The Colorado Springs area, the state of Colorado as well as the United States are facing a shortage of skilled laborers but what is being done to combat this issue?
Accountants, computer engineers, financial managers are no longer hard to come by in the workforce. In recent years there has been a struggle to fill the roles for construction workers, nurses and those in skilled work trades. Why is this? The high-tech environment of the 1990s and 2000s saw a significant percentage of high school graduates going to college to earn degrees as opposed to training for skilled trades. The millennial generation was encouraged by school counselors, parents and teachers to go to college if they wanted to make something of themselves. Hindsight is 20/20 however, as many millennials move in with their parents after they are unable to find employment or take jobs which are well below their educational level all while having impressive diplomas hanging on their walls. “I remember when I was in school and the “vo-tech” kids were looked down upon and the pressure was on among peers to see who could get accepted into the most prestigious college. That’s just the way things were back in the late ’90s, early 2000s,” Andrea Connolly, Marketing Manager at Campbell Homes recalls.
Another area of impact is the aging out of the working-class baby boomers. From 2010 to 2016, Colorado’s 65+ population grew at an average rate of 5% compared to the overall population growth of 1.5%. This means that the workforce is aging out faster than we can replace it. Some have referred to this mass exodus of retiring workers in the construction industry as the “silver tsunami”.
Today, it’s the skilled trade positions which are having the biggest impact on the labor market today. Businesses are feeling the pain from this trend which diverted young people to high-tech and high-education and away from skilled trades for a decade or more before. Companies can lose business due to a lack of skilled workers they require which can harm as well as the entire U.S. Economy. So what are we doing to combat this issue and right the pendulum so to say?
To fill the gap, educational programs for the trades are starting to pop up all over at the high school level, higher education as well as associations. The Career Readiness Academy at Sierra High School provides a real-world, hands-on learning program for construction, automotive mechanics, medical tech, culinary arts, and several other skilled worker programs. Road construction workers are hard to come by as well and in a state such as Colorado with winters seeing varying levels of extremes and the toll that the increasing population takes a toll on the roadways. The answer….. higher education institutions such as Front Range Community College in Fort Collins have developed the country’s first associate degree in Highway Maintenance Management. “It has become significantly apparent that the need to streamline highway maintenance management training is long overdue,” stated Robert McArthur with the Douglas County Public Words Department. “It was clear that the AAS degree program is the opportunity to funnel appropriate education and technical industry training through a single portal.”
What is the construction industry in Colorado Springs doing about this deficit? The Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs has expanded its Careers in Construction workforce development program to not only help train those who have already entered the workforce but they have extended their reach to local high schools. Today over 600 students throughout 14 Colorado Springs high schools and middle schools are enrolled in Careers in Construction classes. Last year this resulted in over 100 local high school graduates being placed in the construction industry. “Over the past few years more and more young people have been discouraged from pursuing a career in skilled trades and as a result, the building industry has struggled to meet the ever-increasing demand for housing.” states Ed Gonzalez, Vice President at Campbell Homes. “Careers in Construction (CIC) is a great program that is beginning to reverse that trend and have a positive impact on our industry. I am proud that Campbell Homes has had a part in supporting CIC early on and I encourage other companies to join us in supporting this program which benefits us all.”
If you would like to know more about the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs and their Careers in Construction program and how you can help, please visit https://www.cshba.com/careers-in-construction.html.