DJC Op-Ed: Stepping up to address workforce challenges: part III

smiling bespectacled man in suit and tie

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the DJC on June 19 in Buildings Bridges and Roads and can be viewed here (subscription required)

In my previous two columns I highlighted AGC’s newest additions to our workforce and professional development team, discussed what is being done externally to invest in workforce, and reviewed the reasoning behind AGC leading the charge.

Our team has drafted a work plan over the past few months. In this final column of the series, I’ll look at how our team, working with our partners, will put this plan into action.

Tackling any effective work plan begins with a clear understanding of its purpose and the objectives that must be met to accomplish that purpose. In this case the construction industry must support creation of a steady and reliable future workforce.

To accomplish this, the AGC workforce development team identified several objectives that must be met. These objectives fell nicely into what I’ve taken to calling the “3 P’s:” policy, program and placement. Here is our plan for each one:

Policy

Anyone who has watched or been engaged in workforce development for any economic sector for any length of time understands that laws, regulations and policies advanced through any level of government will have a major impact.

For AGC, we are most effective focusing our work in public policy at the state, regional and local levels. While we also support AGC of America’s efforts at the federal level and are engaged there as well, we know that we are a statewide organization and our resources are best focused locally.

As a result, we must continue our work with the Legislature, appropriate state agencies (such as the Oregon Department of Education), other regional entities, counties, cities and school districts. In doing this work, we will advocate and promote effective and measurable solutions that increase and diversify the construction workforce.

And it means increasing awareness of construction careers within our K–12 system, supporting recruitment and retention within pre-apprenticeship and other post-secondary training programs, providing resources and training to bolster professional development, and increasing the involvement in workforce coalitions statewide.

It will take a myriad of efforts and an alignment of strategies across our team, membership and partnerships to achieve these goals. We know through the help of many, we can create changes in our workforce development systems and strategies that will be felt for years to come.

Program

At the same time we identify and pursue policies that reflect what we have to do, we’ll need to understand and engage with state and regional workforce development systems to understand current approaches, propose changes and advocate new directions. That means we must work at multiple levels simultaneously.

Because the bulk of resources for education and training flow through state agencies and are overseen by the Legislature, we will continue to be a presence and a voice in Salem to ensure that coordinated workforce development strategies are being pursued.

We will also be on the ground, working with the Workforce Investment Board, joint apprenticeship and training committees (JATCs) and other training organizations.

Like many states, Oregon changes across its regions. Adapting to local environments will guarantee we’re utilizing our resources and maximizing impact. As a statewide organization, AGC relies on its partners, and those partnerships look different in each corner of the state. Adapting to regional needs will be imperative as we move forward.

If Hood River identifies the need for an increase in communication to its educators, let’s do it. If Klamath Falls wants to focus on making sure its students understand their options after high school, let’s do it. If Portland moves forward in re-establishing vocational education training in our middle and high schools, let’s do it. If we need to further link high schools with community colleges and the university system to make it easier for students to earn and transfer credits, let’s do it.

All of these actions must be done to support, grow and further develop channels for our young citizens to create a larger and more effective workforce pool. To accomplish this, we want to leverage resources, membership and leadership so that we bring the right people to the conversation.

Facilitating and contributing to that conversation is critical. Traditionally, organizations often talked of building a strong “communications strategy” that typically involved print and electronic media ads, speakers, and maybe some radio and TV ads.

Communications today requires an entirely different way of thinking. Today’s students are growing up in a world of instant communications that comes to their phones, tablets and computers literally at the speed of light. When I was growing up in Portland in the 1960s, there were five television stations and a handful of radio stations. Today, there are hundreds of television channels and scores of radio stations. But those communications channels are almost secondary. With the Internet as a backbone, social media has become a primary means of peer-to-peer and group-to-group interaction.

It will take a substantial change in thinking and behavior to successfully communicate through these channels. And while it may be confusing to some, a fully-developed communications strategy for the 21st century requires that we embrace these new ways of communicating and interacting with the future workforce. And we must begin to implement those communication strategies immediately.

Placement

In the end, the policy and programs don’t matter if we don’t actually place real human beings into the available jobs.

Part of the challenge will be to continue to make progress in communicating to students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators that construction offers a great career choice. A student can go straight to work at a good wage, receive training and live a fulfilling life – all without incurring suffocating debt.

Driving this message home will take focus, resources and commitment. True workforce development is more than just slapping a logo on a water bottle, giving it to a student and then moving on.

To achieve placement success – truly growing the workforce – we need to ensure that our young people understand that a construction career is on the same playing field as any other career in any other industry. This is true for students looking for a path after high school, true for a returning veteran, or true for someone looking to make a complete career change.

So that’s the outline of the plan to build the construction workforce of the future. How will we make sure we’re on track? Check out future columns, and I’ll let you know how it’s going.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of Associated General Contractors’ Oregon-Columbia chapter. Contact him at 503-685-8305 or mikes@agc-oregon.org.

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