Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: Builders’ efforts to address workforce woes deserve kudos


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Construction trade organizations have taken matters into their own hands when it comes to workforce development. Their approaches are starting to pay dividends and could serve as inspiration for other industries looking to fill their workforce pipelines. 

The Spokane Home Builders Association and the local Associated General Contractors of America chapter have separate, young programs that are connecting employers with prospective employees, while endeavoring to attract more students into the trades. 

At the SHBA, the Frame Your Future program is working with Spokane-area schools to offer construction-based curricula for students interested in working in the trades. The program started last year with 12 employers involved. That number has ballooned to 30 engaged employers. 

In addition to working with high schools on curricula, Frame Your Future offers a construction camp, during which students work alongside seasoned veterans on small projects, such as building sheds or tiny homes. The most recent camp drew 36 students, up from 20 previously. 

Somewhat organically, the program has served a secondary purpose, acting as a recruitment tool for employers whose personnel work side-by-side with students, getting a first-hand look at their skills and attitudes. Brian Burrow, director of workforce development for the initiative, told the Journal recently that a handful of students were offered jobs after last year’s camp. That’s encouraging for employers and young adults entering the workforce alike. 

The Inland Northwest AGC has taken a different, but complementary, approach to attracting workers with its Trade Up 2 Construction program. Trade Up takes a multifaceted approach with resources for job seekers, career and training opportunities, and first-hand accounts and data for construction jobs. 

Following its launch, the AGC chapter had its largest apprenticeship class to date, with 67 participants, reports Shannen Talbot, marketing director for the chapter. 

Also, the Trade Up website includes a jobs board that as of late July, had 85 job postings and had attracted more than 130 applicants, promising momentum for the young initiative. 

The Frame Your Future initiative is focused on residential construction, and Trade Up concentrates on the commercial sector. Even so, proponents for both say there’s a synergy in one program that helps train workers so they are ready for jobs that are available through another. 

To be clear, these programs alone won’t solve the current workforce shortage, and as we’ve used this space to explain previously, the state Legislature still has work to do to ensure access to apprenticeship programs increases. Such efforts only go so far in addressing a projected shortage, with an estimated 25% of the workforce reaching retirement age in the next 10 years, according to Burrow. 

But they are creating some momentum in attracting more people to the trades at a time when labor shortages are more frequently affecting project costs and timelines. And they are investing in their own future, while trying to address their own dilemma. Such initiatives deserve broad-based support and should be replicated, both within the trades and in other industries.

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