At a time when countless college graduates are finding they are underemployed and saddled with crushing student debt, it is time for educators and policymakers to reexamine the widely held belief that a college degree represents the only road to success. The building trades offer a great career path. Regrettably, fewer students are seeking careers in the construction industry because many parents and guidance counselors are steering them toward a college pathway rather than a vocational route.
This is particularly unfortunate, given the shortage of skilled workers in the residential construction industry and the fact that carpenters, electricians, framers, roofers and others in the field earn great salaries. The 2018 Construction Labor Market Report published by the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative (CWWC) cites the average annual wage in construction is $60,800, which is about $4,700 (or 8%) higher than the average across all industries in the region, and 2% higher than the national average. In Washington, 44% of construction workers earn $30 per hour or more.
More than just a healthy earning potential, the construction industry also offers many opportunities due to growth of the industry. The CWWC report states that between 2017 and 2027, the construction industry is expected to add about 11,000 jobs, for a growth rate of 17%; faster than the overall economy (14%). Construction will account for 1-in-13 new jobs between 2017 and 2027. Those jobs don’t require college degrees. In fact, eight out of every 10 construction jobs require a high school diploma or less, with nine of the 10 largest occupations requiring an apprenticeship or moderate on-the-job training.
National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Chief Economist Robert Dietz has stated that the overall trend for open construction jobs has been increasing since the end of the Great Recession and access to skilled labor remains a top business challenge for home builders. Builders have experienced delays in completing homes, and in some cases have had to cancel projects due to a shortage of workers. These delays and production bottlenecks are increasing the cost of building a home in Clark County, which in turn is raising costs for home buyers.
The housing industry is working diligently to overcome the labor shortage challenge. The Home Builders Institute (HBI), a national leader in career training and NAHB’s workforce development arm, offers educational programs in 44 states and reaches more than 13,000 students each year. We anticipate the reach to grow due to the support of the Home Depot Foundation recently committing up to $500,000 to fund student training for residential construction careers in high schools across the country.
At the core of the HBI skills training experience is the patented Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) curriculum. The PACT curriculum, vetted by builders and subject matter experts, guarantees every student masters the knowledge needed to be employed in an entry-level job in the building industry. HBI provides resources for career/technical training instructors in school districts to administer the HBI PACT curriculum.
The PACT curriculum is 75% hands-on, competency-based, includes pre-apprenticeship education for nine trades, and provides students with industry-recognized and validated credentials. The curriculum is approved by the U.S. Department of Labor and because of its connection to NAHB, it offers connections to local industry through the affiliation and partnership with the NAHB’s state and local associations, such as the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Clark County.
Local examples of the PACT curriculum implementation include Excelsior Youth Center in Spokane and Opportunities of Industrialization Center of Washington in Yakima. We are happy to report that we’ve been educating local school districts about the benefits of the PACT curriculum so that it may be implemented as a construction pathway in high schools.
To meet the housing needs of a growing population, attitudes must change. Parents, teachers, counselors and students need to understand and believe that a vocational education is just as worthwhile as a conventional four-year college and that both routes offer satisfying career paths and financial gains. It is our hope that the PACT curriculum can help aid school districts in offering construction training in high schools.
BIA of Clark County and BIA of Washington offer scholarships and tool grants to help offset the cost of schooling. For more information and to apply for financial aid, visit
http://biaofclarkcounty.org/community/building-futures-foundation/ and https://www.biaw.com/Education.
Dave Myllymaki is the 2020 BIA of Clark County president, and owner of ReNew Creations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.