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One of the victims of the economic downturn in western Michigan was construction training. With no jobs in sight, community college programs all but fell apart. But now that contractors are getting busy again, there’s a renewed focus on attracting youth to the construction industry and providing training programs to get them job-ready.

In response, the ABC Western Michigan Chapter formed a task force last fall that put together a curriculum to be administered by Grand Rapids Community College's (GRCC) Tassel M-TEC. The program—called the Construction Core Certification (CCC)—combines the NCCER core curriculum with training requested by ABC members. For example, contractors expressed a desire for employees with OSHA 10, first-aid and CPR certifications, as well as a rough terrain forklift license and competence in scaffold erection.

With a solid implementation proposal from GRCC's Tassel M-TEC, ABC Western Michigan kicked off a CCC pilot program in January with 17 students meeting two nights a week for a total of 96 hours of training. When class wraps up in May, the participants will offer feedback so the program can be improved and then offered on an open enrollment basis in the fall. The goal is to reach both existing ABC member employees and others outside the construction industry who want to learn these skills.

“It seems to be the right program at the right time,” Brady says. “Two years ago it would have been a great idea, but it wouldn’t have been sustainable with the lack of jobs. Change in the economy is setting us up for success.”

State-level support is helping, too. ABC Western Michigan presented the curriculum to the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, which agreed to fund half the cost of the pilot program (per student).

“In the past, the state would identify a need to get people back to work and would set up programs with mixed results,” Brady says. “Today, the state wants to fund the programs that employers want.”

ABC member companies involved in the pilot program include Erhardt Construction, Pioneer Construction, Triangle Associates, Bouma Corporation, Kent Companies, Vos Glass, Elzinga & Volkers and Sobie Company.

In addition to the CCC, educational partner GRCC will offer modules in the fall for carpentry, concrete and steel erection. NCCER-certified instructors will lead the courses with support from ABC member company field professionals. Though this dual-teacher approach increases the cost to deliver the program, Brady believes it will improve the quality of education and the ability to recruit instructors.

“It’s a big responsibility to manage a class, with testing and administration, so it can be hard to get a qualified foreman or carpenter to want to do that,” he says. “Under this model, the NCCER instructor is already there to put the lesson plan together and lead the book work.Meanwhile, the field professional can offer insight on practical applications in the day-to-day world.”

Seeking to extend opportunities in the AEC industry to a younger generation of students, ABC Western Michigan teamed up with the Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids and the American Subcontractor Association of Michigan to form the Construction Workforce Development Alliance of West Michigan. Each alliance member is providing five scholarships (for a total of 15) to graduating high school seniors to do an accelerated three-week version of the CCC program at GRCC's Tassel M-TEC starting in June. Upon completion, scholarship students are guaranteed at least two interviews with alliance member companies.

Currently, the accelerated program costs $1,240 per student, half of which is covered by the Michigan Workforce Development Agency and the other half by ABC Western Michigan. As employers start to see the quality of workers emerging from the program, Brady hopes alliance member companies will step in to fund the remaining $620 per student.

“We’re trying to make a direct link between employers and people looking for work,” Brady says. “I have no doubt that if a young person came to a member company with all the CCC certifications, he or she would be a prized recruit and quickly hired.”

Joanna Masterson is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org, visit www.constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.

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