By Amy King
Due to the recession, an aging workforce and fewer people entering the construction industry, many contractors are left with only a percentage of their once highly skilled and abundant workforce. For companies to make their workforce great again, it is critical not only to invest in workforce development, but also to have it deeply rooted in company culture — just as safety is. This means being actively committed to recruiting new entrants into the industry and continuing to train through good times and bad.
Going Beyond the Booth
The first step in having a skilled and productive workforce is to have the best people. Finding future masons involves more than passing out business cards at career fairs. Contractors need to go beyond the booth and have a greater presence in schools. Introducing students to masonry career opportunities at an early age starts by getting involved at the local level. This can be accomplished by utilizing resources like NCCER’s Construction Career Pathways connection map.
In response to the 2011 Harvard University report, Pathways to Prosperity, NCCER developed its Construction Career Pathways initiative to promote construction careers as successful career paths and bring more attention to career and technical education (CTE). As part of the initiative, a connection map was created to help the construction industry and educational facilities connect and collaborate at the local level. On the map, contractors choose what they can do for schools in their communities, such as host a project or office visit, serve on a school advisory board, present in classrooms, participate in career events, mentor students and/or provide internship opportunities. With both contractors and schools from cities across America represented on the map, it is easy for each group to identify how they can work together to improve awareness of masonry careers. The map can be found at http://pathways.nccer.org/connection-map.
In addition to working with schools, another way to recruit future masons is to partner with Career and Technical Service Organizations (CTSOs). With more than 2 million student members, CTSOs connect CTE programs with innovative extracurricular programs, business partnerships and leadership experiences. CTSOs are a powerful avenue for helping to address masonry’s workforce development issues.
Texas Professors Selected to Attend National Workshop
|On March 20, 2016, four Texas architecture and engineering professors attended The Masonry Society’s annual University Professors Masonry Workshop at the University of California San Diego. The Texas Masonry Council (TMC) joined forces again with the Brick Industry Association – South West (BIA‐SW) to send deserving professors to California.
Ray Leonhard, president and CEO of the Brick Industry Association commented that “the Brick Industry Association Southwest Region and the Texas Masonry Council have supported the University Professors Masonry Workshop for many years by sponsoring university professors’ attendance and travel expenses. We believe this workshop is an excellent opportunity for university faculty and masonry professionals to meet and discuss masonry construction and design issues, share teaching methods, network, and experience a hands‐on demonstration. The knowledge and tools gained from this valuable workshop will help to implement successful masonry programs across the United States that will educate future designers about the many benefits of masonry construction.”
The University Professors Masonry Workshop (UPMW) is a forum for faculty who are teaching masonry, or will be teaching masonry, to learn about the design, specification, construction and evaluation of masonry. Effective and innovative ways to teach this information to their students are discussed. The goal of the UPMW is simple: to assist professors teaching masonry so that students, who will be future designers and construction managers, are comfortable using masonry on their projects. The Masonry Workshop is a limited‐seating event geared to educate masonry professors on new masonry codes, standards, products, technology and research. The Workshop is an intimate and intense two‐day training in which attendees walk away with masses of new material to apply in their classrooms.
Texas Tech Masonry Design and Construction professor Mukaddes Darwish said the “UPMW in San Diego was a great conference, and I was impressed with the new information the presenters shared with us. I enjoyed the discussions of innovative teaching methods, and I gained some ideas to take to my classrooms.”
For future workshops, interested Texas professors can apply for scholarships by contacting the Texas Masonry Council at www.texasmasonrycouncil.org.
One particular CTSO that serves more than 300,000 students from across the country each year is SkillsUSA. The U.S. Department of Labor describes SkillsUSA as a “successful model of an employer-driven youth development training program.” The organization’s programs help establish industry standards for skills training in schools and promote community service. Other SkillsUSA programs include local, state and national competitions in which thousands of students demonstrate their occupational and leadership skills by competing in 100 different CTE areas, including masonry.
In an effort to connect contractors with future masons, NCCER has sponsored the national SkillsUSA masonry competition for the last four years. The competition features the best masonry students in the country and tests their entry-level performance skills. Contestants are judged on accuracy, ability to read and interpret blueprints, workmanship, and the proper use of tools and materials. Contractors who partner with NCCER to host the national competition have early access to the country’s most highly skilled masonry students. Contractors can also participate at the local level by getting involved with their state SkillsUSA organization. State directors can be found at http://pathways.nccer.org/connection-map.
A Trained Workforce Is a Quality Workforce
Once a sustainable pipeline of new masons is in place, contractors must commit to train their workforce during good times and bad, as opposed to waiting until it is too late. Contractors owe it to their people and their companies to offer continuous training and assessments that lead to long and prosperous careers. A quality workforce should be large enough to meet client needs and highly skilled to complete projects on time, within budget and without injuries.
Research from the Construction Industry Institute shows that training programs can benefit employers in the form of increased productivity and decreased turnover, absenteeism, injuries and rework.
Since training is not one size fits all, NCCER’s standardized masonry training program allows NCCER accredited contractors of all sizes to deliver industry-recognized, portable credentials to their workforce. Masons who receive NCCER training have the opportunity to develop their skills and advance within their companies. As a result, contractors committed to delivering training often have a more highly skilled, safe and productive craft workforce, which is critical to future success.
In addition, contractors can close the skills gap within their incumbent workforce through the use of assessments. When used correctly, assessments are a tool for contractors to see the strengths and weaknesses of their employees and then provide skills training in the areas where they need it. NCCER’s new masonry assessment was released earlier this year and validates the skills that journey-level masons have obtained. The assessment also provides customized plans for upgrade training in areas where individuals need improvement.
Through comprehensive training and assessment programs linked to industry-recognized standards and curricula, contractors are better prepared to meet challenges with a highly skilled workforce. By providing a robust culture of workforce development with training and assessment opportunities, contractors can maintain a sustainable workforce for generations to come. As more contractors support the use of training and assessments, the skill level of the industry will continue to elevate.
The ROI of Workforce Development
Top contractors understand that investing in workforce development is critical to their ongoing success. Because motivated employees are more productive, project a positive image of the company and have significantly higher retention rates, contractors benefit from greater workforce stability and profitability. As masonry competes with other crafts and industries to find highly skilled professionals, the industry must continue to create desirable opportunities for its people. When contractors integrate recruitment, training and assessments into their operations, they become employers of choice among job seekers and contractors of choice among owners and construction managers
For more information on how to make your workforce great again, visit www.nccer.org or contact NCCER’s workforce development team at (888) 622-3720.