The good news is that the construction industry is booming. The bad news? It's facing a problem: a labor shortage.
With a low unemployment rate that reflects national numbers, the Kansas City area is experiencing this crunch acutely.
“We have an industry-wide shortage and decided to come together for an industry-wide solution,” said Michele Roberts-Bauer, president of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of Kansas City.
Last summer, in a proactive response to problem, ABC and several other area construction organizations launched Construct KC.
In the program, students from the Johnson County Department of Corrections complete a 12-week hands-on carpentry curriculum to prepare them for employment in a variety of construction trades.
Four key partners play a role in the program’s operations: The Kansas City Home Builders Association, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of Kansas City, Kansas Workforce Partnership and the Johnson County Department of Corrections.
“ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) provides all the training,” said Roberts-Bauer, ABC president. “KCHBA and ABC participate in hiring opportunities for the students.
"Workforce Partnership has brought all of the parts and pieces together, and recently acquired a $200,000 grant for the program.”
Courtney Reyes, with the home builder's association, said Sloane Gage with Workforce Partnership approached the group with an idea for a grant.
“They’d had similar programs, just not in the construction industry. We did a membership survey and got feedback from the industry about employment needs. Sloane and Workforce Partnership created a program for us based on that feedback.”
Construct KC’s program consists of six weeks of hands-on, in-class training and six on the job. Employers are reimbursed for 50 percent of the costs for the weeks of on-the-job training.
The curriculum includes the first year of carpentry training and 10 hours of OSHA training. Other skills classes focus on resume building, interview skills, teamwork and communication. Students are also given a pair of boots and a basic set of tools.
During the fourth week of the program, partners host a hiring event where students can start to connect with potential employers.
Reyes noted that Workforce Partnership provides resources for both students and employers, and the program has built in a number of safeguards to take the risk off employers.
Construct KC’s contributions and benefits extend beyond developing a skilled labor pool to meet local construction needs.
“It feels like magic to bring individuals who have these challenges to our thriving industry,” Roberts-Bauer said.
“We’re giving them tools for the first day on the job. From there, they can go anywhere. I watch their confidence build, as they go through this process. You can physically see their strength level change as they see a pathway forward.”
“We serve our members by finding skilled employees for them, we give back to the community and we’re giving people a second chance,” she said.
David Elliott, owner and president of Construction and Planning Services Inc., gives that opportunity for a fresh start to Construct KC’s graduates.
“They want to make a difference in their lives and become productive citizens," Elliott said. "Working for me gives them a chance to get back on their feet. I tell them, ‘You can’t do anything about your past. Just have the determination to get above it.'”
Elliott’s interest in second chances is personal.
“I have something in common with these cohort members,” he said. “I was an IV drug user on the streets when I was younger. It’s hard to think I was that low. But, someone gave me an opportunity to work in an oil field when I was down and it changed my life.”
“I’m here for reason and I have a successful business now. When I asked myself how I to give back, the answer was, ‘Turn around and give someone else a hand up.’ ”
Keegan Lenkey-Neville, a framer, now works for Elliott.
“This opportunity means a lot,” said the Construct KC graduate. “It allows me build my life on something solid. It gives me a future and it gives me confidence. I go to work and if I don’t know it, I’m going to learn it. No one can take this away from me. It’s mine.”