Our goal is to truly expose individuals to the trades in the construction industry, said Mike Avakian, ACCO Engineered Systems sales manager. Many people don’t understand what happens behind the scenes and ACCO wants to provide a path for individuals into the industry because it can be daunting to figure out how to get there.
Projected Construction Jobs
The construction industry faces talent challenges nationwide—industry shortages at record levels, an aging workforce, little gender diversity (i.e., women make up six to seven percent of the construction workforce), and recent legislation provided funding for projects but not for workforce development and training—so prioritizing talent strategies is more critical than ever.
In 2019, Capitol Impact, a social impact consultancy, convened construction employers in the Sacramento to begin collaborating to identify and solve for their greatest talent challenges. With billions of dollars in new healthcare construction projects pending in the region, addressing the worker shortage was imperative for these companies, as well as Kaiser Permanente, the leading healthcare employer in the region that relied on these contractors and subcontractors to build their healthcare facilities.
As a result of their collaboration, in which they used the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) framework, the employers accomplished:
- A shared understanding of the specific and urgent construction talent needs in the Sacramento region: Employers in the collaborative projected more than 2,500 jobs, more than twice the Employment Development Department’s labor market predictions of 13.2% growth.
- A commitment to create opportunities for diverse and underrepresented populations to join the construction workforce including women, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) talent, as well as those impacted by the criminal justice system. The collaborative’s labor pool was predominantly white and male while, according to census figures, Sacramento is the third most diverse county in California.
- $250,000 raised from Kaiser Permanente to support the Promise to Career Construction scholarship program at Los Rios Community College District, the preferred talent provider which serves the collaborative’s priority populations. The scholarship has supported more than 50 individuals since its inception.
Though the collaborative considered their initial efforts a success, there was plenty more work ahead to grow Sacramento’s construction talent pool. The collaborative was now armed with data supporting the necessity of doing so and had the knowledge and the funding to make training more accessible to their priority talent populations.
Since then, the partners have fostered more equitable construction career pathways in Sacramento by prioritizing four core strategies.
Adding more recent fuel to the mission, a 2022 report by the Brookings Institution demonstrated that careers in construction are a key driver of upward mobility for youth who experience adversity or come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Strategy 1: Work-Based Learning and Employer Engagement
The TPM® value stream map positions employers as the end-customers of talent supply chains, but it also delegates some responsibility to them for career exposure and training. The initial employer collaborative members have maintained engagement with the Promise to Career scholarship program by offering critical site visits and tours of company facilities.
- ACCO Engineered Systems hosts tours of their HVAC production workshop, where superintendents educate students about the plumbing/pipefitting and sheet metal trades, as well as the family-sustaining wages and benefits that a career in the skilled trades offers. ACCO coordinates these visits to coincide with tours of apprenticeship training centers, which are affiliated with local union halls and provide tuition-free training and college credits for apprentices.
“Our goal is to truly expose individuals to the trades in the construction industry. Many people don’t understand what happens behind the scenes,” said Mike Avakian, ACCO sales manager. “ACCO wants to provide a path for individuals into the industry because it can be daunting to figure out how to get there.”
- General contractor Turner Construction Company conducted student tours of high-profile projects at the California State Capitol and the California Department of General Services Natural Resources Headquarters Building, a national award-winning design build project. Students had the opportunity to hear from workers representing priority talent populations (i.e., immigrants, BIPOC, women, and veterans) at all levels of the organization who had taken varied paths to their roles.
- Kaiser Permanente hosted students on the active job site of an emergency department expansion project, allowing them to stroll between exposed beams while tradespeople conducted studwork on scissor lifts and to climb onto the temporary roof for a panoramic view. Experiences such as this are crucial in giving learners an inside view of potential careers yet are rare.
“It was really amazing to have the opportunity to ask real-life employees of the industry questions that we might have had. It gives you the option to see that your first choice might not have been your final choice when it comes to career options,” said student Rebecca Martin.
