TOPEKA, Kansas — A national construction trade group unveiled a new national plan Thursday to address looming workforce shortages as firms add jobs after a lengthy downturn.
The Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors of America released the plan during a visit to the Washburn Institute of Technology in Topeka.
The site was chosen because Kansas has a state-funded program that offers high school juniors and seniors free, college-credit technical training in high-demand fields. Enacted by the Legislature in 2012 and championed by Gov. Sam Brownback as a strategy for building a better-trained, better-paid workforce, the program attracted more than 6,000 students to classes at community and technical colleges statewide in its first year. Enrollment is expected to rise 50 percent by the end of the current academic year.
"We liked what Kansas had done and wanted to nudge other states to do the same thing," said association spokesman Brian Turmail.
Association officials said in a news release that the plan, called "Preparing the Next Generation of Skilled Construction Workers: A Workforce Development Plan for the 21st Century," is coming at a time when nearly two-thirds of construction firms report having a hard time finding qualified workers.
The plan urges significant reforms and spending increases for federal career and technical education programs, along with measures to make it easier for firms and local associations to train new workers. The association also is pushing for measures to make it easier to establish new charter schools and career academies focused on skills-based training.
Comprehensive immigration reform is another key element of the plan. The association said changes are needed that allow for construction workers to enter the country, especially where worker shortages are so significant they threaten to undermine the recovery.