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 Workforce Effort

The Alabama AGC’s Craft Training Bill has passed the Senate and is out of the committee in the House. AGC is working to secure a place on the special order calendar for next week for SB170.

“This is excellent news,” said Alabama AGC COO Bill Caton. “Our legislation is moving, thanks to a lot of hard work by Alabama AGC members and staff.

“A recent survey of Alabama contractors shows 83 percent of respondents consider ‘preparing the next generation of skilled construction workers’ to be important to their business.”

Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said at an Alabama AGC meeting recently that the Craft Training Bill is extremely important to the state of Alabama.

“This is an important part of our strategy to see workforce development efforts undertaken in a strategic way so Alabama can have the right people with the right skills in place to grow our economy,” Canfield said.

The Alabama AGC’s craft training initiative will create a stable, statewide funding source to provide education needed for a skilled workforce in the construction industry by increasing the fee on building permits only $1 per $1,000 of project value, Caton said. It is estimated to generate $2.5 million in annual income to train skilled workers.

“Our initiative is a Public-Private Partnership recommended by business leaders statewide,” he said. “It is a solution by and for business.

“The Alabama AGC’s craft training initiative is a business-friendly, market-driven solution to the workforce problem. And it does not grow government.”

The bill was recommended to the governor by the Alabama Workforce Council.

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.

Dr. Mark A. Heinrich, chancellor of the Department of Postsecondary Education, said business still reports difficulty filling certain types of skilled jobs.

“Employers still struggle to fill skilled jobs that are critically important to the economy of the state,” Heinrich said. “We are not attracting enough skilled workers to meet our needs. The AGC’s initiative will go a long way in addressing the need…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.”

 “The need for skilled labor is rapidly reaching crisis levels in our state and nationally,” Caton 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.

National 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 measures outlined in the association’s Workforce Development Plan.

FMI reported in its 2015 Craft Labor Recruiting and Retention that “it is a growing strategic advantage for a company to be able to recruit, train and retain the best craft employees and to have the systems in place to do these things continuously.”

“According to Rick Clevette, senior vice president, human resources at M.A. Mortenson Company, ‘He who controls craft, wins.’ In fact, as the economy continues to dig out from the recession, the market for top talent is tight in some areas where demand outstrips supply.”

“There were an estimated 7.7 million construction workers in 2006 before the recession hit; the numbers decreased to around 5.6 million during the recession; and we are now only back up to around 6.2 million construction workers employed,” the report reads. “Given those numbers, it does not seem to make sense that the industry should be facing a shortage of work­ers. However, FMI studies show that most construction workers downsized during the recession will not be coming back to the industry.

“Some have gone on to other industries like oil and gas or manufacturing; others have retired; and some do not have the skills contractors need at this time, do not live where the work is, or do not match current employment requirements.”