More companies are embracing the notion that on-the-job training is good business. Under that banner, members of the central Arkansas construction community are banding together to fill employment gaps in their ranks.
“We see a trend where we’re losing skilled labor,” said Scott Belt, superintendent with Little Rock’s CDI Contractors LLC. “Experienced workers are aging out, and it’s harder to get younger people to take a look at construction.”
The general contracting firm is helping coordinate a construction training program with subcontractors through Pulaski Technical College. Meredith Williams, an intern with CDI, is helping develop the program.
“The construction trade is struggling to find people,” said Williams, who is pursuing a double major in construction management and architectural engineering at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
“This is an opportunity to restructure what people think about construction. It’s skilled labor for people who don’t want to be in an office and want to do something with their hands.”
This year marks the second run for the construction trade program at Pulaski Technical College, also known by its abbreviated name: CTP@PTC. Ramped-up marketing efforts through social media have drawn 90 applications to participate in the free program.
The program, housed at Pulaski Tech’s Business & Industry Center at 3303 E. Roosevelt Road in Little Rock, yielded jobs for nearly everyone in last year’s debut. Average age of the 17 participants: 30.
One was unable to overcome a scheduling problem to allow her to work a 7 a.m.-3 p.m. job. “She would’ve gotten an offer, but she couldn’t work out morning day care for her children,” Belt said.
Luis Arroyo landed a job with Little Rock’s Platinum Drywall after completing last year’s construction trade program.
On one recent day, he was installing doors at the Robinson Center.
“It’s a good job,” the 22-year-old carpenter said. “You get to learn a lot of things.”
Arroyo discovered the construction training program through Facebook. He described the online posting as an opportunity to connect with prospective employers and build on his basic construction skills.
“I’ve always liked working with drills and putting things together,” said Arroyo, who has called Bryant home since his family moved from Mexico 10 years ago.
Willing to Learn
The 16-week program is split into two phases with Monday and Wednesday meetings 6-9 p.m. In this go-around, training classes begin Oct. 24 and run through Dec. 14. Phase two classes meet Jan. 4-March 6.
The first eight-week session is akin to a Construction 101 class.
Instructors provide an overview of construction while delving into topics such as basic math, communication skills, construction terminology, how to read plans, how to look at a specifications book, resume writing and safety training.
At the end of this first phase participants can emerge with a new line item for their construction resume: Safety certification through course work set to Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards.
The initial phase classes also serve as a testing ground to measure how dependable and motivated a student might be.
“Are they committed?” Belt said. “Are they willing to put in the time and be engaged? If we have that, we’re ahead of the curve.
“We understand things come up, and they might not make every class. But did they call or just not show? That says something about how responsible they are.”
Phase two is essentially a career fair with a new company making a presentation each week, with a hands-on demonstration of what they do.
Eight central Arkansas companies participating in this upcoming program are Harness Roofing of Little Rock, Middleton Heat & Air of Bryant, Sherman Waterproofing of Conway, Ace Glass Construction in Little Rock, HDMS architects and interior designers of North Little Rock, Action Mechanical Contractors of North Little Rock, Arnold & Blevins Electric Co. of North Little Rock and Arkansas Automatic Sprinklers/United Fire Suppression of Cabot.
“As a general contractor, we want to have strong subcontractors and help make them successful,” Belt said.
Both he and Williams are pleased with the one-year jump in numbers and the quality of the applicants. But they want to see the program grow even more.
“My main concern is ‘This is great, but let’s blow it up to this size,’” she said. “I’d like to see four classrooms of 35 with 20 to 25 subcontractors.”