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$10 million proposal aims to bolster workforce in construction, building trades

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Jan 24, 2023

CLEVELAND — New legislation before the Cleveland City Council aims to address two of the city’s most pressing needs: The development of a stronger, more diverse workforce as well as further development of minority owned contractors and subcontractors.

The proposed $10 million investment from the city’s tranche of American Rescue Plan Act funding broadly aims to bolster the city’s workforce amidst a construction boom around the region. The Council’s Workforce, Education, Training and Youth Development Committee discussed the proposal, which was sponsored by the Bibb Administration, for nearly two hours on Tuesday.

Dave Wondolowski, the executive secretary and business manager for the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council, said the construction and building trades industry in Cleveland is in dire need of trained workers, especially given some of the large scale projects currently underway.

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“We’ve never seen the amount of work that we have here — at least in the past several decades. We’re going to need a lot of people,” Wondolowski said. “This initiative is great and it will match up and meld with our current programs that we have like Cleveland Builds, which is an industry-led initiative. It’s going to be great to have that funding bolstering our program.”

The $10 million proposal broadly aims to build capacity for large scale worker training programs; bolster trainee and worker support systems and mentorships; development of minority prime contractors and subcontractors, as well as improving outreach and marketing to help build a pipeline of young talent. The effort to build capacity for large scale training programs accounts for $5 million of the $10 million allotment.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County branch of Ohio Means Jobs would help facilitate the endeavors amongst more than a dozen partnering agencies.

It comes as the number of open positions in the building trades and construction industries is increasing. Additionally, the construction industry is expected to see large waves of worker retirements. Over 40% of the current U.S. construction workforce is expected to retire over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult (attracting young talent). It’s not getting any easier,” Wondolowski said. “We have to focus on the rate of attrition in our building trades. As people leave, we have to make sure that we are putting people in. There is no longer the luxury of one for one where one person retires and we can put one person in. We really need five for every person that leaves. There is just that volume of work in the community.”

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Part of the strategy includes increased outreach to high school students preparing to enter the workforce, especially in historically underserved communities. According to a presentation attached to the legislation, the program aims to enroll 3,000 people with training providers over the next four years with 75% of them being people of color.

“The more that we work with guidance counselors and high schools, we’re getting them to look at vocational opportunities in the building trades… in order to get people to work quicker without that college loan debt to shoulder,” Wondolowski said. “Our trades pay well even in their first year of apprenticeship. Conceivably, an 18 year old can graduate from CMSD and could become a breadwinner of their household overnight.”