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Construction Education Foundation wins national recognition

The Mississippi Construction Education Foundation (MCEF) has been recognized as a national leader for innovative construction workforce education programs by the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT).

CURT is an association of major industries in the U.S. and Canada committed to giving significant national recognition to organizations that implement effective recruitment and training programs that develop first class craftsmen and managers.

Late last year, Gary Bambauer, president of MCEF, attended a meeting in Tampa, Fla., to receive the Workforce Development Award recognizing MCEF for its impact on recruitment and training for the Mississippi commercial construction industry. MCEF has partnered with the Mississippi Department of Vocational Education and Workforce Development to redesign construction training in the high schools in Mississippi.

“In 2007, MCEF was involved in 98 high schools and provided training credentials for 4,883 students,” a press release from CURT announcing the awards stated. “The career path for these students leads directly into employment or further education.’

Applications for the awards were received from across the U.S. from national trade associations, contractors, unions, local labor-management associations, owners, educational institutions and public school systems.

Effective response

Bambauer says the award reinforced the fact the industry responded effectively to the labor shortage problems by establishing the foundation.

“It shows we are on the right track and leading the nation in reaching out to young people and explaining the construction careers,” Bambauer says. “We were in good company with the other award winners. They have good programs, too, but we are the only ones that are linked this tightly with the high school vocation programs.”

The program was also recognized because the nine construction trade groups that are members of MCEF have stepped up to the plate to pay for training in an apprenticeship program that is very beneficial to young people entering the industry. After one year of training, participants can go to work with a contractor working full-time while attending school one night per week to increase their skills.

“Contractors know they have to train their new hires, and the apprenticeship program is how they are doing that,” Bambauer says. “The contractors have been proactive in solving their own problems. They have reached a point in time they realize their experienced workers are exiting the workforce, and they have to train people to replace them.”

Career opportunities, advancement

MCEF is promoting construction as an exciting career with many opportunities. After going through an initial apprenticeship, contracting businesses often will pay for more continuing education. That can lead to advancement in the company with accompanying better pay.

“Contractors are happy to find employees with a good work ethic to invest in their education,” Bambauer says. “Once they find somebody who does good work, comes to work on time and shows up regularly, they are sponsoring them as apprentices. After the four-year apprenticeship, they can put them in management training so they work their way up through the organization with the contractor continuing to pay for their education. This is a whole career path, and most people miss the fact they can also start their own business if they want to do that.”

Bambauer says it is encouraging to see young people in the program gaining more confidence as they get more training.

“They are raising families and enjoying what they are doing,” he says. “They enjoy standing back at the end of the day and feeling pride that they have finished that project. There is personal satisfaction with their job.”

Big projects, best people

Bambauer says the award was especially gratifying because CURT is made up of large industries such as Chevron and DuPont. Those industries recognize that in order to have affordable construction for their million-dollar projects, it is important that commercial contractors recruit a new workforce.

“The age of the average construction workers just gets higher and higher, and we need new craftsmen to take their place, people who really have the skills,” Bambauer says. “That is the whole apprenticeship model. They working full time, and not just getting the book side of it. Even if you go to a four-year college, you need an internship on project management. You have to get your boots dirty and be in the trenches to have effective education. The hands-on part of it is really important.”

On track for the future

Mike Upchurch, owner of Upchurch Plumbing in Greenwood, says it has time for the efforts of MCEF to bear fruit.

“It has just taken a while to get the program in the schools, and start producing a trained workforce in the industry,” says Upchurch, who was president of MCEF for 2005 and 2006. “We are making headway. I’m pleased at where we are today, and real pleased with where I think we will be in the near future. It is a very good program. We are educating high school and even junior high school students about construction. In the past, most high school students knew little about the construction industry or how they could make a viable living for their family in the industry.”

Upchurch says even before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state was short of craft workers — as was the nation as a whole. In Mississippi, the hurricane put additional stress on the construction workforce. Upchurch says business owners have had to limit the amount of work they have pursued because of labor shortages.

“It has put a strain on North Mississippi because a lot of workforce is having to go down to work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in Alabama,” Upchurch says. “It has caused a strain statewide.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.


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