Covington Construction Trades School can’t open soon enough; industry desperately needs skilled workers

Town of Covington

John Kennedy sells paint for a living. He is also a matchmaker, a confidant and a sounding board.

Behind the counter at B&E Decorating near Ritte’s Corner in Latonia, Kennedy oversees a sort of vast network of contractors and homeowners who scour his small store to buy paint and seek connections.

These days, that network is seething with frustration.

“I hear it every day, from painters, plumbers, general contractors, carpenters and drywallers – whatever the trade, they all need help, desperately,” Kennedy said. “And because small entrepreneurs are dying for help, owners who want to hire them have found that the pool of people they can hire has shrunk dramatically. And if I can match them , what previously took two to three weeks for work to begin now takes two to three months.

The Enzweiler Building Institute, which teaches essential building trades like plumbing, is opening a campus in Latonia this fall.

Kennedy’s assessment rings true as another shred of evidence that says it all: A planned new construction trades school in the Latonia neighborhood can’t open soon enough.

Whether you measure urgency by Facebook chatter, national statistics, calls for help from contractors, underemployed heads of households, unemployed high school graduates, delays in construction schedules, or the lack labor in construction, it is clear that the need for the joint venture is intense:

Since the City of Covington announced the project in a press release last month, a Facebook post linked to the post has been ‘shared’ from the city’s site nearly 2,000 times, has been viewed by 200,000 people. and was visible on a computer or phone screen. nearly a quarter of a million times.

Meanwhile, a national industry association estimates nearly 1.3 million more construction workers will be needed by 2023.

And local contractors and builders interviewed for this article say that given the current labor environment, they cannot keep pace with people who need homes rebuilt, remodeled and restored.

It is in this market that the city is partnering with the Building Industry Association of Northern Kentucky (BIA-NKY) to create a Covington campus of the association’s renowned Enzweiler Building Institute.

Scheduled to open in September 2022, the school will train both high school students and adults in some of the most in-demand trades in the industry, including carpentry, welding, electrical, HVAC and plumbing. The goal – as seen HERE – is part of the city’s long-term strategy to build the skills of its local workforce and not only improve individual household incomes, but also help the construction industry to meet a critical need.

Dr. Vicki Berling, director of professional development for BIA-NKY which runs the Building Institute, said she is approached daily by employers looking for skilled workers.

“Every week — honestly, usually every day — employers contact me asking if we have any workers available in the skilled trades,” Berling said. “This relates to all the areas we train for, but I mostly hear employers looking for skills related to carpentry or construction workers as well as a constant demand for electrical workers. Virtually all of our current students are already working in the field, it is therefore clear that the demand exceeds our current capacity to fill positions.

Anticipation in the industry

Talk to industry leaders, and they say the new school can’t open fast enough:

John Hodge, President of Century Construction: “The new construction trades school is a long time coming and will provide excellent opportunities for students and employers…students will no doubt have many job opportunities upon graduation. degree and probably even before graduation.

John Curtin, Senior Vice President of Hemmer Construction: “Right now, labor in most, if not all, trades is in high demand. These aren’t just short-term jobs, they’re careers. People who excel will also have the chance to one day own and manage their own business. It’s really exciting and what a great time to start.

Brian Miller, Executive Vice President, BIA-NKY: “We are at the confluence of situations where we have the opportunity to work to fill this gap and at the same time train people in a great profession where they can have a great career. and build wealth early.

The opportunity for Covington residents is particularly high, as 25% of places in any of the school’s classes will be reserved for Covington students and residents up to 30 days before classes begin.

The Covington campus will also be the site of future foodservice careers seminars and workshops that BIA-NKY is working with the city to deliver. These programs – as seen HERE – will teach specialized skills related to working on historic structures.

Covington officials say “setting aside” for its residents was key.

“We have a situation where contractors need workers for projects of all sizes and are paying those workers great wages, if they can find them,” said Covington Economic Development Manager Tom West. “At the same time, we have residents and students living in Covington who need a living wage and want to do work that matters to them – in some cases they are already working two or three part-time jobs just to make ends meet . We hope that the Enzweiler Building Institute can help us bring these two together so companies can find the workers they need and our workers can work smarter, not harder, to build a solid family income.

Industry gap

The gap between the industry’s skilled labor pool and available jobs is deep and deepening, with an estimated need for at least 60,000 additional workers in the Greater Cincinnati market over the next 10 years, Miller said.

“We’re seeing an accelerating workforce skills gap and we’re not seeing it slowing – we’re seeing it widening,” Miller said. “These are jobs that are the main building blocks – we’re talking carpentry, electrical, welding, HVAC. If you expand that and look at other areas, the task is huge.

Tackling this “massive” task of building a new talent corps is twofold: attracting individuals into construction, then educating them. As for the positions, they are waiting to be filled.

“Students will undoubtedly have many job opportunities after graduation and probably even before,” said Hodge of Century Construction.

And this gap exists across the country. The Associated Builders and Contractors, a national industry association, reported in a recent analysis that the United States will experience a demand for 1.28 million additional construction workers by 2023. Other estimates are even higher .

Recruit workers

The lack of skilled workers is severely affecting project schedules and costs.

“We’re hit hardest by timing (of a job) when skilled labor is the issue,” Hemmer’s Curtin said. “Construction is a fast-paced industry and timing is always one of the critical decision topics when pursuing new projects. -work will significantly affect each company’s ability to complete its work on time.

At Century Construction, Hodge said the impact of the lack of skilled construction has only gotten worse for them. Since 2018, seven long-serving employees have retired and two more will retire this year.

Replacing this talent is difficult.

“These people have spent their entire careers in the construction industry and cannot easily be replaced,” Hodge said. “The limited availability of workers limits our ability to take on more work and grow the business. This results in longer lead times on projects and higher prices for our customers. »

To help attract workers, the company improved its benefits in many ways, such as paying annual cash bonuses, increasing raises, and reducing co-payments for medical insurance. Hodge said entry-level workers, those with virtually no experience, receive full benefits, including paid time off, vacation pay, medical insurance, and more.

This even includes tuition reimbursement – such as the new trade school planned for Latonia.

On the bus line

The school will lease 8,000 square feet of space last occupied by Check Exchange and Rent to Own of Latonia Commerce, LLC, in the adjacent Center Strip and north of the former Value City and Burlington Coat Factory big box stores. . The location is on a TANK bus route, close to major transportation routes, and within walking distance of at least some Covington high school students.

Ben Taylor, Division President of The Drees Company and President of BIA-NKY, said the school’s location in Latonia will be a key factor in attracting students.

“This location will provide business education opportunities to populations in river towns that may be underserved by the existing Enzweiler Institute location in Erlanger,” Taylor said.

Miller agreed that location is important.

“We are thrilled with the location in Latonia, to be surrounded by people who can take advantage of this opportunity,” Miller said. “People want to train where they live, especially those who don’t have easy access to transport, and it gives them the opportunity to go home to a place that can benefit the community.”

It is an industry where skills and practical experience are essential.

“Employers want an employee who can actually do the job, and that’s where we come in and connect people who learn by doing with a job where they can do exceptionally well,” Miller said. “We produce individuals who go through life without college debt, have a valued profession, are marketable, and accumulate wealth early in life. We present people with a lifelong career that they can take as far as they want.

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