If You Build It, They Will Come

December 15, 2017

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character hears a voice repeating this phrase which leads him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield.  Earlier this year, Chris Engel talked about how much new construction is occurring around the city and the number of cranes on construction sites as an indication that work has begun.  But with all of this building that is occurring in and around Charlottesville, will they come?  If “they” are contractors, foremen, supervisors, and laborers then the answer is a resounding yes.

I work in the City’s Downtown Job Center and help people find jobs.  Local workers become excited at the announcement of new construction or of redevelopment projects; projects that will be built in our town or sometimes even in our neighborhood.  Demolition of an old structure or the excavation of a building site signals the start of the new project and before you know it construction trailers are brought in that will house offices.  Those offices are occupied by the very people who will make hiring decisions. But what happens when local workers try to get hired?  Does the construction of these new hotels, retail spaces, and residential structures really mean job opportunities for locals?  The answer is yes, but no one knows for sure what percentage of a company’s workforce is hired locally.  Most sources agree that the majority of workers are existing employees brought in from out of town or even out of state since many construction contracts are awarded to companies that are not based in Charlottesville or sometimes even in Virginia.  Local hires vary from company to company and even job site to job site depending on the availability of local skilled workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected a 13% growth in the construction sector between 2014 and 2024 – significantly higher than the average 7% growth rate in other industries.  With the increased growth in construction comes increased demand for skilled workers in an industry that is already experiencing a shortage of “job ready” employees.  Some have attributed this shortage of skilled workers to the 2007 housing market crash which caused many skilled workers to leave the industry in search of other employment.  When the housing market started improving some skilled workers came back, but not enough to replace those that left and the new workers being hired do not necessarily have the skills, abilities, and experience necessary to replace those who left.

Another contributing factor to the shortage of skilled workers is the fact that school students have been told by their parents, grandparents, teachers, and school counselors that a four year degree is the key to success which has led to less interest in the trades.  As fewer students are graduating from trade schools, and as more and more trades’ workers are retiring, the shortage of skilled workers is growing larger every day.

While it’s true that some local workers get hired by these outside companies to work on projects around Charlottesville, it’s also true that there is a shortage of skilled workers locally.  In Chris’s blog post mentioned earlier, he predicts that the crane count in Charlottesville will continue to grow and I think he’s right.  This means that the need for skilled workers will continue to grow locally.  To help with the demand for skilled workers, our office in partnership with CATEC, has developed a six week training program, Growing Opportunities (GO) Skilled Trades Academy that will provide participants with an introduction to and overview of four key elements of the trades:  carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.  We are accepting applications through December 22nd and the program will begin in late January.  To learn more about the program, please visit www.charlottesville.org/jobcenter

Cory Demchak, Job Center Manager

OED Updates:

  • The newly established Parking Advisory Panel held its initial meeting on Dec. 7th.
  • The first GO GED Pathways program will graduate five graduates on Tuesday, December 19th at 9am at CitySpace.
  • The first GO Skilled Trades Academy is set to start on January 26th. Interested employer partners and program participants should contact Cory Demchak at 970-3933.
  • The first GO GED Fast Track program will start on February 6th and last for 14 weeks. Recruitment will begin the week of December 18th.

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