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Educational Feature – Teamwork and collaboration with associations and government programs address manpower issues

By Steve Coates, COO of Welch Tile and Marble

Leveraging association benefits, networking, and being able to anticipate the future business outlook is more important than I’ve ever imagined.

As a matter of confession, the earlier years of career #2 were spent with my nose down to the grindstone, working long hours as if enslaved to budgets and schedules.

Transitioning from project management to a division director, becoming part of the larger community and interacting with others has proven invaluable.

Working with organizations and associations

At the local level, we are members of several organizations – ASAM (American Subcontractors Association), CWDA (Construction Workforce Development Alliance), ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) and CFMA (Construction Financial Management Association). Across the board, each association is talking about the lack of human capital/manpower. Many business owners and individuals are wondering if there will ever be positive traction on this crucial topic. We are all talking about it; when will we see results?

Here in Michigan, we are starting to see strategic efforts on several fronts, working to the same end, though not yet in unison. Associations such as CWDA, community foundations, manpower temp agencies, individual companies and governmental departments have continued to push the topic forward to various degrees. While the water is still muddy, let’s see if we can bring some clarity to the topic.

While individual groups are competing for manpower, we are starting to see some trends emerge and movements in this arena. CWDA (founded by ABC, ASAM and The Home Builders Association – HBA) is one of the key leading groups supporting this effort.

CWDA has been in existence for four years, with a goal of bringing awareness to construction job opportunities and training the next generation for the growth of our businesses.

Recently I had the privilege of sharing CWDA success stories at a monthly ASAM meeting. Because of the following CWDA team efforts, we have seen the needle move on the part of high school students, teachers, and counselors related to construction manpower:

  • Long-term strategies include MiCareer Quest, whose construction exhibit booths show off construction trades to over 9,000 kids in our region.
  • Short-term strategies include high school outreach – we share career paths for all trades.
  • Teachers are now open to integrating curriculum with construction story problems or scenarios for practical learning.
  • Providing jumpstarts into construction program and construction summer camps, where students are hired after completion. Tuition is funded by CWDA.
  • Marketing efforts are re-branding construction as a viable profession rather than a dirty, second-rate job.
  • High school counselors are challenged to realistically guide kids into the right career path, rather than 100% into college, because we know the dropout rate is over 50%.
  • Gearing up to team with state-led initiatives to get folks back to work, with Michigan Works Association (MiWorks) as our government partner.
  • Our local community college is partnered with us to supplement trades without apprenticeship programs or help jump start their skills.

Exciting news from the state level has pushed manpower and training to the forefront. Our business- minded governor instructed our state education leaders and business economic leaders to outline specific strategies to get kids better positioned for the real jobs.

The draft directives on this list open the doors and mandate that schools in the future will need to advance kids’ exposure to careers and prepare them for the real world.

In addition to transforming school agendas, the state has tagged 29 million grant dollars to be utilized in the training of new hires and advancement of existing employees. With the help of MiWorks, Welch Tile was successfully awarded $20,000 in training pending completion by each individual.

Recruiting at Welch Tile

On the company level, Welch Tile’s culture transition journey has already proven successful in terms of recruiting. Internal staff members are starting to recommend friends to the business because they feel we care about people, train people, and provide career advancement.

Defying the stats, while the national growth rate is around 3%, and West Michigan’s average growth rate is 5.8%, in the last three months our crew grew by over 15%.

What can you do about the manpower shortage? Team with key associations to collectively push the needle, band together and influence governmental policy and budgets, and create a company that is considered the employer of choice.

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