Training the150,000 to 200,000 new workers needed in the U.S. by 2014 has made workforce recruitment and development the single greatest challenge facing the construction industry, says Missouri contractor David Meyer.
“When you’re adding that many people to the workforce, that’s where we need to place our emphasis,” Meyer says. “And the demand (for workers) keeps increasing, so that estimate keeps increasing. The problem is not going to get solved anytime soon.”
He says Associated Builders and Contractors is putting a serious dent in the problem through its training programs and coalitions.
Meyer, founding partner of The Meyer Cos. of Lee’s Summit, Mo., was sworn in as ABC’s new chairman during the association’s national convention in Nashville on March 21-25. He talked with McGraw-Hill Construction during the convention.
Meyer says particular emphasis is being placed on training in the Gulf Coast region, with ABC and other construction and business groups seeking to train an additional 20,000 workers by 2009.
“We’re not quite halfway there,” he says. “We now have about 7,000 completely trained. At least three of our chapters – in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Mississippi – are not only training but also performing outreach to attract young people into the business.”
The Shaw Group of Baton Rouge was selected as ABC’s Contractor of the Year, in part because of its heavy involvement in training. The contractor has provided a full-time facilitator for matching ABC-trained craftspeople with contractors in need of workers.
Meyer says constructive immigration legislation is key to meeting the growing workforce needs.
“The Hispanic workforce is roughly one-third of the total workforce right now, and that number is higher is some regions,” he adds. “We want to see a comprehensive immigration reform package presented, one where we can both secure our borders and where there can be some form of earned legalization.
“All of our members are affected by this. A lot of states are trying to pass their own immigration policies, but we feel strongly that it should be done on the federal level.” One way the federal government can help is by “raising the threshold of worker visas made available to immigrants,” Meyer says.
Legislatively, Meyer says ABC’s greatest concern is the Employee Free Choice Bill, which he adds is “harmful” and actually “takes away an employee’s free choice” by not requiring a secret ballot election when voting on union initiatives. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the legislation on March 1, sending the bill to the Senate.
The Employee Free Choice Bill would enable workers to form unions when a majority of employees sign forms designating the union as their bargaining representative. This is permitted under current law, but only if the employer agrees, and the National Labor Relations Board must administer the election.
“They’re talking about allowing an employer or union member to walk up and say, ‘Here, vote for our side,” then watch whether or not you sign it,” Meyer says. “We feel that’s very unfair.
“The system is working as it is now,” he adds. “The new bill would be damaging not only to our industry but many others, so we’re part of a coalition of associations and groups in which our own Danielle Ringwood of governmental affairs staff is chairman.” Other notable members of the coalition include the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association.
Meyer says another other key initiative during his term will be to urge ABC members to include escalation clauses in contracts to protect themselves from rising material costs. “It’s stabilized a bit now, but when we sit down with a prospect there is still a definite sticker shock,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to educate our contractors to build these clauses into their contracts so that their price is contingent upon the cost of materials. If steel were to increase by 25 percent then their cost would be affected by whatever the escalation is.” Meyer says ABC was instrumental in getting the cement tariff in Mexico significantly reduced.
“During my tenure, I feel it’s my charge to keep our (ABC’s) momentum going,” Meyer says. “If you remember that flywheel concept in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great we’ve got to keep that momentum going in the right direction.
“And then it’s just one step at a time.”