by Chuck Geisler
November 2, 2011

Corporate social responsibility programs are generally selfless; they help companies mostly by generating goodwill. However, by partnering with Summit Academy OIC, in Minneapolis, MN, Veit has found a tangible solution to a major industry problem, while also improving quality-of-life for residents of the Twin Cities' most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Veit is one of the Midwest's largest and most diversified specialty contractors. A third generation, family-owned company, Veit is known for its innovative solutions to tough construction site and facility problems.

Veit, like many other local construction companies, is beginning to develop a strategy to address a problem it has encountered in its eighty-year history: diversifying and growing the industry workforce at the onset of what promises to be a major worker shortage crisis.

An Imminent Crisis

Construction currently ranks No. 1 on the list of industries predicted to face significant problems with employee retention over the next ten years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the construction industry needs to attract 240,000 workers each year to replace the workers retiring or leaving the industry. This number alone is daunting, but the results of a Wall Street Journal survey conducted in 2006 make it much more worrisome. The survey asked high school students to rank 250 possible career choices in order of preference-construction came in at 248.

A crisis of this magnitude does not emerge without reason. Industry insiders offer several explanations for the looming shortage. One issue that stands out, which the Wall Street Journal survey seems to confirm, is that construction has a bad reputation. The industry is thought of as low-paying and unglamorous because it does not play to the stereotype of success as a business-suited, briefcase carrying professional with an advanced degree and corner office. What's more, Generation Y has grown up hearing negative attributes of construction, which some say has destroyed the industry's image among a group with no tolerance for unfulfilling work.

The industry's image has left most young people completely unaware of the vast opportunities available in construction. But there is a terrific job outlook in the industry with plenty of room for advancement. The financial rewards in many areas of construction are substantial. Workers possess skills applicable to life outside of work, and because craft work cannot be exported, construction skills are always in demand.

Despite the positives, the construction industry has done a poor job of self-promotion and the resulting negative reputation, coupled with the aging baby boomers, has led to a worker shortage that is only expected to get worse. Furthermore, finding new employees has been complicated by immigration issues.

Some contractors are criticizing the federal government for lack of a comprehensive immigration policy. They complain that discrepancies between state and federal policy make compliance difficult and that penalties are often too severe for first-time offenders. The current scattered immigration system punishes honest contractors that are simply unaware of any violation.

Many construction companies across the nation face the same problem that Veit's is dealing with-filling an employee void with a healthy, diverse workforce. At the heart of Veit's innovative strategy to address this problem is its newly formed partnership with Summit Academy Opportunities Industrialization Center (SAOIC).

Summit Academy and Veit

SAOIC is a non-profit educational and vocational training center that empowers and educates adults to become contributing members of society. Many of the students at Summit come from troubled pasts; they tend to have criminal backgrounds and very minimal formal education, leaving them stuck in a dire cycle. SAOIC is the only community-based vocational training and job placement program in North Minneapolis that is attempting to rectify poverty and crime rates, as well as address lack of education and job skills plaguing disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.

SAOIC training is concentrated within high-growth, high-demand industries like health care and construction. Since 2002, SAOIC has placed 212 graduates within construction trade jobs and recently set the goal of placing 500 individuals in living-wage jobs over the next five years.

Summit's fundamental belief is that the best social service program in the world is providing a living wage job, which is why the intent of all training programs is career placement in a secure position. To accomplish its goals, SAOIC has established three strategies. The first is to prepare adults for the world of work. Through SAOIC, students have access to training programs in high-growth industries, as well as support services and counseling that teach the soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace. The second strategy is to prepare young people for their roles as responsible adults. Finally, the third strategy is to connect workers with employers, which is where construction contractors fit in to the equation. If there is anything worse than being untrained and unemployed, Summit officials believe it is being trained and unemployed. To that end, SAOIC partners with local employers to establish mutually beneficial partnerships where job vacancies are filled with qualified workers.

Just over a year ago, Veit partnered with Summit Academy to create a heavy construction laborer training program. The program runs for twenty weeks and consists of a two-phase pre-apprentice curriculum. The first ten weeks is carpentry training, followed by ten weeks of construction training including advanced carpentry; 40-hour HAZWOPER certification; OSHA 10-hour construction industry outreach training; basics of heavy equipment; maintenance, grading and field staking; basic construction math and an introduction to specialty contracting services.

In addition to construction skills training, SAOIC students learn interpersonal communication skills, work etiquette, goal-setting, career research and interviewing skills. Summit is known for creating strong work ethic, confidence and graduates with a can-do attitude. Considering the unique group of students that SAOIC attracts, this soft skills training is often the differentiating factor, equipping individuals with the drive and ability to support themselves and contribute to the community.

Veit supplies instructors and equipment for several courses during the construction training phase of the curriculum. During this time, instructors determine which students might be qualified for an entry-level position with the company and, upon successful completion