The firestorm of October 2017 brought a pernicious problem into the light and shoved it firmly center stage—a dearth of skilled construction labor. But long before the wildfires, Mike Yates, president of the local Teamsters, knew the North Bay had a severe shortage of well-trained construction workers. Jack Buckhorn of the North Bay Labor Council and North Coast Builders Exchange and Marin County Builders Exchange CEOs Keith Woods and Rick Wells did, too. It was one of the factors behind delayed construction projects, artificially inflating construction pricing and contributing to the stampede of skilled talent driving from the North Bay to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for more lucrative work, despite the oppressive commute.
California’s skilled worker shortage is only getting worse. The number of manual and technical laborers (plumbers, electricians, framers, welders, field engineers, glazers, etc.) are declining at alarming rates. For every five skilled laborers who retire in California, only one new laborer is taking his or her place. That kind of math isn’t going to help dig us out of a housing shortage, or put a halt to the continuing commercial development delays we face.
This is a serious problem, but fortunately many good folks want to fix it and they include: Kathy Goodacre, CTE Foundation; Steve Jackson, Sonoma County Department of Education; Jen Klose, president of the Sonoma County Board of Education; and Alon Adani, 180 Studios Makers Space. These business leaders are hard at work to raise awareness of the importance of vocational training and/or fill their programs with young workers who are looking to learn a skilled trade.
Meanwhile, there are loads of apprenticeship programs, funded both privately and publicly around the North Bay. Weekly job fairs and non-stop recruitment campaigns advertised on the radio as well as in digital and print publications are commonplace now. Amaturo Sonoma Media Group has become the leader in these recruitment campaigns, and I’m so thankful for the trust employers have given us to help them. Nonetheless, empty seats remain and the cycle of “musical chairs” that job fairs and recruitment campaigns create aren’t enough.
Clearly, an additional approach is needed. If we can’t inspire a new generation of adults to seek out the opportunities and job openings, only the most profitable construction projects will be completed in a timely fashion, rather than the most important projects. That’s human nature and the business of business, but can’t we do better than that?
Private sector folks like Barry Friedman, Jim Ryan of Ryan Mortgage, Gary Hartwick and Jim Brush of Exchange Bank and Summit State Bank, are leading the way to provide solutions, but they can’t do it alone. Construction leaders Willie McDevitt and Dick Ghilotti, as well as trucking magnates Fred and Greg Biagi, Jackson Family’s Barbara Banke, tortilla king Willie Tamayo and many others are always willing to chip in. Community leaders and county politicians in Sonoma, Marin and Napa all want to see our labor ranks swell in size. But where are we going to find them?
Surprisingly, it’s the North Bay’s young men and women, aged 18 to 34, who make up the largest demographic living under the poverty line. Most can find employment, but it isn’t paying enough. Positions in labor offer high-paying jobs that will set the North Bay on the right course toward reconstruction while building lifetime careers that provide considerable incomes—the kind of incomes that raise folks to new levels, pay mortgages and feed families.
Let’s cobble together the money necessary for a five-county campaign to educate and inspire young adults to step into these lucrative and worthwhile professions. Let’s encourage leaders in these industries to systematically visit high schools in Napa, Solano, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino to encourage greater exploration of careers in the construction industry.
An inspirational multi-media campaign could inspire young adults to learn lifelong skills that will provide meaningful incomes and allow them to contribute to the North Bay in critical ways. The training programs need applicants, and fine companies want to offer more paid internships to keep their growth on track.
My peers and I want to offer free publicity—across all media—to help grow these fields. Tom Skinner, Darius Anderson and Mike Wilson are real pros running companies with broad reach in broadcasting and print. Additionally, Cornerstone Properties and my media group have each committed to invest $100,000 in cash and services to help spread the word.
It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the North Bay a vibrant and healthy region for ourselves and generations to come. Please join our efforts, and help lead the way.
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