Remodelers and other construction trade contractors can look forward to a potential additional boost -- in this case, to their future workforce -- through aspects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ( the ARRA, best known as the economic stimulus package) that support construction education and training. In February, in his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama asked every American “to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be a community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship.”
This emphasis could have positive implications for remodelers, given long-term and ongoing cutbacks in high school career and technical education (CTE) programs. Here are a few examples of programs directly endowed by the ARRA thus far.
(Photos are courtesy of the Boulder Valley School District, Colo.)
Community Colleges and Worker Retraining
Unemployment reached a long-time high of 9.4% in May, with workers in automotive and other manufacturing industries taking some of the biggest hits. Some ARRA programs intended to boost job-retraining efforts are focusing on two-year community colleges, where many robust skills-training programs remain, and which are experiencing enrollment surges thanks to their relative affordability compared with four-year colleges.
Community colleges are also attracting growing numbers of adult professionals seeking to retool for new careers. More than a third of U.S. college students, 6.4 million adults, are over age 24.
Examples of these programs include one announced in early June, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited the Milwaukee Area Technical College “to announce a $7 million special competitive grant to establish innovative and sustainable community college programs that prepare displaced workers for second careers,” according to a press release from the Department. Many similar grants are reaching community colleges, such as an estimated $58 million that the U.S. Department of Education is funneling to 14 community-college districts in Arizona, which has suffered from significant job losses and housing deflation. The goal is to retrain displaced workers for jobs in growth industries such as retrofitting older buildings to be more energy efficient.
The ARRA allocates $3.95 billion for the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), including $500 million for job training projects that prepare workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Of WIA funds, $1.2 billion is allocated for youth training programs; the ARRA also increases the maximum age of these programs from 21 to 24, thus potentially reaching a larger population of trainees. An example came in early June, when Labor Secretary Hilda Soldis announced awards worth $114 million to 183 community groups that help at-risk youth earn high school diplomas and get training in the construction industry.
Sixty-two of the groups are YouthBuild programs, which provide outreach to individuals such as high school dropouts, juvenile justice veterans, and youth who are aging out of foster care. Many YouthBuild participants are learning green building techniques, assisting with retrofitting existing homes, and building affordable housing. In one program, American Youthworks, students spend half their days in class and the other half building affordable, energy-efficient homes.
More than 22% of teenagers are unemployed, and more than 30% of high school students either drop out or otherwise do not graduate on time.
For more information on YouthBuild grants and other Department of Labor youth employment programs, visit http://www.doleta.gov/youth_services.
Separately, CTE professionals are cheered by legislation such as H.R. 1775, the GREEN Act, proposed by Congressman Jerry McNerney of California.
The bill would provide $100 million in competitive grants for the development of career and technical training in the field of renewable energy. Post-secondary institutions and CTE schools could use the grants to enter into public-private partnerships to develop these training programs.
“These grants will ready the next generation of workers for good-paying, green collar jobs,” said Rep. McNerney, in a press release. “It’s a great example of legislation that supports and advances CTE,” said Sabrina Kidwai, of the Association for Career and Technical Education.
Ray of Industry Hope
Overall, how meaningful are the ARRA’s educational initiatives for the remodeling industry?
Dan Taddei, education director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), is cautiously hopeful but wishes for more of an effort to restore funding for CTE in public high schools and middle schools, where many CTE programs have been slashed. And not only trade-specific education such as framing and electrical, he noted, but well-rounded programs that combine academic instruction and direct jobsite experience.
“The problem for remodelers: many key remodeling skills aren’t found in technical education class,” to the extent that those classes still exist, Taddei said. “They’re found on jobsites,” but many states prohibit youth from working on jobsites. “But in the end any attention is good attention,” Taddei notes.
Taddei’s colleague Mary Harris, NARI’s executive director, is a little more optimistic. “The Obama Administration’s attention to creating more awareness, a change in attitude, and funding for career and technical education (with inclusion of construction/remodeling) is highly welcome,” she wrote in an e-mail last week.
“There is paramount need for skilled labor, an item which rises to the top of every member needs assessment we have conducted. High schools and community colleges seem to have abandoned this focus. While the need seems to be addressed by the private postsecondary career school sector, it is probably not significant enough to make a difference.” --Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.