How You Can Help Local Tech Colleges Meet The Demand for Skilled Workers

As a professional in the building industry, you can proactively get in front of the best worker prospects by establishing a constructive partnership with a local technical college like Bates Technical College.

How Bates Technical College prepares the next generation of skilled workers for the construction industry, and how you can help

Dan Smith was up to his knees in mud at a job site when a call came in from Bates Technical College offering him a teaching position in their carpentry program.

“I looked down and my water bottle was frozen so it was a no-brainer to accept the job.”

Since then, he’s headed up the department instructing students - from high school age up to retired vets - with ambitions to jump into the construction industry. His training program covers both technical as well as much needed soft skills required in the trade.

“Anyone can swing a hammer,” says Smith. “But we make sure our graduates come out of here with a solid work ethic, respecting the importance of showing up on time, following processes, taking responsibility and communicating well with their managers, inspectors or even customers. And we also coach about understanding safety procedures. I want them to leave in the same shape as they came in, only smarter.”

Students receive real-world training on the job sites

As the Principal of a Tacoma marketing firm that serves the construction sector, I regularly talk with leaders in the building industry to gain their insights. The number one thing that keeps them up at night is access to quality workers to get their projects done. From laborers to skilled craftspeople, project managers or superintendents, the pickings are scarce, exasperated by the recent pandemic.

And although blue collar careers are beginning to become more seriously promoted in schools, the data is still pretty alarming. According to a latest report by Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., one in five construction workers will retire within the next decade requiring up to a stunning 650,000 skilled recruits to take their place, just in 2023 alone. 

“[The] workforce shortage analysis sends a message loud and clear: The construction industry desperately needs qualified, skilled craft professionals to build America,” said Michael Bellaman, ABC president and CEO. “Now is the time to consider a career in the construction industry.”

Whether you’ve recently reduced your headcount or are on the upward trend and scrambling to fill positions, finding quality talent is always at the back of your mind. But rather than being forced to accept the first applicants off a Craigslist ad in a panic, you can proactively get in front of the best prospects by establishing a constructive partnership with a local technical college like Bates.

Advisory Committees are mutually beneficial

Bates Technical College and other educational institutions appoint advisory committees for career and technical education programs to help prepare students to enter and succeed in the workforce. They are always on the lookout for professionals in the construction, electrical, carpentry, welding or other building industries to help them improve their programs and curriculums.

“I really need to hear from expert leaders in the industry,” says Brian Umpstead, instructor for the cabinetry program. “I’ve been out of the trade for so long I need committee members to be my window to the latest trends and insights, and I depend on them to update me on regional vendor information.”

Committees are goal-oriented and achieve results. They promote constructive and necessary change within a program, generate new ideas and serve as advocates for quality career and technical education. They also allow you to support state and federal legislation impacting career and technical education.

Participating in a committee is a rewarding experience. Typical commitments are no more than twice or three times a year and they give you a chance to collaborate with your peers in the trade. It allows you to help develop student performance standards and measures as well as recommend new technologies to include in the programs. But most importantly you can be first in line to provide job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships and ultimately work opportunities for top prospects. 

Dave Leenhouts, electrical construction instructor, believes in applying real-world experience by taking his students out to a job site building Habitat For Humanity zero property line homes. He invites committee members to visit and provide his group guidance as they pursue their level 01 certifications while powering up the new homes.

“Our crew is learning the fundamental knowledge of components and conduits that easily translates to all areas of electrical construction," says Dave. “They are prime and excited to continue training under professionals in the region.”

Instructing the next generation of welding professionals

The Bates construction programs are increasing in numbers all the time. Liberty, Bates’ welding instructor reports a spike in interest after the first lady recently visited the campus and chose to spotlight their program.

“Our phone was ringing off the hook with inquiries from people at all stages of their careers,” Liberty says. “Getting accredited with the American Welding Association is difficult and since they mentioned we are one of only three places in the state to get structurally certified we are suddenly scrambling to keep up with demand.”

Another way to generate awareness for your business is offering field trips to your business or sponsoring or donating equipment like tools or vehicles to a program.

“Our current work truck looks like it is 100 years old,” sighs Smith. “It would be nice to have something newer that projects a little more success.”

Being an advisory committee member has many benefits, but most importantly it gives you the opportunity to give back to your business community in a purposeful and productive way. You can gain the satisfaction of contributing directly to the development of talented young people with employable skills you need, as well as a desire to work. 

To inquire about joining a Bates Technical College construction program advisory committee, connect with their inquiry department at 253-680-7000, or you can attend an information session either in person or via zoom (link to more info here). 

If you are interested in advisory committees, hiring or donations, you can directly contact the faculty members below:

Dan Smith
Carpentry Instructor

Brian Umpstead
Architectural Woodwork/Cabinet Making Technology

Liberty Olson
Welding instructor

Dave Leenhouts
Electrical Construction instructor

Yifan Sun
Dean of Instruction

Written by Rusty George with zero assistance from AI chatbots

Rusty George leads a marketing agency serving Seattle and Tacoma area construction companies, subcontractors, engineering and architecture firms, material fabricators and suppliers.

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