Los Angeles Urban League’s Construction Career Academy (CCA) held its first class of the new year this past week with a full house of diverse men and women of all ages looking to get into a construction trade. CCA and many other workforce development programs are trying to fill employment gaps as labor shortages continue to plague the construction industry.
According to a new report released by the Southern California Partnership for Jobs, the Los Angeles County construction sector is expected to add more jobs and higher salaries. The report forecasted a 6% growth in LA County adding about 9,500 jobs for 2020. In addition, average construction wages are projected to grow 0.7% to $68,024, annually.
With projects ranging from sports venues, housing, and hotels to transportation and infrastructure, there is a growing need for skilled construction workers in Los Angeles. However, contractors cannot find enough workers to meet the demand.
When the recession hit in 2007, construction companies shed about 600,000 jobs. A decade later, the industry has bounced back, along with the jobs, but there’s not enough people to fill the positions. Last year, Associated General Contractors of America estimated that 80% of construction companies can’t find the workers they need.
Several factors can be seen contributing to the labor shortage: During the recession, skilled workers had to find jobs outside the industry or left the workforce entirely; Baby Boomers are starting to retire in record numbers; Millennials are entering the market, but many lack experience or interest in a construction trade; and immigrants can fill the employment gaps, but there can be language and legal barriers in the hiring process.
“There are tons of opportunities available in construction – and lucrative opportunities,” said Jamecca Marshall, Programs Director for Los Angeles Urban League. “We work in communities that are untapped and underutilized in terms of talent, drive and willingness to work. Making connections between our communities and these construction opportunities is why we created our Construction Career Academy.”
CCA is an apprenticeship readiness program that prepares candidates to take and pass a union trade entry exam. The program is 10-weeks and includes 80-hours of instruction. Students not only learn about different pathways into construction, but also how to thrive in their new construction career. Topics of instruction include construction math, interview techniques and workplace retention skills.
A recent graduate of Construction Career Academy, James Green, found CCA through a local job fair, and is now a carpenter’s apprentice with ISEC. “I had been through a couple of programs, but there were never any concrete results,” said Mr. Green. “This is the only program that provided a clear pathway to a union apprenticeship and job placement.”
Green credits the CCA staff for his success. One of Green’s instructors was Jann Whetstone. Ms. Whetstone is a union journeyman, a teacher and advocate for women, minorities and youth learning a union building trade. “Jann really got me prepared, mentally and physically, for what was needed in this field. I wouldn’t have my job today if it wasn’t for Jann.”
Construction Career Academy is led by Amare El Jamii who has worked in manufacturing for more than a decade and has experience in nonprofit start-up and management. El Jamii started his training program at the J.T. Mitchel Pre-Apprenticeship Academy, which later evolved into the Construction Career Academy for Los Angeles Urban League. He holds degrees in statistics and applied mathematics from Norco College and UCLA, respectively.
Another recent graduate of CCA, Niryn Mitchel, said every week there was an emphasis on math. “Amare got me straight on my fractions,” said Mitchel. “You have to want it, you have to work at it, and practice, and now I use this stuff every day at my job. I’m thankful to Amare, his team, and the Urban League.”
At CCA’s orientation event at Los Angeles Urban League, retired iron worker Marion Bryant spoke about his experience as a union journeyman. “It’s like a marriage,” said Bryant. “It can be easy sometimes and it can get really hard sometimes, but she’s put food on my table, clothes on my back and my kids through school. Looking back on my 39 years, nine months and 22 days on the job, I can say that I loved her and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Construction Career Academy is scheduled to start new classes every 10 weeks at the offices of Los Angeles Urban League located at 4401 S. Crenshaw Blvd. Suite 201. For more information on Construction Career Academy and to sign up for the next session, visit laul.org/cca.