In construction, residential and commercial builders face different scenarios in workforce development

This story is part of a package examining workforce development in the Sacramento region. Employers are facing hiring across all sectors, including construction, hospitality, health care and the tech industry. These stories address what kinds of barriers employers face, and how they are addressing those challenges.

For several years, homebuilders especially have beat the drum: We need more workers, and workforce training is as important as ever.

While that’s still true, the reality among construction overall is more nuanced, with directors on the commercial side saying they don’t see the same shortages, even as training remains important.

“We’ve done really good in keeping pace with workforce demand,” said Kevin Ferreira, executive director of the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building & Construction Trades Council, which among other activities steers people to apprenticeships that lead to union jobs with building trades.

Ferreira said part of that success stems from looking in more unlikely places for potential workers: women, people of color or those who’ve been in the criminal justice system.

As he spoke, a DJ played hip-hop and sub sandwiches lined a table while a few dozen employers met with potential future workers at a construction job fair in the parking lot of Arden Fair mall in Sacramento.

Events like the fair are important, Ferreira said, because the biggest barrier for many to the construction field is knowing where to start. “People don’t know what they don’t know,” he said.

The council will steer people to apprenticeship programs that typically last four years, he said. While that’s the same time it typically takes to earn a college degree, the apprentices are earning a paycheck as they learn, working on projects and advance to higher levels and more pay every six months, he said.

When a general contractor calls the council seeking a specific trades worker, he said, he can usually point someone in their direction.

Rosemont-based Northern California Construction Training, a pre-apprenticeship program, operates other training programs.

Marketing and outreach director Jeff Armstrong said his group trains in programs such as tool proficiency, safety certification, forklift operation and hazardous waste removal.

Course lengths are between the instructor and the student, he said; when both feel the student is ready to start working, they move on. That can happen as quickly as five or six weeks, Armstrong said, or up to six months.

A nonprofit funded by county governments and other training sites, NCCT also sees a variety of applicants, from teens to people in their 40s, and novices to carpenters looking for a new direction, Armstrong said.

“We have a lot of people coming into our program because they’re hearing there’s a lot of demand,” he said, adding traffic control in particular has growing needs for new workers.

But residential construction, especially for single-family homes, still feels the widest gap between available workforce and demand. By some estimates, only one worker joins for every four who retire or leave the industry.

Jennifer Poff, executive director of the North State Building Industry Association Foundation, said she’s taking a similar approach to commercial programs in tapping underserved communities, as well as community colleges.

“We’re seeing students learn about programs they had no idea about,” she said, adding the foundation has a goal of trying to place about 400 people into construction careers annually. “It’s definitely bearing some fruit.”

In residential construction, the current demand is for space inspectors and estimators, as well as ongoing demand for trades workers, she said.

NSBIAF is also partnering with the national Home Builders Institute for a local academy designed to get 32 new employees trained every 12 weeks, she said.

There’s also more incorporation of virtual reality and “gamification” in training programs, Poff said, to engage young people who’ve grown up with video games. Those programs also give trainers insight into how quickly would-be employees are picking up skills, she added.

But the programs themselves also need to expand up the job ladder, Poff said.

“We start to see a need in how to train for a higher level,” she said, pointing out new employees today become managers and other higher-level positions in three or four years. “We want to make sure we’re helping the homebuilding industry as a whole.”


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