To continue industry engagement, a career fair will be hosted at a Los Rios community college for which all members of the employer collaborative will be invited.
Strategy 2: Building Bridges Across the Construction
Kaiser Permanente and the Promise to Career program have partnered with the Construction Industry Education Foundation (CIEF) to sustain the impact of the employer collaborative. CIEF supports a vast network of K–12 career technical education (CTE) programs across California. Programs like Trades Day, an interactive expo designed to generate awareness of construction careers, as well as Design Build, a regional industry-sponsored competition in which teens design and build a 96 square foot structure, demonstrate the teamwork, technical skill, and craftsmanship that skilled trades careers demand.
- The Northern California Design Build competition is hosted at a Los Rios community college, the site of the Promise to Career scholarship program, and offers high school teens a novel opportunity to step onto a college campus and envision their future. The Promise to Career program is a natural next step for many Design Build participants, and the event also serves as a great recruiting ground for employers. To provide even better visibility for the program, scholarship recipients are presented their award checks at a high-profile lunch.
- Plans for next year’s Design Build include offering Promise to Career scholarship recipients mentorship roles as “site superintendents” for the Design Build teams in an effort to continue strengthening bridges between the programs.
“I attended [Trades Day] and developed an interest in the construction field. I took the ‘Introduction to Construction’ class the next semester” said Luke Geddes, a Los Rios community college student. “I enjoy building and being physically active…. I also like the idea of helping to build my community.”
These activities meet a need identified by the employers as part of their TPM process to build a clear pathway for students that effectively engages instructors, industry leaders, and union training partners.
Strategy 3: Creating Training Opportunities for Instructors
“What we need is more teachers,” confided recent graduate Rebecca Martin. “I have so many questions. [Our instructor] did an amazing job but he’s overworked.”
The continued shortage of qualified instructors poses a major challenge to career and technical education (CTE). The ability to offer innovative skills for existing teachers as technology advances compounds that challenge. Moreover, because of liabilities, providing work-based learning for students under 18 is also difficult.
To address these obstacles, CIEF, K–12 education, and local industry are developing an instructor externship for summer 2024. Designed to strengthen the network of CTE programming in the region, upskill teachers, and connect the classroom to the workplace, the instructor externship holds great promise to advance the employer collaborative’s goals.
In addition, Los Rios Community College District is partnering with the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) to develop a new course for electrical, plumbing, and mechanical techniques to highlight electrical efficiency and install heat pumps and other electrical appliances. This will prepare the next generation of industry professionals to decarbonize the Sacramento community.
Strategy 4: Continuous Improvement and a Path Forward
Central to the success of the Promise to Career scholarship program is the partners’ shared drive to constantly reevaluate their methods and seek to understand the barriers students face. As the partners continue to gather information and share best practices, students benefit.
- The first student survey on the Promise to Career program revealed that 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed that work-based learning experiences with employers and visits to apprenticeship training centers increased their understanding of how to enter an apprenticeship in the skilled trades.
- Interactions and informational interviews with community groups and local schools have revealed the major barriers transportation and driver’s license requirements pose to opportunity populations. Next steps in the program’s solution design will seek to address these challenges.
- The recent approval of additional stipends for scholarship program completers who enter apprenticeships will provide further incentive and support to the next phase of learners’ career journeys.
The multi-pronged approach to TPM implementation is sowing the seeds for a thriving ecosystem that supports learners’ career pathways. The driver and ultimate measure of success? The number of Promise to Career scholarship recipients—including women, BIPOC, and system-impacted students—that successfully attain the skills necessary to succeed in the abundant construction careers the Sacramento region offers.
“Originally my life goal was to be an artist. I took classes because I wanted to build my dream house, and now I’m considering a career in the [sic. construction] industry and starting my own business,” said Martin. “I’m so shocked by all the things I’ve accomplished in the class… I know I’ve always wanted to make things, but not on such a grand scale.”