One of the great challenges facing developers today is the lack of skilled construction professionals to get the job done. The industry was already facing a shortfall of skilled workers prior to COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, many retired or relocated, with few apprentices waiting to fill those roles, even as homebuilding soared. According to Associated Builders and Contractors, construction businesses need to hire 430,000 workers this year and an additional one million over the next two years to meet demand.
In New York City, potential skilled workers have a new alternative for learning the basics of a well-paying trade: college. LaGuardia Community College and Eastman Cooke & Associates (ECA) have joined forces to develop a workforce pro- gram that offers training in electrical, plumbing, construction safety, project management and building operations.
“What we struggle with is finding skilled crafts people,” said Peter Morandi, chief executive officer, LEED AP, at ECA.
The shortage began after the construction boom of 2010. The idea of working in construction just wasn’t as appealing to a younger generation as getting in on the ground floor of Tesla or some other high-tech company, he observed.
“It doesn’t carry that weight,” he said. “We want to show that this is not just a job or a salary, but a real career. And LaGuardia Community College is a ‘do tank,’ not a think tank.”
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, the college, which also offers two-year associates degrees in a variety of fields, also saw that shorter term programs were a key to employment. Morandi found the college through Mark C. Healy, a LaGuardia alumnus, former CEO of AST Financial Group and now vice president of continuing education.
“I was fascinated by what was going on in LaGuardia,” Morandi related. “It was all about how do we get adult continuing education students into the adult work force.”
Shorter programs were one solution, said Kenneth Adams, president of LaGuardia Community College, a unit of the City University of New York.
“Several things make LaGuardia stand out as a community college,” he said. “We have a large amount of workforce training compared with the rest of the CUNY system.”
Some 12,000 students pursue associates degrees with the intention of transferring to a four-year college. But an additional 10,000 to 12,000 students attend for specific skills training. For many of them, time is of the essence.
“Frankly, because of COVID-19, some don’t have the time [for a longer program],” Adams said. “For now, they need something that is 60, 90 or 120 days of efficient training in a trade that gets them qualified to get to work.”
The programs, taught by industry leaders, can help the student earn certification by the National Center for Construction Education and Research. LaGuardia is a certified training provider.
During the height of the pandemic, LaGuardia shifted to online instruction. Now, classes have resumed at its Queens, New York campus, as well as an additional site on 125th Street in Manhattan. To put it mildly, hands-on construction is noisy, dusty and requires the ability to hammer, drill, cut and more in real-life models.
An additional benefit is that LaGuardia also has a significant English as a Second Language (ESL) program, which can extend construction training to immigrant communities. Literacy in English is required for most courses because it critical for safety — to be able to read the signage, for exam- ple to complete the OSHA program, fall preven- tion courses and more.
“A lot of the workforce will be made up of a highly skilled foreign-born workforce,” Adams observed. “With our ESL programs and our GED instruction, we’re known as a place to get your start.”
Prior to the pandemic, LaGuardia worked closely with several unions, in fact recruiting some members of IATSE as instructors. Adams said he expects to increase collaborations with various unions going forward.
Training can only go so far. In addition to collaborating with LaGuardia on relevant curriculums and mentorships, ECA has committed to providing on-the-job experiences. In time, plans call for developing an employment portal where students can actively look for job openings. And ECA remains a sponsor of the annual Marc C. Healy Scholarship Fund Golf Outing, which supports the education of needy students.
“Our co-initiative with LaGuardia supports economic equity, while attracting more trained people into the various sectors of the construction industry,” Morandi continued. “An integral part of our program will include bringing industry owners, business leaders and experienced architecture, engineering and construction professionals into the classroom — and out in the field — for hands-on instruction. The program will additionally focus on arranging mentorship opportunities.”