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Opinion: Ready to bear fruit of talent pipeline initiatives

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Workforce development. How many times have you heard those words together in the past decade? This has been a hot-button topic for many years and we have seen major initiatives, roundtable discussions and task forces try to come up with ways to attract people to needed fields, such as health care, manufacturing and construction. The workforce crisis has significantly increased construction costs and construction schedules.

In a year of uncertainty, essential careers are getting noticed. Health care, information technology, manufacturing and construction all are receiving recognition for efforts to maintain a healthy community and economy. The importance of infrastructure also has been a hot topic throughout the state as community leaders struggle to find funding to continue to maintain roads and bridges. Funding shortages coupled with manpower shortages will become more apparent in the quality of our infrastructure, if we do not act now.

Attracting youth to the trades became increasingly difficult as many vocational-technical programs were scaled down or shut down completely in the past decade. Although there’s been a resurgence of programs, it is still challenging for a student to learn about opportunities and the benefits of being in the industry when they are not actively pursuing information.

As chair of the Workforce Development Committee for the Springfield Contractors Association, our team is working to specifically target youth for construction- related jobs. If you Google “youth in construction,” you will find initiatives ongoing throughout the country and beyond.

Industry discussions with area high school counselors the past two years have given insight that there is an interest with students. But students need direction on career pathways, opportunities for advancement, benefits and the availability of careers in the trades. Students struggling with subjects like math and science often can thrive once they are able to recognize real-world applications, including hands-on projects. Fractions and ratios are no longer numbers in a book. They become the correct size of a steel pipe, the length of a piece of wood for building a deck and the slope of a concrete slab used to build a manufacturing warehouse. Subjects like science that study different layers of soil become geotechnical engineering opportunities, and even excavating provides examples of areas around Springfield with limestone and rock.

Locally, the Build My Future event has increased participation from its first year in 2017 with 970 students registered to a record number in 2020 of 3,449 students registered. Unfortunately, this year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Build My Future has been a great program for high school students to get a taste of the construction and design industry, but a one-day event can only skim the surface. For other opportunities, students interested in engineering can learn more by joining the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies engineering strand. Springfield Public Schools students can join the ACE Mentor Program to learn more about architecture, construction and engineering. And Glendale High School students can join the construction-related academy program as the academies grow.

Even with these programs growing and building momentum, there is still a gap for the trades – specifically, for students not headed to college. Build U is a four-day construction program designed to dig deeper into the trades for these targeted students. The program gives students the opportunity to see the trades in action on job sites, while also participating in learning labs off-site to fully understand the varied scopes of work in the trades. Touring multiple job sites will give students a look at the trades from the ground up and how each trade works together. Providing safe, hands-on learning labs with local businesses and unions will give students the opportunity to experience trades they see while on tours and also build relationships with local companies.

2020 has been the year of canceled events due to COVID-19. Businesses and schools have felt the void of connecting students with employers, so relationships are more important than ever. We hope for a resurgence of activity in 2021, and that the fruits of everyone’s efforts start seeing real results.

Dianna Devore is the owner of Design Fabrication Inc. and is a member of the Springfield Contractors Association Board of Directors. She also chairs its Workforce Development Committee. She can be reached at dianna@designfab.net.

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