Technical college & training company partner to alleviate labor strain facing Georgia contractors

CIS staff demonstrates how to turn a load, presenting concepts of load center of gravity and proper rigging techniques.CIS staff demonstrates how to turn a load, presenting concepts of load center of gravity and proper rigging techniques.

West Georgia Technical College (WGTC) recently partnered with Crane Industry Services LLC (CIS) to offer crane operator and rigging training and certification through its economic development division. According to an August 2015 United States Construction Forecast Report released by Oldcastle Business Intelligence, construction is expected to grow 8 percent in 2016, with the Southeast experiencing as much as 13 percent growth. Georgia is one of four states predicted to show the strongest growth in the nation, at 18 percent gains.

However, according to research conducted by Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA), demand for all nonresidential construction activity in the Southeast is nearly half of all the projected activity in the U.S. (see Table 1 on page 20). That translates into fierce competition for labor, which leads to higher labor costs. Furthermore, within the Southeast, a significant portion of the headcount demand over the next 2 to 3 years is industrial, which includes crane operators. Because of the demand for workers in the Gulf Coast region, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee are at risk of seeing workers travel there for wage and per diem incentives.

Serving seven counties in northwest Georgia and nearby Alabama (9 percent predicted growth) and Tennessee (11 percent predicted growth), WGTC is in the center of this skilled labor crisis. Crane and rigging operations are highly skilled activities, and yet there are few places, outside of on-the-job training, for workers in construction and other industries to acquire the skills needed to enter this field. Because the demand is so high, WGTC made the move of partnering with professional training and accredited certification provider Crane Industry Services (CIS), to open a new Centered on Safety training center on the college's Murphy Campus in Waco, Georgia. CIS employs National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certified master trainers, instructors and examiners who deliver validated and accredited training and certifications.

"The Economic Development Division fills the gap with courses that are industry- and task-specific," said Laura Gammage, vice president of economic development for WGTC. These are courses that fall outside the realm of the college's traditional credit coursework. WGTC and CIS held a program showcase ribbon cutting at the new Centered on Safety training center in December 2015. The event included crane operation and rigging demonstrations. Aubrey Silvey provided the cranes and loads for the demonstration.

Labor Pipeline for Construction Managers

In an effort to help young people identify career path options, R.K. Redding, a Georgia-based general contractor, and Paulding County School District recently co-sponsored an initiative to allow more than 2,000 high-school juniors in the district to take a YouScience Profile, which provides a personalized assessment of students' natural abilities and specific interests and pairs that with career opportunities. Meanwhile, CIS CEO Debbie Dickinson volunteers at local schools to offer students insights to working in the industry. With the opening of the Centered on Safety center, students now have a resource for getting the specialized training they need when their YouScience profile steers them toward the industry.

According to Casey Pollard, vice president of strategic planning and development for R.K. Redding Construction, the center is important because of its location. "Often, you have to travel out of state to find this type of specialty training. Rigging courses are essential because all construction trades conduct some kind of rigging activities," said Pollard. Using a tool such as the Construction Labor Market Analyzer (CLMA), contractors can better predict the available skilled labor sources and more effectively estimate and plan training and labor needs. "Our mission is to help industry stakeholders like owners and contractors effectively understand craft and professional labor supply and demand and compensation risk," said Daniel Groves, CEO of Construction Industry Resources which owns and manages the CLMA. Dickinson added that this might mean cross-training existing employees to become proficient at new tasks or developing green employees with specific desired skill sets.

Graph 1. Construction Labor Market Analyzer research shows Southeast demandGraph 1. Construction Labor Market Analyzer research shows Southeast demand

"After years of watching industries grapple with compliance issues, we saw that contractors were seeking training that goes beyond the basics. Test prep courses have minimal value when training is not relevant to the knowledge and skill employees need for day-to-day work. An over-emphasis on compliance can be a tragic mistake. Skills and safety development are a means for achieving organizational excellence, productivity and efficiency. Maintaining compliance is part of the process, not the ultimate goal," Dickinson said.

Courses delivered by CIS's certified instructors with on-the-job experience initially will include Basic and Advanced Rigging; Rigging Inspector; Crane Operator training, certification and qualification for mobile, overhead and tower cranes; Crane Inspector; Crane Site Safety Management and Power Line Safety for Utility Workers. Additional courses are in development.

Advanced courses prepare employees for crane safety management and increase credentials of existing crew members, transition military personnel to civilian employment and provide career development for skilled professionals. "After you've sold the concept of construction as an attractive career, communities have got to have the tools in place to help people get the education they need," said Dickinson.