If you have spent time in downtown Boston during the past few years, you’ve surely noticed the towering cranes and scaffolding dotting the skyline. Notably, residential construction starts in Boston rose 90% in the month of January to $487.8 million in projects, compared to $257.2 million the year prior. Meanwhile, nonresidential construction starts rose 18 percent to $354.5 million in projects, up from $299.4 million the year before.
As Senior Vice President at Gilbane Building Company, I can tell you that building activity trends in Boston will continue on an impressive trajectory for many years to come. However, growth in these areas in 2014 and 2015 has already resulted in labor shortages in the building professions. Finding skilled workers, sufficiently trained and eager to learn, can be challenging, and without them the growth will not be captured.
Finding skilled workers, sufficiently trained and eager to learn, can be challenging, and without them the growth will not be captured.
According to Gilbane’s most recent Construction Economics Report, this may end up the most active three-year period (2013-16) of growth in construction in more than 20 years. Construction added one million jobs during 2011-2015, however 800,000 of those jobs were added in just the last three years and construction spending growth for the period 2013-2016 is expected to outpace all previous periods.
For every new building erected, thousands are involved in the design, engineering, planning and construction process. This includes trade contractors (construction workers, site supervisors, electricians, and HVAC&R technicians), as well as those planning the design and manufacturing of the building components (mechanical engineering technicians and architectural drafters). However, with a current shortage of skilled workers – and an aging workforce preparing to retire – we need to build career pathways to fill this demand and market these pathways to young people interested in entering the building trades workforce.
Recognizing the need for a solution to this issue was a driver for me to become a trustee at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology. Today, I proudly serve as the Board Chair at this dynamic institution. BFIT’s mission is focused on preparing local students for mid-level technical careers in a broad range of building related jobs.
BFIT awards degrees in Construction Management, Electrical Technology, and Mechanical Engineering Technology, as well as certificates in HVAC&R and Practical Electricity. These programs not only encompass the technical preparation needed to enter the job market, but also proper life-skills training to ensure students are prepared to participate in a workforce now dependent on teamwork, problem-solving skills, critical thinking capacity, and effective communication.
"Having the technical background and hands-on experience from BFIT allows me to work directly with contractors and site-workers."
Personally, I believe that the students who graduate from BFIT are some of the most qualified candidates for positions in the construction industry. Recently, Jerez W., a 2015 graduate of the college’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, was hired at Gilbane as a Superintendent working on the construction site at UMass Boston. “There’s a lot of construction happening across the city,” Jerez said. “Having the technical background and hands-on experience from BFIT allows me to work directly with contractors and site workers. Understanding the broader principles will help me get my Superintendent license and pursue further education.”
Looking forward, there is no doubt that our city, our region, and the entire country needs to invest in preparing young people for technical careers and ensure these students are ready to address the challenges of today’s workforce needs. As an industry, we need to help support and shape these programs so that graduates enter the job market with the skills they need.
We need to better communicate to young students that there is opportunity for a successful, challenging, and lucrative career that starts with a technical education.
We need to better communicate to young students that there is opportunity for a successful, challenging, and lucrative career that starts with a technical education. To do this guarantees a stronger future for the building-related industry, for the regional economy and its diverse communities, and for the lives of the young men and women who enter this field.