Pact fuels trade worker pipeline


With no signs of construction slowing down and a growing shortage of trade workers, Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Michigan has made a move to foster employee growth.

The organization announced a partnership last week with Utah-based Graduation Alliance, an online company offering more than 50 high school diploma programs, to further ABCWM’s mission of helping students pursue a career in construction.

“We’ve had tremendous success helping these young men and women overcome the obstacles they’re facing to reach their graduation goals,” Graduation Alliance CEO Ron Klausner said. “The next step is to make sure they’re ready to enter the workforce and really hit the ground running”

For several years, ABCWM has offered 20 scholarships to high school seniors to complete a three-week intensive class for the National Center for Construction Education and Research Core Certification. Now, the Core curriculum will be offered along with the existing programs Graduation Alliance offers.

The curriculum covers construction basics, such as blueprint reading, hand and power tools, safety procedures and employability skills. When the students finish their online course, they’ll be tested at Grand Rapids Community College.

ABCWM President Norm Brady said the partnership developed out of Graduation Alliance’s identification of the chapter, and ABCWM felt it fit well with the issues facing contractors across the state and country.

The partnership is the first between an ABC chapter and Graduation Alliance, but the company is in conversations with other chapters.

According to the Department of Labor, construction worker job openings are at a 10-year high, a ratio with potential to grow should President-elect Donald Trump follow through on his $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

With an aging workforce and a growing workload, a better pipeline is needed, Brady said.

“The workload is really strong across the country,” he said. “West Michigan is extremely robust, and there are many openings. These kids will be snatched up if they can get the credentials, and we’ll help them.”

ABCWM staff will help connect students with potential employers, and students with completed certificates will be a welcomed sight for employers, said Brady, who is a former human resources director.

“It’s our intention to help these kids as much as we can,” Brady said. “It gives them the basic skills to start the path. Really, it’s the message it sends to an employer that they have an interest in trade and made an investment of their own time to get that credential. I see something like that, and it means they’re looking for a career and not a job.”

Once hired, an employer likely would continue to provide additional support for the students, depending on what trade the contractor works in, Brady said. The West Michigan chapter is the only one participating in the program, but Brady expects the state’s other two chapters to jump on soon.

“After they’re hired, an employer would likely make an investment and continue to send them on to additional training,” Brady said.

Graduation Alliance currently has approximately 220 students in Michigan enrolled in the online program, and Brady hopes the first batch of certificates will supply 15 to 20 certified students.

“My hope is we have early success, and it works out that this is a great partnership and leads to results and motivates kids on the fence to take the plunge,” he said.  “If this is the path they want to take, we’re eager.”

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