Featured photo: Electrical apprentice David Ellebrecht works on a job site. (Photo by Rich Keen, Marketing and Communications Dept.)
By Shanda Bedoian, Director of Corporate & Customized Training
Over the past few years, we have all seen the impacts of labor markets that do not have enough workers. The construction, installation and repair industry is no exception, with unemployment rates at historic lows and the talent pool for these jobs dwindling at a rapid pace. People in these jobs provide core and vital services in our everyday lives. We immediately feel it when there is a shortage of plumbers, electricians, HVAC technicians, and repair personnel. This labor shortage is not something that will self-correct itself over time. If anything, the situation will only worsen if we do not have trained professionals to replace aging or retiring workers. The construction industry is competing with other industries for employees, while working under the growing pressure to keep their projects on time and within budget.
In the State of Our Workforce 2022 report, construction and skilled trades employers in Western North Carolina anticipate hiring between 780 and 1,600 new employees in the next three years. Those respondents also estimated that 78% of those new employees would come from current residents of Western North Carolina. To address this unprecedented workforce shortage, Blue Ridge Community College is expanding its short-term course offerings, adding highly sought-after apprenticeship programs, equipping modern learning labs with state-of-the-art equipment and ramping up its recruiting efforts to attract students of all ages to these highly lucrative careers. By taking a multifaceted approach, we have been able to develop creative strategies to fill this labor gap and introduce these in-demand jobs to potential employees.
Our partnerships with local employers are a key driver in our ability to offer solutions quickly to address the shortage of construction trades workers. For example, Blue Ridge sponsors registered apprenticeship programs in construction, electrical, heating & air conditioning (HVAC) and plumbing. With each of these programs, employers are working alongside us in providing a structured career path. We have a competitive selection process to become an apprentice, and the benefits are numerous. Apprentices earn an income while getting an education and on-the-job training. Our apprenticeship programs follow federal and state occupational guidelines for the number of courses and on-the-job training hours.
In 2021, a $300,000 allocation from the North Carolina General Assembly enabled Blue Ridge Community College to expand its apprenticeship offerings. Employers have also stepped up with financial support for equipment and student scholarships, as well as expert consultation for creation of state-of-the-art learning spaces on our campus for their potential employees.
In addition to our apprenticeship programs, Blue Ridge offers electrical, HVAC and plumbing classes on a regular schedule. In some cases, students can complete this training in one semester or less, which is a win-win for the student and their future employer. These courses are offered in varying formats, including days, evenings and weekends.
While awareness of construction trade careers has definitely grown over the past few years, most high school students still plan to go the four-year degree route, which means they will not pursue these careers that desperately need workers. The College and businesses that rely on trained construction trades workers are working jointly with Henderson County Public Schools and Transylvania County Schools to introduce these pathways to high schoolers as solid career choices. We hope that local employers can attract this future talent if we can communicate with them as early as possible about the benefits of choosing this pathway, such as competitive pay rates, paid training through apprenticeship enrollment and getting to work quickly after high school through short-term training. These efforts are giving these careers more visibility and credibility with high schoolers and, in turn, teachers and parents.
For learners of all types – high schoolers, adult learners, career-changers and more – Blue Ridge offers scholarships to support students interested in the construction trades to cover tuition, supplies, materials and fees for those who do not have costs covered by the apprenticeship program or a sponsoring employer.
For more information about construction careers offered at Blue Ridge Community College, please visit our website at blueridge.edu/construction-trades, or call the College at 828-694-1735.