Young people in the CTEC training program

Solving the Construction Worker Shortage Puzzle in Rural Illinois

In recent years, builders have faced a shortage of workers that has only grown more acute amid increasing demand for construction and record-low unemployment. Many of the 2.2 million construction workers who lost their jobs during the last recession either retired or found employment in other industries. At the same time, fewer new workers are taking their place because millennials are less attracted to careers in construction than past generations. Workers under the age of 25 make up only 9.0% of the construction workforce in the United States versus 12.3% of the nation’s overall workforce, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A report published by the NAIOP Research Foundation in July , “Addressing the Workforce Skills Gap in Construction and CRE-related Trades,” examines how employers are partnering with local communities in innovative training and recruitment programs to boost the supply of skilled construction workers in both urban and rural areas.

While the workforce shortage is pushing construction costs higher in large metropolitan areas, the problem is not unique to large cities. Interviews with developers, educators, and workforce development experts reveal that like their urban counterparts, construction firms in rural areas and small cities struggle to recruit younger workers who are rarely exposed to vocational education in high school. However, these firms face the added challenge of losing potential workers who move to larger cities for better employment opportunities and urban amenities.

One of the report’s case studies examines how Agracel, based in Effingham, Illinois, has played a leading role in establishing local training programs that prepare high school students for jobs in construction and other industries in their home communities. Agracel specializes in developing and operating industrial facilities in rural areas, and it has found success attracting manufacturers through partnerships with local economic development authorities. Although Agracel has recruited the construction workers it needs, local shortages of manufacturing workers have been a significant obstacle for the firm’s industrial clients.

Recognizing that expanding the supply of skilled workers was essential for its success, Agracel has partnered with local communities and businesses to launch programs that recruit and train young workers. These local partnerships have led to the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO) and Construction Trade Education Curriculum (CTEC) programs. Both work with local high schools to expose students to career opportunities with nearby businesses.

Established in 2014 through a partnership between Effingham County, construction professionals and local high school and community college officials, CTEC is the newer of the two programs. It enrolls 20 seniors from six Effingham County high schools each year and helps them develop the skills they need to find work in the building trades. Over the course of an academic year, students complete a 300-hour program that features instructors and guest speakers from the construction industry.

Industry partners organize construction site visits and activities for students. These provide insights into the building trades and help students create valuable connections with the local business community. Training topics include vocational math, carpentry, plumbing, masonry and electrical wiring. CTEC draws from and expands on NCCER’s Core Curriculum. NCCER is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to construction and maintenance education that grants a range of credentials to tradespeople who complete its programs. Students who complete the program can register for an NCCER certification that is valid across the United States. Some of the program’s industry partners have opted to hire CTEC students, and 65% of participants get jobs with local contractors or pursue construction-related undergraduate degrees following high school. CTEC’s success suggests it can serve as a model for rural construction firms and communities that want to keep young workers closer to home. The program could also be a promising alternative to traditional vocational education for urban firms and communities.

Featured photo courtesy of City Spotlight.

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