Construction industry takes action on Nevada workforce shortage
It’s no secret that lack of workforce in the construction trades has been one glaring weakness in an otherwise robust Northern Nevada construction market.
Data presented by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Nevada Builders Alliance stated that by 2023 the state will need 137,000 construction-related workers, 30,000 more than currently needed in the industry, indicating how fast the construction industry is growing.
Part of the problem is losing a lot of tradesmen in the economic downturn in the last decade and a lack of younger workers to fill the void. Currently, 7 percent of construction-related jobs are filled by persons aged 24 years and younger.
“We lost a lot of workers in the downturn and started shutting off construction education programs and facilities,” said Aaron West, CEO of the Nevada Builders Alliance. “There’s also a lot of misconceptions about the industry.”
Experts say those misconceptions have unfairly been put on the construction trades ranging from small paychecks to often working in inclement weather.
Those in the industry also say in the last decade or so, there’s been an emphasis among parents and school administrators that kids need to go to college to find a successful career.
“What it comes down to is many people think construction is not a sexy field to get into,” said Lance Semenko, president of the Nevada Chapter Associated General Contractors.
West has served as an advocate for the construction industry, taking a deep grassroots approach to the matter. He has reached out to many area schools trying to tell students that construction could be a career for them.
Wherever he goes, West touts a construction education resources website: BuildNV.org, put together by the Nevada Construction Collaborative, a collective effort by the Nevada Builders Alliance, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Nevada Chapter, the Builders Association of Northern Nevada (BANN), and the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America.
West has developed creative ways to promote construction trades to younger generations. The Alliance has partnered with Workforce Connections, a job placement service in Southern Nevada to develop Construction Industry Coloring Book for children to familiarize themselves with different construction-related careers. It features drawings of various occupations including carpenters, electricians, estimators and construction managers, while explaining the responsibilities of each job.
BANN also is working with a game developer for an educational video game aimed for ages 6-12. When finished and approved the game will be available at schools and libraries.
“We realized we need to start talking to kids at younger ages,” West said. “We need to get out in the community and also talk to parents or school administrators. My big message is there’s always jobs in construction.”
Some other organizations and programs are doing their part to aid in educating the construction workforce.
The Academy for Career Education (or ACE High School) in Reno is a charter school that offers construction related education programs as part of its curriculum. Leigh Berdrow, director at ACE High School, said it graduated 34 students last spring, at least one-third of them in the construction trades.
ACE’s construction program includes building single-family homes around the Reno-Sparks area. Students just completed the ninth residence, a 1,500 square foot single-family home located in Donner Springs.
Berdrow said while ACE High School has drawn a lot of interest from students and parents, potential obstacles remain for those who want to attend the school. One, it doesn’t offer transportation services, which is problematic for students who live far from campus, and while it doesn’t charge tuition, there are expenses for school supplies and school uniforms. But Berdrow has been diligent about finding solutions.
“We have plenty of kids who want into our school provided they qualify for programs,” Berdrow said. “I believe we would be turning kids away if we didn’t have some of those barriers.”
JOIN Inc., a statewide nonprofit workforce development agency, has done its part to help train the next generation of construction workers that provides educational and occupational training for those aged 18-24 that are entering the job market, displaced or disadvantaged workers and military veterans and serves all of Nevada’s 13 counties.
The organization aims to relieve the financial burden for job seekers by subsidizing their on-the-job training. It also provides compensation reimbursement for employers for training skilled workers. Several local contractors, Denise Castle, executive director of JOIN, indicated, have used the program with success.
But even though it has been a valuable asset in training, the organization is relatively unknown. JOIN recently partnered with the Carson City marketing agency, In Plain Sight, to change that.
“We have been one of Northern Nevada’s best kept secrets, but hopefully that will change soon,” Castle said.
AGC is in the preconstruction phase of developing a 3,000-square-foot simulator lab situated at AGC’s facility at 5400 Mill St., in Reno. The lab aims to teach individuals how to use small-wheel loaders and excavators.
“It won’t give the level of a journeyman loader of excavator, but it will get them in the door. These are two of the most used pieces of equipment on the job site. We feel we are giving them invaluable skills for employment,” said Craig Madole, CEO of the Northern Nevada Chapter AGC.
Madole added it should be cost savings for employers, because they now won’t have to spend time and money training new employees, while compromising their own equipment that could be used on a job site.
The loader and excavator program will be accredited by the National Center for Construction Education & Research. The lab will feature loader and excavator simulators in a classroom that is expected to accommodate up to 12 individuals at a time.
“It’s basically a video game to teach young people how to basically do the maneuvers of a loader and excavator, while affording people the chance to understand that construction is a viable industry and a great occupation,” Semenko said.
The project is in the planning stages and construction on the lab is expected to begin in May and should only take a few months to complete with the lab fully operational sometime in the summer.
While the workforce shortage is critical at this juncture, those like West still have a positive outlook.
“I have reason to be cautiously optimistic,” West said. “But we need to ramp up the message anyway, anyhow.”