Tucson Job Training Shores Up Local Labor Pool
With a mission to ease the construction labor shortage in Southern Arizona, provide a needed community service and raise the profile of the home building business as a great place to pursue a career, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association's Institute of Construction (TSIC) opened its doors last October and has already garnered the success that makes it a model for builders in other parts of the country.
Roger Yohem, vice president and director of communications for the association, said that TSIC has become a valuable resource for the community while helping to fill an important member need.
“After a while, you have to stop complaining about the lack of skilled labor and do something to solve it,” said Greg Miedema, president of Dakota Builders in Tucson.
“We wanted to make people feel better about being in a trade,” Miedema said. “Not everyone needs to go to college, and for years, we’ve told our kids that you have to have a college degree to be a productive member of society. We wanted to help get rid of that condescending attitude.”
TSIC would not have been possible without the hard work of program administrator Les Wolf, who is dedicated to making sure that the students who sign up for the program complete it successfully, said Yohem.
The association launched the program with contributions from members and internal association funds, and estimates that it cost about $40,000 for the first year of students, he said. It’s free to students accepted into the program.
Members sponsor students by admitting them into a six-week training cycle for each trade, paying them minimum wage and covering their worker’s comp, Social Security and unemployment insurance, or a total of $7 per hour per employee. A plumbing company accepting two students for a six-week training cycle would pay a total of $3,360, Yohem said. The company gets a good look at the student while the student gets a better idea of what it would be like to work for the company.
The Institute of Construction has provided Shirley Howard with a year of on-the-job training and an introduction to all facets of home building, from framing and drywall to electric and plumbing. With her graduation last week, Howard is now ready to parlay that knowledge into a brand-new job.
Howard heard about TSIC from an Arizona Department of Economic Security caseworker after she moved to Tucson from Chicago and began searching for a secretarial or administrative job. The caseworker tried to convince two male job applicants to begin the training program, but they weren’t interested and Howard was.
“You’re always trying to find that niche,” she said. “I’ve always been sort of a tinkerer, I guess you could say, never really knowing what I was doing or if it was done correctly, and I found out I wasn’t. I started the classes and it was hard at first, and then I became acclimated to it and really it’s pulled me all the way in,” she said. “It was one year, but it was the fastest year I ever lived.”
Howard is ready to look for a job with her new skills, as well as the additional physical strength and coordination she gained as she became familiar with the job-site tools. “Being able to show that you can handle the tools they have given you — I admit I cried the first week, but being the person I am, I refused to be outdone by anyone. Les Wolf was in my corner, pushing me all the way — he showed me that if I wanted it bad enough I should step up and go for it. When I needed a kick in the pants, he’s the one who gave it to me. And in the end I made it, I did it, and now I want to continue it.”
Especially framing — “It was awesome,” Howard said.
Home builders associations in Texas and Florida have already expressed interest in starting similar programs, Yohem said.
To avoid excessive outside oversight, the program takes no training grant money but is self-funded by the association and participating trades. Each student takes eight six-week sessions, and the first class graduated 14. Participating companies agree not to hire any students until all eight sessions have been completed to make the applicant pool accessible to all and to ensure that students can make an informed decision when they are finished.
“The deal we make is simple,” Miedema said. “We’re going to teach you how to be successful in the work place. This is your starting point, and then you can decide.”
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.