In 2012, as a response to the growing shortage of craft professionals within the state, Associated Builders & Contractors Greater Michigan Chapter (ABC/GMC) developed a chapter culture described as “grow our own.” The chapter goal of recruiting and training new craft professionals at the secondary level motivated ABC/GMC to develop partnerships with educators throughout the state. “What people don’t understand is that workforce development is the new politics,” says ABC/GMC President/CEO Jimmy Greene. “The sooner folks understand that the two are the same, the smarter and more forward thinking they’ll be.”
Since then, the chapter has partnered with 12 school districts around their state, with additional district partnerships in the works for the 2016-2017 academic year. This industry–education partnership, dubbed the Greater Michigan Construction Academy (GMCA) encompasses 22 current training locations throughout Michigan.
The first obstacle for ABC/GMC was knowing whom to contact within the school district. Greene wanted to lay groundwork with someone who had the ability to enact change. By contacting a local superintendent, he was able to build a personal relationship on the basis of mutual respect, understanding and shared goals. It was also important not to place the industry side of the equation at odds with higher education and to simply focus on training and recruiting the students that were not going to college.
Parental and public perception was another hurdle for program recruitment. Greene said, “We had to combat the attitude that kids who want to go into the skilled craft professions are failures.” ABC/GMC invited parents to attend site tours with their children, talked with them about career opportunities, taught them more about the skilled craft professions and organized father/son and mother/daughter themed events to dispel their misconceptions. To improve public perception of skilled craft professions in Michigan, ABC/GMC developed a marketing campaign called “They Stayed… and Built the Region!” The campaign showcased projects constructed by local contractors and built a sense of local pride.
Another important factor in program accessibility was bringing training to inner city schools. With chapters nationwide striving to achieve more diversity in their workforce, it made sense to start programs in areas that previously had none, encouraging women and minorities to get their start in the skilled craft professions. By taking NCCER training into these areas, ABC/GMC ensured that qualified workers would be available across the region and not just in the counties immediately surrounding their chapter.
Along with program enrollment, student retention rate was the most important metric used for determining success. Greene said, “Because we start with juniors, the real metric for us is how many come back as seniors. Our retention rate is 100 percent. We haven’t lost a kid yet.” Another key metric for success was the placement rate for students who completed the programs. Currently, 80 percent of students who graduate from ABC/GMC’s partner high schools are placed back into ABC/GMC’s nighttime training program to complete their apprenticeships.
The program is a tremendous resource for ABC/GMC members, who target high-performing students as new recruits before graduation. “Last year we graduated 12 students and all 12 had job offers before they graduated,” says Greene. Additionally, new students have been inspired to enroll in the training programs after hearing graduating students’ success stories. One benefit to association members is that many schools are receiving funding for NCCER training for students, so contractors who hire a program graduate will only need to pay for two more years of training to complete their apprenticeship.