Trades-backed alliance ramps up recruitment as MN’s construction industry booms

(by Michael Moore, St. Paul Union Advocate) A union-backed initiative to recruit more women and people of color into construction careers is hoping a new website will amplify its marketing push and help ease the industry’s stubborn labor shortage. The Construction Careers Pathways Alliance, which brings together Building Trades unions, contractors, apprenticeship programs and other groups,revamped its website, constructioncareers.org, last month, adding dynamic photos, videos and graphics that designers hope will stand out on social media platforms popular with millennials.

The aim is to get young people “to really start looking at construction as a very viable career choice, with good wages and good benefits to sustain themselves and their family members,” said Pat Wagner, founding executive director of the Construction Careers Foundation, which oversees the initiative.

The website touts year-round opportunities available to young people looking to explore a career in the trades, including two summer programs on the horizon.

  • The MN Trades Academy is a paid internship available to selected Twin Cities high schoolers, who visit apprenticeship training centers and complete projects related to specific crafts.
  • Kids at Work, a summer program for students in grades 4 through 9, offers a crash course in STEM activities, presented within the context of the construction industry.

These summer programs complement the Career Pathways initiative’s year-round work with school districts across the state to bring construction concepts back into the classroom. Thirteen school districts have partnered with the alliance to add the “multi-craft curriculum,” a Building Trades-endorsed program, to their tech-ed courses.

Construction classes “have been lost from the high school curriculum, whether it’s due to financial constraints or a shift in focus to four-year college degrees,” Wagner said.

Sparking a student’s interest in construction is just the first step, she added. The adults in a student’s life often turn out to be the tougher sell.

Photo of Pat Wagner“You can see the light in their eyes when they get hooked,” Wagner said. “But we need to reach young people early on so the discussions can start at home concerning their future.”

The construction industry in Minnesota, however, is ripe with career opportunities.

In a survey taken last year by the Associated General Contractors, 90 percent of Minnesota contractors who responded said they anticipated hiring craftspeople in the next 12 months. Three-quarters said they expected it to be as hard or harder to find qualified applicants.

 

Recognizing the need to restock the pipeline of tradespeople, state lawmakers allotted funds two years ago to support Construction Career Pathways’ work to bring people from non-traditional backgrounds into the trades.

Unions, too, have been critical in supporting the initiative. It’s not often labor and management groups wholeheartedly agree on anything, which indicates just how serious the industry is about preparing the next generation of tradespeople for work.

“We’re really looking at a changing workforce, an aging workforce,” Wagner said. “We are in need of educating individuals of color, the immigrant population and young women. That is our future workforce, and we are reaching out to them.”

Change will take time, but the foundation’s work already has had an impact. Since 2017 over 7,000 students from 170 schools statewide attended or participated in a program sponsored by alliance. Female students accounted for 32 percent of those participants; 74 percent came from underrepresented communities.

“We need to provide young people with exposure and hands-on experiences,” Wagner said. “If young people have that experience, they tend to learn that it’s not their hands, it’s their minds and their passion and creativity that they are using.”

Article reprinted from St. Paul Union Advocate.