great deal during that short period of time, my biggest take away is that everyone with whom I have spoken agrees that the issue of creating a sustainable craft workforce is critical to the future of the commercial construction industry and all of those connected to it. For many trades, the complexity of this issue is the challenge (lack of craft & safety training, misclassification of craft workers as subcontractors thereby avoiding payment of overtime and payroll taxes such as social security, and not providing employee benefits or workers’ compensation insurance coverage, all in the pursuit of low bid and covered up by a seeming limitless supply of undocumented workers who labor in the shadows, which depresses wages). All of which is why C3 needs the leadership and support of a critical mass of organizations in the A/E/C industry in order overcome it. We all must recognize that there is no quick resolution to a workforce problem that has been compounding itself for more than 30 years, which will require perseverance and sheer numbers of people who believe in the cause to correct it.
My concern is that many in the industry either do not believe that the root causes of this problem can be corrected, or they have decided to stand by and take a wait-and-see attitude while “others” address the problem, which is what we cannot afford. In order to generate the critical mass of organizations required to overcome the issues that are the root causes of this problem, we need more people and organizations to leave the sidelines and become involved in order to tip momentum in favor of a sustainable workforce.
We do have a strategy to solve this problem. It is owner driven and specifies that each contractor working on a project…
The impact of “looking the other way” is that building maintenance costs continue to increase because of poor craftsmanship and lower-quality buildings resulting from a lack of craft training. In addition, the problem perpetuates itself because the craft workforce is aging and the industry is unable to attract young people to it because, candidly, what young person wants to begin a career in an industry that does not pay properly, does not provide Workers’ Compensation Insurance and does not train or provide the employee benefits that make a career attractive. To add to the problem, the commercial construction industry is competing with other industries that check all of these boxes.
During the last year, C3 has grown to include 52 contractors, whom we call Accredited Employers, and 8 Project Participants. Included among our Accredited Employers are nine general contractors and 43 specialty contractors, firms of all sizes. In addition, we launched our first two non-beta C3 projects, Texas Children’s Hospital – The Woodlands Campus and the 18th-Floor Renovation of the Feigin Building at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, a project that was completed last month. These are small steps that are moving us forward, but C3 needs to take bigger steps in order to make the industry attractive once again to young adults. We also need for those companies who are currently engaged with C3 to persevere, to continue their support and not become discouraged. In effect, C3 is changing the culture of an industry, which takes time.
In the next few months, C3 will be hosting Town Hall Meetings to inform and educate contractors, owners, and design professionals of the complexity of this problem and how C3 seeks to solve it in order to create a sustainable workforce once again. At that time, we will seek to enlist support and involvement in the C3 cause. Just as it takes a village to educate a child, it takes an industry to solve this problem. We hope you will work with C3 to do so.
Please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 713.843.3719.
Recently, I described the reasoning behind the creation of Construction Career Collaborative (C3) and attributed it to the fact that the construction industry has an unsustainable workforce. In that essay, I listed five different but related reasons how we got “into this mess.” Among those are a misclassification of craft workers as subcontractors, a movement away from craft training and safety training, a de-emphasis of vocational education in our high schools in an effort to prepare all students for college, a perception among young people that the construction industry is dirty and unsafe, and a flood of undocumented workers who work in the shadows with no recourse to address wage abuse resulting in downward pressure on wages. All of these reasons contribute to why young people are not attracted to an industry that formerly provided an excellent path to a middle class living.
So one might ask, “What is the solution to this problem?” For starters, the commercial construction industry must cease business practices that make it unattractive to prospective workforce candidates such as misclassification of its workers as contract employees. To be blunt, who wants to work in an industry that does not pay matching social security taxes, federal and state unemployment taxes, provide workers compensation insurance, or any form of employee benefits?
Further, many craft trades in the commercial construction industry do not provide formal craft training or safety training. We must UNITE as an industry to develop and deliver this training in order to attract and develop our most important resource – our people.
In addition, we must HELP our school districts redevelop vocational education once again for it sows the seeds of interest in the construction industry with high school students.
Then, we must CREATE a construction-focused curriculum within our community colleges that prepares young people for entry into our workforce.
We must do what all other healthy industries do to attract people to their workforce. We must stop misclassifying our craft workers, pay them properly, and teach them the skills that they need to be successful.
We have work to do, and it will require members of the commercial construction industry to JOIN together to solve this problem.
Construction Career Collaborative
As many of you are aware, Construction Career Collaborative, also known as C3, was founded because several leaders in the commercial construction industry decided to step forward and address the huge problem that exists in our industry of an unsustainable workforce. In other words, more people are leaving the industry than joining it. In fact, the average age of a craft worker entering the industry is 29, and the average age of all craft workers is 47, with many expected to retire in the next several years.
One may ask, “How did we get into this mess?” The answer is not a simple one. In fact, it is quite complex. As one construction executive told me recently, “It has many tentacles.” So what are the causes of this complex problem?
The result? What was formerly an excellent path to a middle class living has lost much of its earning power, thereby not attracting young people to the construction industry and creating the unsustainable workforce that we have today.
In future blogs, I will address the necessary path forward.
Construction Career Collaborative
Construction Industry Institute (CII)
Construction Users Roundtable (CURT)
National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)