Birmingham program works to close major labor gap in construction industry

Updated: Sep. 4, 2017 at 6:46 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - When Aidan Otero's counselor approached him about learning a trade, he jumped at the chance, finding a particular interest.

"I felt like welding would be more different, something new, something I could learn easy," Otero recalls.

Welding is one of several specialized skills lacking into today's labor force.

In a recent survey of more than 1,600 in the construction industry, 70 percent said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions.

"The biggest obstacle to grow is lack of manpower. Lack of help," says Allen Harris of Bailey-Harris Construction.

He sees the challenge firsthand, especially now that the U.S. economy is rebounding.

"We're having to compete for them. I'm a general contractor and we're having to compete with other general contractors for workers," said Harris.

There's several theories as to why there's a drought in this area.

One of the biggest thoughts is that for years, the focus in American schools has been on preparing students for college with very little focus on trades education. But that's not the case at the Academy of Craft Training (ACT).

"The schools not only come here to get a skill in one of our five trades, HVAC, masonry, welding, building construction and electrical, but they can get credits as well," explains program director Linda Poindexter.

The classes are offered at the Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham.

Now in its second year, it offers classes to nearly 160 students at 24 different schools from across Jefferson and St. Clair counties.

"It is hands-on and that's why the students really like it," Poindexter says. "Our instructors are from industry and we partner with the Association of Builders and contractors and they tell us what industry is looking for."

Poindexter says the stigma that used to come with construction and other trades is long gone.

Students in the ACT program can come out making as much as $15 an hour, they won't have student loans, and the opportunities for jobs are not only present, but endless.

"The opportunity is there," says Otero, fully realizing that he's setting himself up for a successful future. "The trade industry - I know that not that many people will go into it and this is an opportunity I can get easily so that's why I chose it."

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