A recent nationwide survey of contractors conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America revealed nearly 70 percent of them are having difficulty finding skilled craft workers. Nearly 75 percent of construction firms are concerned it will be difficult to find hourly craft workers over the next year. Inability to find skilled labor hurts bottom lines when companies can’t meet growing project demand.

It is unfortunate such a high percentage of contractors reported having trouble finding skilled labor when highly trained and skilled apprentices with on-the-job training graduate from accredited apprenticeship programs every day. Apprenticeship programs present an effective solution to the skilled labor shortage. Tapping into the existing high-caliber apprentice labor force is the best option for closing the gap.

According to the Department of Labor, after completing their programs, 87 percent of apprentices are employed with an average starting wage above $50,000. The return on investment for employers is impressive. Studies from around the globe suggest for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity, reduced waste and greater frontline innovation.

The Iron Workers (IW), sporting 157 training centers across the U.S. and Canada, recruit men and women to the industry and immerse them in a 3-4 year apprenticeship. The program is popular because it allows ironworkers to learn the ins and outs of the ironworking industry while having a well-paying job. It is comprised of approximately 600-800 hours of classroom study on topics ranging from welding, rigging and signaling to installation of the building envelope, erecting structural steel and placing reinforcing steel. Each apprentice also receives extensive foreman training and blueprint reading, among many other points of importance. In addition, the apprentice is paired with multiple employers over the course of the program, so he or she has the opportunity to learn every facet of the ironworking industry. It is the ultimate earn-while-you-learn training model.

The IW is one of 15 organizations with similar business models, numbers and networks of brick and mortar facilities peppered across North America. The IW training centers collectively spend $80 million-$ 90 million a year in training a skilled construction workforce and average nearly 50,000 applications every year for the apprenticeship program.

The IW Apprenticeship and Training Department developed the Ironworker Apprenticeship Certification Program (IACP), comprising of a comprehensive internal and external evaluation and 10 program standards to improve and standardize the quality of training offered at all local unions. It has also developed national training material on all aspects and competencies of the ironworking industry and established articulation agreements for college credit upon completion. The goal is to ensure graduates are competent ironworkers, fully capable of meeting the needs of employers and contractors.

The IW recognizes apprentices play an essential role in the growth and development of a safe and highly trained workforce. Earn-while-you-learn apprenticeship programs are the most immediate and feasible solution to the lingering skilled labor shortage.

For more information, visit www.ironworkers.org.

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