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Sunday, 21 December 2014 22:00

Construction Workforce Development Alliance key to developing skilled trades talent, Wickstrom says

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Ben Wickstrom, Erhardt Construction Co. Ben Wickstrom, Erhardt Construction Co. COURTESY PHOTO

As the president of Ada-based Erhardt Construction Co., Ben Wickstrom wants to attract people not only to his firm, but also to the larger construction industry. Wickstrom was one the founding members of the Construction Workforce Development Alliance (CWDA), a group consisting of three local trade associations. He spoke with MiBiz about how the group aims to create a pipeline of workers.

Who’s involved in the new alliance?

The Construction Workforce Development Alliance is a collaboration between the three primary construction associations in West Michigan: Associated Builders and Contractors, American Subcontractors Association of Michigan and the Homebuilders Association of Greater Grand Rapids.

What are some of the initiatives you hope to see the CWDA tackle?

We formed this partnership to address the common, shared focus of attracting new people to the construction industry and developing and maintaining a training system to train people currently in the industry and the new people coming in. We formed a partnership with Grand Rapids Community College. They are a supporting member of the CWDA. Michigan Works! is a also a supporting member of the CWDA.

Describe the approach the CWDA will take in addressing the talent shortage. 

We have decided to take an employer-driven approach to addressing the skilled workforce problem. The demand on skilled labor in West Michigan is very well publicized. It’s not a new issue, but I think it’s just starting to get the attention it deserves, especially within the construction industry.

What are some of the key aspects of the training programs?

We have a program which we call the ‘core construction’ program. We have a training program specific to carpentry, one for concrete and one for steel. One of the goals of the CWDA is to tell the story of construction. It is a really good career. There is upward mobility within the construction industry.

How has the workforce shortage affected contractors in West Michigan?

The CWDA conducted a survey this summer in partnership with Talent 2025. We commissioned the Upjohn Institute to do a workforce development survey of all of the members of each construction association here in West Michigan. One of the statistics from that survey that affirms that we have an issue is that 68 percent of respondents said that they have had to delay work because of a shortage of skilled labor.

Is Erhardt part of the 68 percent who’ve felt the impact of that shortage?

Yeah, we’ve had to decline and/or delay work. We won’t take on work if we’re not fully staffed up to take it on. We are also definitely taking a long-term view. We anticipate growth in our industry, and the industry needs to continue to add jobs. In order to do that, we need to get more people in the pipeline. At the end of the day, that is what we are trying to do. We are in high schools and letting them know about the good opportunities that are out there in the skilled trades.

What’s the outlook for your company in 2015?

Overall, I think our economy is heading in the right direction. I like the positive things that are happening. As far as our industry goes, we are anticipating continued growth in the construction sector. 2013 and 2014 were good years for us and we anticipate to maintain our current growth trend into 2015, so we are encouraged by that. We have seen double-digit growth over the last few years. We look forward to maintaining that but still focusing on our customers and their experience.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 3172 times Last modified on Sunday, 21 December 2014 22:24

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