Writer: Eleana Teran
2 min read Septemeber 2022 — As the labor shortage continues to affect most industries across the country, the Pittsburgh Regional Building & Construction Trades Council is preparing to meet growing workforce demands through apprenticeships, education and diversity.
In an interview with Invest:, Thomas Melcher, business manager of Pittsburgh Regional Building Construction Trades Council, discussed the increased demand for trade workers in Western Pennsylvania. An increase in healthcare projects, including the UPMC $1.5 billion Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland and the new facility under construction for Mercy Hospital, are driving a great deal of activity. Additionally, Melcher stated the five major bridge jobs happening in the region and the $1.5 billion airport expansion project are also driving up demand for trade workers.
In addition to rising demand, the high retirement rates of baby boomers increases the need to pass knowledge and responsibility to younger people. According to the report Skilled Trades in Americaopens PDF file by Angi, over a quarter of tradespeople in the home industry are within 10 years of being able to collect Social Security checks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of the construction labor force is 42.3.
“There is so much work here, specifically in Western Pennsylvania. We are short on building trade personnel, so that is hurting us a bit,” said Melcher, who anticipates the high demand to continue for a few years.
To meet the demand, the Trades Council is looking to get younger people interested in trades by exposing them to skilled trades career pathways. “Today, Pittsburgh Public Schools has a carpenter program and the steamfitters are also there,” said Melcher. “Slowly, we are reaching the younger generations. Education is key and we do that by going to high schools and getting them to let us talk to their students.”
Additionally, the organization is working to get more people into trades by focusing on growing diversity. “We have a program called Introduction to the Building Trades. We bring minority men and women and give them a six-week course and training. This helps to give people a second chance,” said Melcher. “Out of our 220 recruits, we have a 98% graduation rate and 78% are placed with companies. That is a very successful program for diversity.”
The building trades provide people the opportunity to get into an apprenticeship program where they are paid to learn. Within Western Pennsylvania there are 17 tuition-free apprenticeship programs that combine classroom curriculum and on-the-job training. Not only do these programs produce a skilled workforce without students incurring debt, but they also report high job satisfaction, with 83% of tradespeopleopens PDF file either somewhat or extremely satisfied with their choice of work driven by the high pay and high levels of entrepreneurship.
Melcher feels confident in the region’s ability to meet workforce needs and believes there will be enough workers in the trades moving forward. “We have 250 apprenticeships, but we would like to double that, and they last three to five years,” said Melcher. “We feel confident we will have the workforce we need in the future.” Melcher also pointed out that migration of workers to the state is a high possibility, stating, “if they need work they will move.”
Melcher is bullish on future demand as well. “The infrastructure act will be great for the whole country,” said Melcher. “I see work around here that will last for a good ten years, a long time. Jobs are scheduled five to seven years out with billion-dollar costs, so business will be booming.”
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