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The Birmingham Section started 2015 with a political reception at the Murray Building Co. jobsite at the old Merita Bread Bakery. More than 150 members were in attendance with city and state officials. Everyone enjoyed a tour of the site as well as barbecue from Joe McNabb and Hendrix Chevrolet.

A Public/Private Training Effort

Recommendations from the Alabama Workforce Council, which included Alabama AGC’s Craft Training Bill, were delivered to Gov. Robert Bentley during a recent ceremony at the Capitol.

Alabama AGC COO Bill Caton, who serves on the AWC’s Public/Private Partnerships Committee, was on hand when the governor received the recommendations.

“We will be working with the Legislature to get these passed,” Gov. Bentley said. “Some of these we are already working on. I can assure you this will be put into practice.”

The Alabama AGC already has met with members of the governor’s staff to discuss the Craft Training Bill that will create a long-term, stable funding source for flexible skills training that will meet the industry’s needs. The program will be paid for by increasing the fee on building permits by $1 per $1,000 of project value.

The Craft Training Bill will create an industry board to oversee the money and provide grants for training providers throughout the state using existing community college facilities and other qualified trainers. Skills training will be made available to entry-level workers as well as current employees of contractors.

Alabama Power’s Zeke Smith, chairman of the AWC, presented the wide-ranging recommendations, saying, “Business and industry know what the needs are. Education knows the needs. The two (working) together is what has really excited me.”

Dr. Mark A. Heinrich, chancellor of the Department of Postsecondary Education, said employers still struggle to fill certain types of skilled jobs.

“We are not attracting and retaining enough skilled workers to meet our needs,” he said. “AWC recommendations will allow for a partnership between industry and education. Public/private partnerships give us a plan and I look forward to helping move it forward.”

“The economic success and industrial growth our state has experienced over the last few years will not continue without an adequate, skilled workforce,” said Gary Savage, president of BL Harbert International’s U.S. Group. “Workers of Alabama have a tremendous work ethic; however, they need the opportunity and the training to develop the skills needed for employment.

“The Alabama AGC’s Craft Training Bill will provide a consistent funding source and the training necessary to reshape the future of Alabama’s workforce.  This bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent memory and is truly an investment in the future of Alabama.”

“While Alabama AGC’s Craft Training Bill is one among many recommendations made to the governor by the AWC, we certainly are proud to help provide an example of an effective public/private partnership,” Caton said. “The Craft Training Bill is a natural extension of our highly successful Go Build campaign. And, like the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (the state agency that administers Go Build), this initiative will be labor neutral.”

“The need for skilled labor is rapidly reaching crisis levels in our state and nationally,” he said. “AGC of America research shows growth in the industry and a huge increase in the need for skilled craftsmen.”

An AGCA survey shows that 52 percent of contractors in Alabama increased their employee count in 2014 and 40 percent of those hired six-to-15 new employees. Forty-eight percent of Alabama contractors expected to add at least one-to-five employees in 2015 and 41 percent said they already were experiencing difficulty filling professional and craft worker positions. Forty-eight percent of contractors predicted that finding skilled workers will become more difficult this year.

“Contractors have stayed busy this winter and expect to keep hiring through 2015—if they can find the workers they need,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist.

“The combination of rapidly rising employment, good prospects for 2015, and a depleted pool of unemployed workers with construction experience means contractors may have a hard time filling jobs with the workers they need in coming months,” Simonson said. “Worker availability challenges have replaced a lack of projects as the biggest worry for many contractors.”

Construction employers added 39,000 jobs in January and 308,000 over the past year, reaching the highest employment total since February 2009, as the sector's unemployment rate fell to 9.8 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said the job gains come as most construction firms report plans to expand headcount this year, but worry about growing shortages of qualified workers.

Construction employment totaled 6,314,000 in January, the highest level in nearly six years, with a 12-month gain of 308,000 jobs or 5.1 percent, Simonson noted. Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 20,100 employees since December and 162,400 (7.2 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential contractors—building, specialty trade, and heavy and civil engineering construction firms—hired a net of 18,600 workers for the month and 145,600 (3.9 percent) since January 2014.

AGC officials noted that the new construction employment data is consistent with its recently-released Construction Hiring and Business Outlook, where 80 percent of construction firms reported they plan to expand head counts in 2015.  But they cautioned that 87 percent of firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers and urged officials to act on the measured outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan.