Earl R. Hall, Executive Director Syracuse Builders Exchange
Labor shortages continue to plague the construction industry both regionally and nationally, with such issues happening long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has increased the shortage of workers, the long-term solutions to solving the labor shortage in construction remain complex. Two such solutions which have proven to be effective are the apprenticeship programs offered via the many local building trade unions and the Career and Technical Education programs offered by local school districts.
There is a renewed focus on apprenticeship and training programs by the trades across upstate New York. Apprenticeship programs combine classroom and industry-related instruction provided by the union, with on-the-job learning provided by employers. All apprenticeship programs are registered with the New York State Department of Labor and governed by a Board of Trustees which include both employer and union representation.
Capital investments into new or existing apprenticeship and training centers can be seen right here in central New York. The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 277 built a state-of-the-art training center in 2018 in Syracuse. During 2021, the union recruited 250 apprentices and new journey men/women into the union. As a result, the union is planning to expand the training center to not only accommodate the new apprentices, but to provide the delivery of additional training and education.
Apprenticeship programs remain attractive to young men and women as they provide a career pathway without having to incur debt to pay for the training and education. The “learn while you earn” concept is a delicate balance of providing apprentices with required training and on the job work. As a trustee on many of these Funds, I see firsthand the immediate benefit of this model for both the career-minded apprentices and those employers who hire them.
Pre-apprenticeship programs attract candidates who may explore the construction industry at a very elementary level while deciding if it is a career for them, and if so, what trade is of most interest. In central New York the Syracuse Builders Exchange has partnered with Syracuse Build’s Executive Director Christopher Montgomery to place those students who graduate from their pre-apprenticeship program. Graduating students may be placed directly into the workforce with a construction industry employer or may be placed into one of the many union apprenticeship and training programs to further develop their careers.
Career and Technical Education (“CTE”) programs have increased in high schools throughout upstate New York. As a member of the Syracuse City School District’s CTE advisory board, I witness the impact such programs have on impressionable, young students who see themselves entering their chosen career upon graduation from high school. Although the Syracuse City School District’s CTE program was the first of its kind in upstate New York, the model developed by the Syracuse City School District is now being reviewed and considered by other school districts.
While construction, welding and electrical are just a few of the career pathways offered by the CTE program, new offerings such as Construction Management will be delivered to students in September 2023 when the new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) school opens in downtown Syracuse. The Construction Management curriculum is being developed by a committee of executives of construction management companies from throughout central New York.
While no one solution will solve the labor shortage issues plaguing the construction industry, initiatives such as apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, and CTE programs in high schools provide employers with optimism that the next generation of construction worker is actively being recruited. The question is, will there be enough workers to fill all the positions anticipated over the next few years? Most likely not.