TMCC, trades council team up to train construction workers

Truckee Meadows Community College this month is launching a new program designed to help the fill the growing pipeline for construction workers.

The Multi-Craft Apprenticeship Program is a four-week, 160-hour class to prepare students to apply for apprenticeships in a variety of construction trades and skills, including electricians, iron workers, bricklayers and heavy equipment operators.

“One of the obstacles we have with apprenticeships is they have to take a written test to get in a program and a lot don’t score high enough to qualify for hire,” said Paul McKenzie, secretary and treasurer for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, which worked with TMCC to create the new course. “The way you make a construction worker is through apprenticeships.”

The need is great. According to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, openings for construction laborers in the Reno-Sparks area, for example, will grow 5.4 percent this year and 3 percent annually through 2022.

“In the peak of the economy, our trade council represented 6,000 workers. That went down to 2,000, and is now back up to 3,000. We’re projecting we’re going to need 10,000 to 12,000 in the next four to five years,” said McKenzie.

Those workers will have to be homegrown, said McKenzie and others.

When the bottom dropped out of the Nevada construction industry, workers moved elsewhere, changed careers or retired.

Now, there’s a nationwide shortage so workers who fled the state are not going to return, said McKenzie, especially from surrounding states such as California where construction work pays a higher wage. And now the Nevada Legislature is considering legislation to forgo prevailing wages on education construction projects, possibly widening the divide.

“If we artificially deflate wages we’ll stifle growth,” said McKenzie.

Exacerbating the problem is an aging workforce. The average construction worker is 40 years old so there will continual turnover for the next 15 to 20 years as those workers retire.

“We have to generate a new generation of construction workers,” said McKenzie.

The TMCC class, based on a program developed by the trade council’s national association, offers a base course required by all trades, including construction certification mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA 10.

It also confers 10 college credits that can be applied to other technical degree programs if a student decides to not go into a construction trade, said Jim New, dean of technical services at TMCC.

The new program is starting up Feb. 23 and its partners are hoping to sign up 14 to 20 students, said New.

The program costs $1,000, but students may qualify for assistance through several outlets, including DETR’s eligible training program and JOIN Inc.

Once an applicant passes the written test and is accepted into an apprenticeship, the ongoing education is paid for by the trade union or a contractor in non-union apprenticeships, which is a big part of the industry’s appeal.

“It’s a great opportunity for students who don’t have a lot of money. You don’t have to join the service,” said Bobbi Lazzarone, trades apprentice recruiter with Western Apprenticeship Coordinators Association, a consortium of trade unions. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. And a great opportunity for women, too.”

Lazzarone is busy recruiting at job fairs, high schools and Nevada JobConnect, the workforce developer.

She said last fall the ironworkers union, one of WACA’s members, received 100 applications for an apprenticeship program and ended up taking on every applicant because of the growing demand for construction workers.

“The days of not having enough work are behind us,” said Lazzarone.

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