The purpose of this program is to provide a solution that helps to address multiple issues simultaneously. It is but one prong in the larger cog that can be the ripple that sparks waves of change.
- Industry wide labor and management shortage. The construction industry has long struggled to identify, educated, motivate and retain a strong workforce. There is an inherent need for programs that bridge the gap between the untapped labor pool of the un- and under- employed and the industry with severe lack of qualified, interested and trained workers.
- Untapped natural American resource of the un- and under- employed. A percentage of whom, when provided proper assessment, guidance, support and education, would prove to be a dedicated, hardworking and skilled long-term solution.
- Once thriving neighborhoods are now plagued by blight. Entire blocks have been abandoned, left in ruins and wasting away rather than producing revenue, increasing property values and inspiring strong communities.
(1) Standard labor practices over the past decades have contributed to the current lack of skilled and semi skilled labor as well as a gap in middle and upper management across the nation.
(2) Communities with entire blocks in blight decrease surrounding home values, provide an environment for heightened crime, and reduce potential for taxable incomes that contribute services to the community. These result in deficiencies in education, after school programs, safety services, health care and others in neighborhoods that need it most.
(3) While there are great training programs providing under-served communities opportunities to learn trade skills, they fall short of preparing graduates in part because on-the-job opportunities are sparse, but employer demands for proven skills are high.
(1) Despite the massive semi-skilled and skilled labor shortage in most industries, and specifically in construction, businesses depend on employees to be prepared to work on day one. For the majority, training is not their core competency and not a planned expense in their budgets. Adding more complexity, at the sub-contractor level, where most of these employees would be hired, the profit margins are the tightest so increasing costs would eliminate any competitive edge that may currently exist.
As with all widespread problems, employers sought comprehensive solutions and found them outside our borders. The Federal Government created workforce visa programs that brought skilled and semi- skilled labor forces from other nations. These programs have limitations that industries have learned to live with; specified terms (9 months at a time is standard), annual applications by employers, limited total number of workers allowed to participate and set guidelines for pay, housing and transportation.
For the decades these programs have been in place, industry and government have not invested in the development of our own labor force that would replace the visa programs, so we have become more dependent upon them. What seemed like the perfect solution, in hindsight, is fraught with challenges that undermine both the industry and the nation.
While these people come from other nations ready to work, there are language barriers making communication difficult. The programs have set requirements for hourly rates, working conditions and living arrangements not unlike those required by U.S. laborers. Additionally, the programs are complex and often require the investment in third party consultants to help businesses access the visa labor programs so no true direct cost savings exists.
The workforce does pay U.S. taxes like all employees but the money they earn in their paycheck is not invested in our economy. Like all humans, they work to support their families, so the bulk of their money is sent home.
The nature of the agreement does not foster growth into middle and upper levels of management which over time has left a gap the industry struggles to fill. This issue has been further impacted by the economic downturns that forced up-and-coming leaders to leave the industry and never return. More recently, these visa programs, that were once the savior of the industry, have been redesigned and restructured in ways that caused loyal program users to be shorted by the number of workers they receive and left with no way to replace the labor they depend on for projects they were awarded years prior. The ripple effect of this has been a direct hit to the profitability of small to mid-size companies who (a) pay additional over-time to attempt to keep up with workload (b) risk injury due to worker fatigue and (c) increase risk of litigation costs without enough manpower to cover their commitments. Overall, the impact to the nation is higher costs for construction and decreases in quality of workmanship.
(2) Over this same timeframe, the nation shifted its focus to a college centric education format and strayed from vocational options. This may have been needed to compete in the advancement of science and technology but left voids in traditional, good paying, and needed jobs. Additionally, this shift impacted individuals who may not have the desire, ability or funds to attend college and without guidance and public curriculum, have no way to explore skills that would lead to non-college required career paths. Seemingly no thought had been given to how our homes, cars and infrastructure would be maintained if everyone went to college and no one learned trades.
(3) The causes of the blocks of blight are numerous, complex and historic but what challenges the solution are high construction costs and low property values. This automatically reduces investor interest because the potential profits are low so the blocks sit, their condition worsens, and the vacuum sucks more surrounding blocks into its vortex.
(4) Non-profit training programs are well intentioned attempts to fill the gap created by our nation’s college only focus. They are developed to provide community members with a career starting point. The expectation has been that, the industries they serve, will graciously provide the next steps in the plan but government and businesses have not invested in the infrastructure to support the development of human capital in a comprehensive manner that would result in strong candidates.
(5) Now more than ever, the funding for training and support services is tight and the market for them highly competitive. These conditions are ripe for mission creep, agenda conflict and potential for the misinterpretation of success. Funders rely on recipients reporting to determine the impact of their donations. Funders must closely analyze the data to ensure key factors are results driven and tracked short and long term for a complete ROI picture.
Remembering every action has a reaction is key to strong problem solving and must be accounted for in sustainable solutions. Constant evaluation, change and review is required to maintain growth for a person, organization, and nation.
The Non-Partisan Opportunity:
Center Rail Strategies proposes a full solution that includes A-TOPS:
- Assessment and career coaching to ensure the individual’s path aligns with their personal skills, abilities interests and experiences to better ensure their long-term success.
- Training program placement in the career path defined during the assessment phase.
- On-the-job experience to apply learned skills from training to real world scenarios in preparation for job placement.
- Placement in a strong company dedicated to the further development and success of its workforce.
- Support to the individual and their employer from the assessment stage and through their new hire probationary period to create a smooth transition into the new environment. This includes the coordination of wrap around services from community programs that help to remove barriers of success like transportation, childcare, housing, health care access, and other essential service needs unique to the individual.