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VOL. 40 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 15, 2016

Go Build Tennessee’s goal: Fill state's construction worker shortage

By Joe Morris

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The building boom in and around Nashville has led to a well-documented shortage of construction workers, as well as skilled professionals in welding and multiple related fields.

A new program, Go Build Tennessee, aims to help solidify a pipeline of new talent to lessen that crisis.

“The Home Builders Association of Tennessee, Tennessee Road Builders Association, Associated Builders and Contractors and Associated General Contractors of Tennessee have come together on this,” says David McGowan, owner of Regent Homes and past president of the Home Builders Association of Middle Tennessee.

“The purpose of Go Build Tennessee will be to encourage young people, whether they are teenagers in high school or college age, to go into the building industries.”

The need for plumbers, electricians, dry-wall installers and multiple other workers is well documented in the Nashville area, but even if things slow down the industry provides reliable, good jobs, McGowan says.

“For every three people leaving the industry, only one is coming in,” McGowan adds.

“This web-based program will offer a lot of information for a young person who might consider going into the trades, whether that’s working on power lines, driving a bulldozer or becoming a construction manager.

“We want to provide information about the educational programs that are available, as well as the job opportunities and the available pay.”

The program will be administered through a 501(c)3 and will receive state funding generated by excess revenue created by the Board of Licensing Contractors from fees for applications, renewals and fines.

It is modeled on Go Build Alabama, which launched in 2010 and is operated by the Alabama Constructional Recruitment Institute. The marketing and recruitment efforts that Go Build Alabama has put forth have helped that state’s construction industry tremendously, says Jason Phelps, executive director.

“Measuring success is kind of tricky, because we didn’t have any one sector of the construction industry that had taken on this kind of statewide recruitment and image enhancement,” Phelps explains.

“But before the launch of Go Build Alabama, student enrollment in construction classes at high school had been on the decline, and since we launched they have seen a 25 percent growth rate.

“We believe we’ve made a significant impact in terms of getting these kids to take classes at the high-school level, which is the first real level for the construction training pipeline.”

From there, he explains, students have gotten a feel for the industry, and have begun to develop marketable skills.

Some choose to enter the workforce directly after high school, while others move into related post-secondary education or an apprenticeship program. Whatever the case, they stay engaged, and eventually become full-time workers in their chosen area.

“We did a survey of high-school students, and more than 30 percent said Go Build Alabama played a role in their choosing a career in the construction industry,” Phelps says.

“We want to be careful what we take credit for, but having the growth numbers in enrollment, and then that input from the students themselves, makes us feel good about the impact we’re having all around the state.”

Like its southern counterpart, Go Build Tennessee will focus on the skills area, but also will highlight the opportunities for women and minorities to work for, and own, construction-related businesses. That also has been a key component for success, Phelps points out.

“We really want to encourage diversity in the skilled trades, and it often is seen as a non-traditional career path, especially for women,” he says.

“We have created two different television pieces that focus on women and construction, and their success is showing us that there are ways out there to target groups that may never have considered construction as a viable career, but there’s no reason for them not to do so.”

In Tennessee, the next steps will be to get the website built and operational, while also running social media and advertising campaigns to raise awareness both on- and offline.

“What we want to do is answer the questions they have about what a trade is, and where to go and learn it,” McGowan adds.

“They want to know how much money they can make, and we want to tell them. We will connect with the schools that offer the training, and the scholarships, so that we can take someone’s interest and steer them to where they can take the next steps.

“And when they come out, we’ll be connected to the companies so that they will have jobs waiting for them.”

According to McGowan, there are thousands, even tens of thousands, of Tennessee high-school grads who cannot find jobs in their communities because their skills don’t match up with what’s available. Go Build Tennessee will be a way for many of them to bridge that gap.

“They need to know what’s out there, what the opportunities are – and then how to get there,” he says.

“I’ve been in the building industry for years, and I know how important it is to teach young people about this industry.

“We’re always dealing with a labor shortage, and we are very committed in doing what we can to get young people to come and work for us. We offer good jobs with a steady income, and with these skills they can work in all kinds of areas within the industry.

“Now we just need to get the word out.”

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