Banding together for the construction industry’s future

There are no short cuts to developing the workforce that Clark County needs to keep pace with growth

Later this month, the Columbia-Willamette Workforce Collaborative will release their Construction Workforce Plan. This plan is the culmination of a process that was started back in October when the Collaborative held a convening with about 40 local groups including regional contractors, trade organizations, educators, WorkSource staff, training providers and other industry supporting organizations.

I shouldn’t call it a culmination as the plan is just the starting point for the effort that we are engaged in to build up our local workforce to meet the growing demand in the construction field. As outlined in the plan’s introduction, “Construction has become a high-growth industry in the Portland Metro Area. In the next ten years, over 15,000 new jobs are expected, outpacing other industries in the region. These are high paying jobs, averaging over $25 per hour.”

The Construction Workforce Plan Priority Areas include:
1 – Connect youth to jobs and training opportunities in construction
2 – Advance equity and diversity in the construction industry
3 – Improve retention of existing apprentices and workers

While the Building Industry Association of Clark County naturally supports this entire effort, we will focus resources particularly on connecting youth to the quality career opportunities provided by the building trades and improving retention of our existing workforce.

One way the BIA is already supporting local youth pursuing careers in the building industry is through the scholarship program of our nonprofit Building Futures Foundation. On June 22 the Foundation presented eight scholarships for a total of $16,500. I’m particularly pleased with the range of futures represented. Some students are pursuing degrees in mechanical and civil engineering or architecture; others are following the apprenticeship path on the road to becoming an electrician or a diesel tech. We selected a student in WSU’s construction management program and one who wants to start his own building company. The variety of outcomes demonstrates the vast amount of opportunity available in this thriving career field.

With 20,000 mid- to high-skilled workers rolling out of the field over the next ten years due to growth and retirement from an aging workforce, retaining the workers who do enter the industry is critical. Not only do we need to attract people to the field, we also need to support existing workers and provide a positive culture at job sites across Clark County. BIA will help develop a standardized job site culture curriculum. We will also be involved in the effort to create a mentorship network for building relationships, teaching and problem solving.

What is very clear to me in going through this process is that there are so many opportunities for the private sector to be involved. In fact, this plan cannot be successful unless companies decide to prioritize time to join this effort. There are no short cuts to developing the workforce that Clark County needs to keep pace with growth.

Companies that want to be involved and may not know how to begin can receive assistance from Workforce Southwest Washington, our local representative in the Collaborative. For a copy of the plan, or to get involved, contact Melissa Boles, Employer Services Manager at Workforce. ( or 360.567.3185)

“When companies interact with youth or are involved in developing training programs for new hires or improving skills of existing employees, they are creating a pipeline of skilled individuals to meet their workforce needs,” said Melissa Boles, industry initiatives manager at Workforce Southwest Washington. “The programs we support are always looking for opportunities to partner with local companies.”

We need people out in the field who provide job shadowing. We need companies that create internship programs and businesses across the spectrum to show up at construction career days. Schools need small businesses that are willing to speak to students about running their own companies, and large businesses that can paint a career pathway picture for students.

In short, it will take all of us banding together, each working on a piece of the plan, to achieve the targets laid out in the 2017-19 Construction Workforce Plan.

Avaly Scarpelli is the executive director of the Building Industry Association of Clark County.