Lack of Trade Workers is the Greatest Threat to K-12 Projects in the Future. How can School Districts and CM’s Help?

By Michael Ginalski

With the new Buffalo Bills stadium being built in Orchard Park as well as other large scale infrastructure projects across New York State, a hot topic being discussed by both owners and construction companies is the challenge of staffing up construction projects. A rural school district recently conducted interviews of construction management (CM) firms to explore potential concerns relative to staffing skilled workers on K-12 capital projects. Welliver was invited to participate in these interviews.

It was a great topic which created a great deal of thought. From there, the conversation centered on the amount of opportunity in the market currently and the challenges associated with having an aging workforce in the construction realm. This led to further discussion about how we can all work smarter with school districts to better educate students on the opportunities that exist in the industry. Looking at the numbers, it will take that level of effort to attract young people into the industry.

How many of us have heard from contractors that “I don’t have the people” when asking about approaching deadlines and the need to add an additional shift or add people to a job as the completion date nears. The answer is frequently and more so in recent years than decades prior. In the CM world, time is money and labor shortages can lead to higher costs and scheduling overruns. It can also mean additional safety concerns as a result of fewer “hands” available for complicated work. For owners this could result in long-term issues such as errors, liability exposure, and higher maintenance and repair costs.

According to Axios, older workers in the skilled trades are retiring and the supply is not measuring up to the demand. For example, the application rate for technical jobs like plumber and electrician dropped by 49% between 2020-2022 (NPR) and in this year alone, the construction industry in general will need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional workers to meet the demand for labor. It is currently estimated that 1 out of 4 skilled trade workers are older than 55 so we are at a crisis point.

So, how can Welliver work together with school districts to make these careers more attractive? First, there is no tried-and-true way but leveraging relationships is key. Some strategies include:

  • Assign a Liaison to work with secondary Guidance Counselors to make them aware of trends in the industry and opportunities which exist. It is my experience that schools don’t always have the most recent information regarding opportunities in the field. Establishing an active partnership is a way to alleviate this.
  • Partner with schools to allow young people to get their hands dirty by experiencing skilled trade careers first-hand while in high school.
  • Provide scholarships for high school students interested in the skilled trades to further their education.
  • Work with schools to create/support recognition events for students who attend a BOCES program in the trades as districts do for high performing students, athletes, etc. This type of promotion will help begin to change the stigma that working with your hands means that you have less of a brain.
  • Work with districts to create “Trade Days” similar to Manufacturing Day in schools. Exposure plays such a huge role and according to Stanley’s Black and Decker Makers Index only 4 in 10 young people have ever connected directly with someone in a skilled trade about opportunities in their field. More so, 37% have never talked to anyone about the possibility of entering a skilled trade career.
  • Develop on going, intentional relationships with BOCES and community colleges including leadership and staff.

There is a cascading affect also for CMs to keep in mind — the plumber, electrician, or carpenter you can’t hire today means that there is less of a pool for Project Managers, Assistant Project Managers, Superintendents, and Project Executives. The ramifications of this trend are major. At Welliver, we welcome the opportunity to engage with districts to develop plans to increase the numbers of students who enter into these fields. Time is money and less workers frankly means increased costs and delays. This is a problem which will not go away on its own and the urgency is real.

Mike joined Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].