Gulf Coast Labor Supply Discussed at Joint Meeting of Open Shop and Workforce Development Committees
The Workforce Development Committee and Open Shop Committee held a joint meeting during AGC’s Annual Midyear Meeting on September 30. Three guest speakers provided informative presentations about workforce development initiatives in the hurricane-torn Gulf Coast region.
Tim Horst, president of Becon Construction and program manager of the Business Roundtable (BRT) Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative, spoke of the difficulty in estimating the actual shortage of labor to handle clean-up and reconstruction needs in the region, and of estimating when the shortage will peak. “I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet,” he advised. The BRT program is based on a public-private partnership model bringing together facility owners, and construction contractors, and government to solve the problem. A key component of the solution is maximizing local hiring and local training, he said, pointing out that training is particularly important to prevent unsafe practices.
The goal is to train up to 20,000 displaced or disadvantaged workers to at least apprentice level by the end of 2009. Training is delivered with the use of existing industry-standard training curriculum, processes, and facilities, such as the National Center for Construction Education and Research training curriculum, local community colleges, and building trade training centers. The program will train workers only for “real jobs” as requested by contractors, Horst explained. Government scholarships and grants will be used to encourage local hiring and to assist small, disadvantaged firms.
Horst spoke about Mississippi Project Outreach, a four-week program that teaches trainees basic, multi-craft construction skills and helps place them with contractors. He also informed the audience about the Gulf Rebuild: Education, Advancement and Training (GREAT) campaign to reach out to recruits through newspaper advertisements, T-shirts, events, a dedicated Web site, and other means.
Among the biggest challenges is finding housing for workers, Horst reported. Other challenges include developing an effective targeted marketing and recruitment plan, matching training candidates to open positions, and delivering “just-in-time” training that adds value. This is a long-term effort that requires patience, Horst cautioned.
Bob Gasperow, executive director of the Construction Labor Research Council, informed the audience about the Southeast Manpower Tripartite Alliance (SEMTA) Labor Demand Study. SEMTA is an outgrowth of pre-Katrina, pre-Rita concerns by the Southern Company and Tennessee Valley Authority about labor shortages in the southeast region. SEMTA hired CLRC to conduct a study of the demand for construction labor in the coming years. CLRC predicts that the demand for all crafts will continue to rise in the region before peaking in 2010, due to both a rise in demand for construction and a need to replace workers leaving the industry.
The final results of the study could not yet be revealed, but Gasperow reported that CLRC has found “pretty strong documentation that the labor shortage problem is bad.” The traditionally lower wages paid in the southeast as compared to other regions make bringing in workers from other areas difficult, he said. The challenge for the industry will be to prevent the dire predictions from coming to pass, Gasperow added.
Compensation was the focus of the final presentation given by Jeff Robinson, president of PAS, Inc. PAS, which conducts periodic surveys of compensation in the construction industry, predicts that contractors will increase base wages for craft workers in the Gulf Coast region over 6 percent in 2006, as compared to about 4.5 percent nationwide. Robinson explained that the data do not take into consideration various incentives and per diem payments currently being offered by contractors in the Gulf Coast to attract more workers, but he cautioned that such strategies are merely “temporary fixes.” To keep workers in the industry, employers will be forced to increase base pay, he said.
To view Tim Horst’s visual presentation, click here. To view Jeff Robinson’s visual presentation, click here.
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