Facing skills shortage, Baton Rouge contractors keeping eye on fed apprenticeship proposal

Local contractors are cautiously monitoring a newly released U.S. Department of Labor proposal that currently excludes the construction sector from its plan to create industry-recognized apprenticeship programs that remove the federal department from day-to-day management of such programs.

If that remains, contractors would not be eligible for consideration as an industry-recognized apprenticeship program—the Trump administration’s effort to expand access to apprenticeships by allowing trade associations, colleges and others to become the entities that set the standards for the training and curriculum relevant to the industry.

Excluding the construction industry, complains the Associated General Contractors of America, would be a “missed opportunity” to fill thousands of good-paying construction jobs amid an industry-wide skills shortage—a problem also recognized by Louisiana’s contractors.

“All Americans would benefit from the construction industry being included in the final rule,” says David Helveston, president and CEO of the Pelican Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. “We’re still reviewing the proposed rule and plan to provide official comments to the Department of Labor before the final rule is issued.”

Though ABC Pelican will continue training 3,000 craft professionals annually regardless of the proposal’s outcome, Helveston says the scope of the worker shortage is massive, noting there are 500,000 open jobs at any given point across the country.

It’s a problem Mike Polito, president and CEO of MAPP Construction, notices in Baton Rouge. Though he isn’t familiar with the proposed rules, Polito says Baton Rouge’s construction sector hasn’t been able to recover from the significant amount of skilled labor it lost after the 2008 recession.

“We could certainly use any help we can get,” he says. “Locally, the industry itself is trying its best to create opportunities for people to get the training they need.”

Because Louisiana is not a heavy union state, Ken Naquin, president of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, says there are only a few apprenticeship programs in existence. What the state lacks, then, isn’t an approved construction trade training curriculum, he argues, but promotional programs to attract young people to the industry.

Apprenticeships provide both on-the-job training and classroom education, essentially paying trainees to learn skills. Once apprentices complete their training—typically a year-long process—they can be hired for full-time jobs in their industry.

The proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period, after which the department can issue the final rule. It could take effect as early as this fall.

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