TRICON is Building a Skilled Construction Workforce


Part of a series, "What is a TRICON?"

With a slowdown in construction work in recent years, it may be hard to believe, but on the horizon looms a shortage of qualified and skilled workers in union construction, not only here, but across the country. A year or so ago in an issue of InterBusiness Issues, TRICON reported that the union construction industry in central Illinois anticipates a shortage of workers due to an aging workforce that will need to be replaced, an economy that will eventually rebound, aging building stock and infrastructure, and the green building movement. The continued success of the local union construction industry relies heavily upon its ability to attract, recruit and train diverse, qualified and skilled workers. TRICON has been working hard for many years to do just that: build a skilled construction workforce!

In order to stay on top of workforce development issues and build a construction workforce, TRICON engages and partners in community activities and initiatives tied to workforce development, Peoria District 150, regional K-12 school districts, educational organizations, apprenticeship training programs, grant projects, Illinois Central College, and regional universities. TRICON has been a long-time member of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce's Education/Workforce Development Committee, for example. TRICON is especially proud of its partnerships with Peoria Educational Region For Employment and Career Training (PERFECT) and Tazewell County/Area Education For Employment (Tazewell EFE). Many hours are spent by TRICON members and staff keeping union construction as a viable and desirable career option for people of all ages. TRICON promotes not only building trades careers, but also careers in architecture, engineering, estimating, and project management.

For more than 20 years TRICON has had a presence in area K-12 schools, providing educators and students with construction career information, materials and more recently, online resources. It is also important to help students connect what they learn in the classroom to real-world applications, especially in the area of construction math. Every year, TRICON staff and members (contractors and buildings trades) present at numerous school and community career fairs. They have volunteered to fund school projects, like Manual High School's Industrial Technology program, volunteered time and materials for projects like Trewyn Middle School's Barber Shop (West Central IL Building & Construction Trades Council project), and volunteered to mentor students one-on-one. TRICON also provides educators with math examples and online math preparation resources.

Long-time, TRICON-sponsored programs have expanded the last few years and continue to yield positive results. Area high school students have participated in the High School Construction Industry Work-Based Learning Program, co-coordinated with PERFECT, receiving high school course credit, getting hands-on training at area apprenticeship schools, and participating in internships with area union contractors. Additional focus in the program has been placed on core skills, like math and work ethic. These students have gone on to become project managers, engineers and trades people in union construction.

High school females participate in Women in Construction Days held most recently at the electricians, steamfitters and cement masons apprenticeship schools. The 8th Grade Construction Career Expo—coordinated by many industry partners and led by the building trades—continues to provide 900-1,200 students annually with hands-on construction activities at booths representing various construction trades. Minority and female participation in all of these programs was increased the last 5 years—the High School Work-Based Learning Program has seen as many as 48 percent female/minority participation in a single year.

The very popular 5-day Construction Industry Educator Job Shadow exposed K-14 educators, counselors and administrators to construction careers through hands-on learning experiences at job sites and apprenticeship schools. Participants received professional continuing education credits and in turn created lesson plans for students at their home schools. Due to state funding cuts, the program had to take a couple years hiatus, but the program will return in summer 2013. In the meantime, TRICON, Tazewell EFE and PERFECT have provided educators with short presentations on construction careers, hands-on when possible.

New to the area is a construction pre-apprenticeship program coordinated by Illinois Central College/Professional Development Institute on behalf of the Illinois Department of Transportation. TRICON and members of the union construction industry have helped support and provide training opportunities for this program that reaches adults age 18 and older. This program's structure was based on the successful High School Construction Industry Work-Based Learning Program and especially encourages minority/female participation.

Grant funding the past several years has afforded TRICON the opportunity to improve its Better Built online presence and includes more construction career information and resources. Grant funds also provided for new construction career videos featuring local workers. Videos and information can be found at or on YouTube (Better Built Central Illinois) or Facebook (Better Built Central Illinois).

Union construction prides itself on safety and quality—also part of maintaining a skilled construction workforce—and so TRICON continues to encourage its members to engage in ongoing training and certification, whether through local apprenticeship upgrade classes, college classes, association-sponsored courses, or TRICON-sponsored trainings. Also expanding is the availability of training in the emerging green collar economy. Green building training programs and courses can now be accessed through area apprenticeship schools, Illinois Central College, the U.S. Green Building Council/Illinois Chapter/Central Illinois Branch and non-profit organizations.

TRICON has made a commitment to build a diverse and skilled workforce in central Illinois, a workforce that will ensure top-quality construction, support the local economy, and support the survival of our industry.

Ginger Johnson
Executive Director, Tri-County Construction Labor-Management Council (TRICON)

(This article will also appear in the June 7, 2012 issue of the Labor Paper.)

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