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The Voice of the Black Community

Opinion

Transportation demands and worker shortage spell opportunity
 
Published Tuesday, July 8, 2014
by Andrea Harris, Special To The Tribune

The U.S. transportation industry expects to grow by 7 percent in 2014 to $52.6 billion, the highest mark since 2008, according to Engineering News.

The magazine estimates that if Congress approves President Obama's 2015 budget proposal of $73.61 billion for surface transportation spending, industry activity will explode. Further, it predicts that as the economy picks up, the construction industry will face what could be an unprecedented labor shortage. Construction professionals must unite to rebuild the pipeline of young workers that once flowed into the industry from vocational and technical programs across the country, the magazine advises.

North Carolina is fortunate to have a community college located within 30 minutes of every citizen in the state. These institutions offer a variety of vocational skills programs and are structured to be responsive to employer training needs.

For far too long, many of the vocational skills, such as those in the construction trades, were given a lower priority within the educational community than those within four-year institutions. Meanwhile, construction trades offer opportunities for individuals to gain skills that allow them to easily become self-employed or work at an average wage that provides a decent standard of living. Moreover, construction trade workers do not have to worry about their jobs being relocated.

Nearly three-quarters of construction firms are struggling to find qualified craft workers. Construction consultant FMI projects the industry will need to add 1.5 million workers to complete the volume of work expected by year's end.

The shortage is expected to intensify in coming years as more undocumented craft workers are forced to leave the country and the last of the baby boomers retire – upwards of 1.1 million by some estimates.

By 2016, U.S. construction projects will require 6.7 million workers – about 50 percent more than are on the job or available today, according to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer.

The challenge today is in both the building and highway construction sectors. Youth and young adults generally have no idea of the potential wages that can be earned in construction or construction-related trades. Rarely are they exposed to careers outside of what are now referred to as science, technology, engineering, and math. Is it not interesting that in the construction trades, you must clearly apply science, technology, engineering and math? Given the shortage of workers, perhaps we need to include construction in the STEM educational classifications.

Now, let's move our generation of young adults and firms forward in industries that have growing labor force demands.

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