Colorado’s economy desperately needs skilled construction workers. Associated General Contractors of Colorado (AGC/C) estimates the state’s construction industry will need to add 47,000 skilled employees by 2027. Is that even possible? You can see for yourself at buildcolorado.com.
The unavoidable consequences of an aging workforce and the Covid-19 pandemic have combined to shrink the state’s construction workforce, which dipped to 172,100 in July 2020, marking a decrease of 6% from its peak in early 2020, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC)’s September 2020 report.
There are plenty of good construction jobs available for qualified workers. The 2020 AGC-Autodesk Workforce Survey reported that 62% of Colorado construction companies had unfilled hourly craft positions in June 2020 — when workers in four out of the five most numerous skilled construction occupations (supervisors, plumbers, electricians, and carpenters) were earning higher median wages than the median for all occupations in the state.
Recent key indicators suggest the construction workforce gap has grown nationwide over the past 12 months as the demand for new public and private projects has increased. The unmet hiring needs of Colorado construction companies should not come as a surprise when the 2020-2021 annual industry workforce updates are released. Watch for them at agc.org/news/surveys.
The adverse impacts of this serious economic problem are real. Workforce shortages and their related supply chain interruptions have prevented Colorado homebuilders from satisfying the demand for new homes. As a result, homeownership in Colorado is no longer attainable by many first-time buyers even with mortgage rates at all-time lows.
This is not just an affordable housing problem. The Colorado construction industry is a major contributor to the state’s overall economy. In 2019, construction contributed $21.9 billion (5.6%) to the state’s $390.3 billion gross domestic product despite the fact that more than 90% of Colorado construction companies had fewer than 20 employees. If this workforce crisis reaches the point where nearly 18,000 small construction businesses suffer the consequences, then we should expect virtually all Colorado businesses to be impacted.
But with the right investments, there are some viable public/private initiatives already underway that can help mitigate the severity of this serious threat to Colorado’s economy. Here are a couple great examples.
The Construction Education Foundation of Colorado (CEF) is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation. It was formed by AGC/C in 2002. Since 2015, CEF’s workforce development initiatives have introduced several thousand Colorado high school students, their parents, and other interested adults to great career opportunities in the construction industry by bringing them together with experienced educators and industry professionals to learn about the possibilities. CEF’s workforce programs, which teach life skills, promote self-esteem and confidence, and open doors to internships and full-time employment opportunities, include the following:
- Careers in Construction (CIC) provides pre-apprentice training for Colorado high school students in eight of the skilled construction trades, with plans to expand the program into 15 school districts serving 40+ high schools statewide. Graduates receive an OSHA-10 Certificate, which ensures their proficiency in basic occupational safety and health practices. More than 1,000 high school students and their parents from 17 Denver Public Schools participated in the program in-person and remotely during the 2019-2020 school year.
- Construction Careers Now (CCN) is a tuition-free pre-apprentice program for Colorado adults who want to learn the basic skills needed to enter one of the skilled construction trades. Nearly 1,700 students have graduated from CCN since it was created in September 2016. More than 800 of those grads chose to work in the Colorado construction industry at an average entry level wage of $18.25 per hour. More importantly, CCN grads with 4+ years of experience in the industry are now earning an average wage of $30.00 per hour plus benefits. Outreach efforts have produced a diverse student enrollment in the CCN program, with 29% Hispanic, 21% African American, 3% Asian, 2% Native American, and 21% female participation.
- High School Construction Connection (HSCC) provides volunteer construction professionals from AGC/C member companies – general contractors, subcontractors, and material/equipment suppliers – who serve as navigator team leaders to introduce students from 31 Colorado high schools and their school counselors to rewarding lifetime career opportunities in the construction industry through a variety of hands-on learning events with guest speakers, panel discussions, and job site tours.
CEF is funded by AGC/C’s members, their construction industry partners, public and private supporters, and government grants. The impressive success and cost-effectiveness of CEF’s creative workforce development initiatives clearly warrant further substantial public and private investments to ensure their continued growth and sustainability. These initiatives should be used as valuable blueprints for the creation of similar workforce development programs across many other Colorado industries. Visit cefcolorado.org to learn more about CEF’s initiatives.