Who fills the jobs in St. Cloud’s growing construction industry?

To employers who have recently struggled to squeeze more participants out of a tight workforce, those in the construction and trade sectors could easily say, “Welcome to the club.”

“Now it seems like, oh, everyone knows what we’re dealing with,” said Rachel Gruber, owner and president of Dale Gruber Construction.

However, as reported in the September quarterly activity report, construction employment is expanding in the Saint-Cloud region and reached 9,000 jobs in July 2022 – the first time this has happened since data collection began in 1990. In a bit Over two years, construction employment in St. Cloud has grown more than both the state and the nation over the same period. (This data is aggregated and also includes mining and logging.)

According to the report, employment in non-residential construction is up statewide, but employment is down for residential buildings.

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Gruber said she felt the industry was growing and there were still plenty of construction projects going on. But she traces this feeling of understaffing to the 2008 recession, which hit the construction industry particularly hard and Gruber said drove people away from pursuing careers in the field. The more recent labor shortage only makes this worse.

“We’re used to it, but I feel like it’s even more prevalent,” Gruber said of the industry. “…I think everyone is running pretty lean operations.”

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Can trade schools help?

Acting Dean of the Skilled Trades and Industry Division, Aaron Barker, speaks about programs offered in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration on Thursday, September 1, 2022 at St. Cloud Technical and Community College.

But head to St. Cloud Technical and Community College, and amid the pounding and drilling and general sounds of hard-working people, there’s a cluster of programs in construction and trades that usually have listings. waiting.

SCTCC’s plumbing, electrical and HVAC programs typically have waiting lists, said acting dean of skilled trades and industry Aaron Barker. Interest is not the issue. But those programs also have capacity constraints, said vice president of student affairs Andrew Pflipsen.

“We can’t get (enough) graduates there,” Barker said. “…We cannot provide them.”

Barker said the college is working with local industry leaders on how to expand these programs. SCTCC has advisory boards comprised of industry professionals to ensure instructors are teaching what students need to know in an ever-changing industry.

“That’s a big part of college: we want to make sure we’re training the students they need to hire,” he said.

Pflipsen said he heard students say they were interested in these fields because of the hands-on nature of the work and the good salaries/starting salaries.

That’s what Career Solutions executive director Tammy Biery said she also hears from those seeking careers in construction-related industries.

“I really think a lot of the interest is coming from the opportunity for compensation in construction jobs,” Biery said.

Construction students work on various tasks in the Thursday, September 1, 2022 workshop at St. Cloud Technical and Community College.

That, and job security, as the construction industry continues to grow. She sees the constant need for workers driven by both a labor shortage and the growth of the industry.

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Gruber said she’s seen more interest in entry-level positions and a greater variety of backgrounds among those employees. A decade ago, she usually saw people take the same path: carpentry school, then find a job. Over the past few years, she has seen people come from other fields of construction, people who have gone to technical schools or people who have not attended university at all. Some of that may reflect different demographics of people interested in the field, but Gruber said it’s also potentially a reflection of more open-minded employers who are focused on hiring people with skills. non-technical and motivation, knowing that the company can train them.

But while it’s wonderful to see, she says, those entry-level roles aren’t what she needs. Gruber said his company does very specific skilled work that requires someone who can train or mentor workers through a process.

Generate interest in the industry

Ali Roberts, 31, is one such student who has acted on an interest in the industry. She is a student in the carpentry program at the SCTCC. This would mark a career change for her, as Roberts is currently working at a local restaurant.

“I’ve always loved Legos and thought this was the next step,” she said.

She said she didn’t know much about the job market, but was hopeful about her prospects and expected her and most of her classmates to be hired immediately.

A job board is filled with opportunities on Thursday, September 1, 2022 at St. Cloud Technical and Community College.

According to Pflipsen, many of their students in these fields have jobs before they graduate.

Biery said 2022 marks the first year that Career Solutions has held discovery days for construction. Discovery Days provide participants with hands-on activity and time with a panel of employers in a specific industry, and began as a way to increase interest in jobs requiring commercial driver licenses.

“We were really surprised at the interest there was there,” Biery said.