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As a result of long production times, supply chain challenges and soaring materials costs, the construction industry is being met with challenges to keep projects on schedule and on budget. Compounded by a national labor shortage due to workers leaving the industry during the pandemic, construction companies are being forced to come up with unique ways to address the tight labor market.

Firms like Skanska have created training and mentorship programs that support maintaining a strong labor pool, which is particularly important in Florida where construction activity continues to rebound and the need for workers intensifies.

In 2017, Bob Kramer of Skanska USA, who served as the project executive on the Lee Health Gulf Coast Medical Center expansion and renovations project, and Mike Love of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center started a construction training and mentorship program in Fort Myers to help fill the need for additional labor in the region, which has been proven successful over the past four years. To help fill jobs on the massive hospital project, Bob worked with Mike and various subcontractors to develop the “Preconstruction Readiness Program,” which sought to teach members of the community some of the necessary skills and abilities to be able to work on construction projects safely and effectively. The free program consisted of two to three classes a week over a two-month period that taught participants key building skills and construction safety to help prepare them to seek entry-level jobs in construction. Participants were invited to attend evening classes teaching safety, the use of hand tools and power tools, roofing and educating them on the various trades in construction. As a direct result of this program, Skanska has been able to expand its labor pool and contract workers that went through the training program to support on construction projects in Lee County.

What started as an effort to help locals in one community earn jobs in the active construction industry has since expanded into a partnership with the Lee County School District, which has adopted the eight-week program in support of skilled labor. Dubbed the “Train to Gain” program, graduating high school seniors who will not be going to college are invited to join the program and pursue opportunities in the construction trade. The program teaches basic safety skills, including how to understand blueprints and use power and hand tools, and takes students on tours to projects under construction and a local hardware store, providing hands-on experience and an inside look into the construction industry and construction materials. Participants are also able to more easily find out what kinds of industry jobs are available after graduating from high school. For instance, at the graduation ceremony, students were able to meet with local trade partners that were brought in and not only learn about what positions were available, but also land potential job offers. The first eight high school students have already graduated from this spin-off program.

Within the past few months, Skanska also created a new mentorship program in collaboration with the University of South Florida, which aims to assist small and diverse businesses in the Tampa Bay region. This program provides subcontractors with training, development and partnership opportunities to help companies in the region grow and become more successful with competitive bidding processes. Participants in the program receive guidance on a variety of subjects, such as environmental health and safety, field management, as well as marketing and business development, to learn how to become more successful in the construction industry.

As construction activity throughout the country, and especially in Florida continues to boom, the need for a larger labor pool is becoming greatly exacerbated. Programs like “Train to Gain” and the “Preconstruction Readiness Program” provide opportunities for individuals to explore the industry and learn what kind of benefits and future employment opportunities exist in construction. These programs facilitate gaining access to information about the industry, building the necessary skills and level of confidence, learning about career options and establishing a network to position candidates to land a job in the industry. Training and mentorship programs are imperative to attract and retain talent in construction. Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of all companies engaged to support this common goal and take an active role in order to better position the industry for long-term growth and success.

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