Attracting the next generation of construction pros


It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’m sitting in the sun-soaked office of Julie Parks, executive director of workforce training at Grand Rapids Community College M-TEC. Alongside me is Amy Pierce, career exploration coordinator for Kent ISD, and we’re talking about launching a construction training program at GRCC M-TEC for high school seniors from two local school districts. Think dual enrollment meets work-based learning.

This is exciting stuff, and these two women are super-heroines of training and education. But, even more importantly, they are my allies.

A quick search of ally showed me this biological definition of the word: “An ally is a plant, animal, or other organism bearing evolutionary relationship to another, often as a member of the same family.” This is what my experience at the helm of workforce development for the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan Chapter feels like as I work with Kent ISD, GRCC and the hundreds of contractors who belong to my association. Together, we find innovative solutions to recruit, train and retain the next generation of construction professionals. GRCC and Kent ISD are my family.

Education and industry partnerships are a hot topic right now. With Gov. Rick Snyder’s new Marshall Plan for Talent, the recent Michigan Career Pathways Alliance and record low unemployment putting pressure on the ever-expanding talent gap, the state is putting tremendous energy and resources into the intersection of school and business. Now is the time for the construction industry to look beyond the field trip and truly form alliances with local educational institutions to develop exceptional talent pipelines.

Field trips, classroom visits and monetary donations all are incredibly important ways to partner with local schools and students. However, to effectively identify the right students — for the right reasons — for the construction industry, construction companies must create and support alliances in their communities.

Once such alliance is the Construction Workforce Development Alliance of West Michigan, or the CWDA. The CWDA is an alliance of ABC/WMC, the American Subcontractors Association of Michigan and the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids. Together, we — and our combined contractor and builder members — have a mission of attracting, training and retaining the next generation of construction professionals. We do this through strategic alliances with GRCC M-TEC, Kent ISD and West Michigan Works!.

One of key programs of the CWDA is the Jump Start training program. This construction skills training program was developed by the CWDA in 2014 to provide a pathway for young adults ages 18-25 to receive entry-level construction training and secure employment in the construction industry. This program is a perfect example of allies coming together for the betterment of individuals and industry. Here’s how it works:

  • Jump Start curriculum was developed by industry employers
  • GRCC M-TEC delivers the training in their construction lab, training students in entry-level construction skills and professional skills needed for success in the industry
  • CWDA alliance members and West Michigan Works! collaborate to fund the full-tuition scholarships
  • Kent ISD provides connections to schools to recruit the right students, for the right reasons, into the Jump Start program
  • Employers provide job shadows, classroom presentations, field trip experiences and ultimately, hire students out of the program, launching them into their construction career

In 2017, 88 percent of students attending Jump Start were immediately employed in the construction industry. The Jump Start training program is one example of how construction industry employers, educational institutions and workforce boards can unite as allies to strengthen an entire industry.

When working with allies, the answer is almost always yet. The question isn't can we do this. It's how will we do this?

If you are a construction industry employer interested in working with and hiring Jump Start students in June 2018, visit to submit your information.

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