If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine “innovation,” what would you picture? Maybe you’d see new technologies or streamlined processes. But does your vision of “innovation” include the hard-working laborers—and the vital jobs they fill— who populate our industry? It should, because without a solid job market and skilled workers, innovation simply isn’t possible.

Our company, among several others, has experienced a huge demand for jobs—a demand we cannot fill. Jobs are critical to pushing our region, our state and our nation forward. We are not only learning about the construction industry’s competitive benefits, but expanding our understanding of what makes Central Minnesota—and America at large—a competitive force in terms of opportunity. We do not only have jobs; we have important and impactful jobs.

Critical Middle Skills

I want to introduce you to a term: Critical Middle Skills. Critical Middle Skills address the competitiveness of the U.S. against other countries, and provide jobs to employees that create value. In a report entitled Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills, Burning Glass Technologies alongside Accenture and Harvard Business School expertly describe Critical Middle Skills jobs: 

“The first, essential step is to differentiate between the vast array of middle-skill jobs in order to concentrate on jobs with three important attributes: 

  • They create high value for U.S. business;
  • They provide not only decent wages initially, but also a pathway to increasing lifetime career value for many workers;
  • They are persistently hard-to-fill.

The analysis underscores the need for leaders from business, education, and the political sphere to act in concert to restore growth in America’s middle-skills ranks. 

  • Business leaders must champion an employer-led skills-development system, in which they bring the same type of rigor and discipline in sourcing middle- skills talent that they apply to their supply chains. This includes workforce planning to identify skills gaps, ongoing and preferred relationships with talent sources, especially community and technical colleges, and building robust internal training and internship/apprenticeship programs.
  • Educators from community and technical colleges must embrace their roles as employment partners helping their students realize their ambitions by being attentive to developments in the jobs market and employer needs.
  • Policymakers must actively foster collaboration between employers and educators, investing in improving publicly available information on the jobs market, revising metrics for educators and workforce development programs so that success is based on placing students and workers in meaningful employment, and championing the crucial role that middle-skills jobs play in a competitive U.S. economy.

American Environment 

This past year, I was elected to attend the Minnesota Young American Leaders Program (mYALP) at the University of Minnesota, which introduced this report. Below is a graph we discussed in detail: 

When we studied this graph, our focus was directed to the upper right corner and the lower left. The upper right shows our competencies—what would already be considered our strengths. The lower left quadrant illustrates our weaknesses, or “deteriorating” skills. For many, K-12 education and our political system are priorities. 

But it is important to also look at the other quadrants. The lower right quadrant shows our “strength, but deteriorating skill.” It pains me to see “Skilled Labor” nearly dead-center. Even more painful? Take a look at the upper left quadrant: “Weakness but Improving.” That’s right—there are no items in that quadrant. Ouch. 

So, what does this mean about America as a nation? Well, as far as the surveyed parties were concerned (and remember, this census was of highly educated people who are scholars of business and world industry,) things are a little bleak. While the U.S. may do some things well, these experts have grave concerns about the areas in which we’re simply standing still—or worse, backsliding. 

Local Work Economy

According to our Regional Profile conducted by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), here in Region 7W – Central, we had 9,760 job vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2018: the most ever. We averaged more than 7,000 vacancies over the past three (3) years, which is unprecedented. Not to mention the wage rates span a significant divide: from $10.43/Hour to $33.06/Hour, with a median hourly wage of $13.71/Hour. 

We have seen a substantial influx of work in our construction market. With a breadth of job openings, reinvestments into our educational systems, new businesses or business expansions and so on, our market is very healthy. As a snapshot, below is a graph showing the number of jobs in our region and the growth associated by business type: 

Construction has continually offered more opportunities and growth. In fact, it has the 3rd highest job growth position from 2017 to 2018 in our market. At our company, even our introductory roles pay more than the “Median Offer” of the available jobs. Our industry has added almost 3,000 jobs from 2013 and 2018—and demand still exists. 

What We Need

In short, BCI is in need of people who can get the job done. Too often we are turning away opportunities to complete work for clients due to the lack of labor. We have jobs available, but we need skilled people or versatile, quick learners to fill those roles. We need carpenters, drywall tapers and hangers, interior demolition tradesman, and similar skill sets. We are able to teach many of those skills, but that will take time. Ideal candidates will need to be willing to learn about their work environment, have a productive frame of mind, good work ethic, and be team-centric. With those skills, we are able to offer strong, Critical Middle Skill jobs. 

In the graph figure below, it shows occupations “In Demand.” Of the jobs in the “High School or Equivalent” column, Carpenter is the highest paid position. In fact, only five (5) positions in the following column “Some College or Associate Degree” are paying higher than Carpenter. 

Conclusion and “What Next?”

For me, this blog serves two goals: It illustrates to people outside of our industry that we have abundant, rewarding jobs, and it also gives insight into the struggle of filling those roles and connecting the right people with these incredible opportunities. The demand on our labor force is real, and we struggle day-to-day to have people available to help whenever necessary. 

This blog will also, I hope, speak directly to workers: We’re looking for you. BCI (and many of our competitors) are striving daily to attract you, train you, and place you in a position that will make you and our clients happy. Whether you’re unemployed or under-employed; making less than you’d like or less than you’re worth; already in the industry with our competitors or have the fortitude and willingness to try construction trade work for the first time. 

BCI has begun to work with St. Cloud Technical College, Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, Career Solutions, and others to find new opportunities. Our target will be towards recent graduates, technical school participants, and those unemployed and underemployed persons. We have high hopes for this project/program, and hope to expand it in the future. It won’t be easy, but the rewards are there for us to claim: Not only for BCI, but for our community. We are not alone in our need for good people—Central Minnesota and the country at large stand arm-in-arm with us as we push toward a better tomorrow. 

Sources: 

“Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills” by Jennifer Burrowes & Alexis Young (Accenture), Dan Restuccia (Burning Glass), and Joseph Fuller & Manjari Raman (Harvard Business School); https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/BRIDGE_THE_GAP_REBUILDING_AMERICAS_MIDDLE_SKILLS.pdf 

“2019 Regional Profile – Economic Development Region 7W: Central,” by Luke Greiner of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, September 20, 2019; https://mn.gov/deed/assets/rp_edr7w_2019_tcm1045-133247.pdf