Case Study - Inland Northwest Construction Industry Skill Panel

The Inland Northwest Construction Industry Skill Panel

The Problem: The Inland Northwest covers 36,500 square miles across 23 counties in three states, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Its population is approximately 1 million. Across this vast area, five vital industry clusters drive the regional economy: manufacturing (including advanced manufacturing and Aerospace); healthcare; construction; transportation and logistics; and business and professional services. While growth has significantly slowed in the construction industry during the recession, it is still projected to grow by 20% over the next 20 years. In the Inland Northwest, jobs in the construction industry are good jobs, with journey workers averaging over $24/hour. But in the next decade, half the current skilled workforce will retire, leaving millions of jobs vacant. The pipeline is in crisis.

The Solution: The Construction Industry Skill Panel works directly with regional employers and contractors in the industry to identify common workforce pipeline challenges and to jointly implement solutions. For four years, employers have driven efforts to aggressively reach out to young people (particularly young women and minorities) to help them understand the career potential in the skilled trade industry and the pathways to get good jobs. The efforts are working. Thousands of middle and high school students are involved; employers stay engaged; and the industry now has more journey-level workers contributing to the local economy.

What is the Construction Industry Skill Panel?

It’s a community partnership of construction businesses, the career and technical education system, apprenticeship programs, the community college system and the local workforce board. Representatives of businesses and union and non-union apprenticeship programs work side by side to determine skill gaps and craft solutions. The partnership is convened by the Spokane Area Workforce Development Council.

Solutions developed by the Skill Panel include:

  • The development of a Pre-Apprenticeship Program with a clearly articulated pathway that prepares students for entry into skilled trade apprenticeships. It includes career exploration, academic achievement awards and direct entry opportunities. It would not have been possible without formal agreements with area school districts;
  • Marketable Skills and Credentials include training in Continuous Improvement Processes 5S, Lean and Kaizan to better equip students with skills that have value in the local labor market, no matter what career path they decide to pursue
  • Leadership: Building Trades Apprenticeship Committee Develop a team of young apprentices to encourage participation from youth ages 18-25 in the trades, serve as peer models at career events, and present to various organizations on the impact of leadership development for the incoming workforce.
  • Materials, videos and a website that help students, teachers and parents understand the opportunities in the skilled trades;
  • Pizza, Pop and Power Tools: An annual two-day interactive event for middle school girls that gives them hands on experience and exposure to the opportunities in the skilled trades. Over 1,000 girls have participated so far.
  • Construction Career Day: Imagine high school students operating heavy machinery and participating in hands-on learning activities related to the skilled trades! Over 2000 high school students have participated in this event so far.
  • A Construction Trades Navigator (a funded position) that assists students to navigate career and educational opportunities; provides guidance and information to one-stop center customers and staff

Does it work?

The Construction Skill Panel is in its fourth year of operation. Its programs continue to grow, and employers continue to support the activities with in-kind and direct financial contributions. Thousands of young people have been exposed to the value of the skilled trades, and students have entered the skilled trade industry, including reaching journeyman level status. The Skill Panel has leveraged funding from private companies, grants, and workforce program funds.

What makes it work?

  • It is industry-driven. The Skill Panel’s success relies on the ability of the convener, the SAWDC, to listen to multiple employers across the industry in the region in order to uncover the common and persistent challenges to their success. Local employers offer their time, facilities and equipment, and financial support because they realize greater efficiencies working together than independently, and because they are able to proactively address future workforce gaps.
  • It is convened and coordinated by the local WIB. The SAWDC plays a role at both the level of strategic planning for comprehensive workforce and economic development and at the operational level to design and deliver services which assist businesses, job seekers, and students. The WIB works closely with partners, contributes staff and training resources and leverages the one-stop career services system to engage businesses and students in the pursuit of careers in the skilled trades. Critical to the Skill Panel’s success is the ability of the SAWDC to maintain open communication, effective information sharing and acknowledgement of partner contributions.
  • It is locally based. The Skill Panel covers a huge geographic area, sometimes making it challenging for students, schools, and employers to participate. But the Skill Panel offers a vehicle for integration of P-20 institutions, including workforce development, with local economic growth.

For more information, contact:
Mark Mattke
Workforce Strategy and Planning Director
Spokane Area Workforce Development Council
O: (509) 625-6214

Compiled by the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce for NAWB, March 2010