While home building’s labor shortage woes have been well documented over the past few years, it’s also important to look at ways to solve the problem. This article is the first in a series looking at what builders are doing locally to create their own solutions. Do you have a labor solution? Please share it: [email protected]

Steve Malany, president of P&C Construction
Steve Malany, president of P&C Construction

While an emphasis on college-track careers has left many high schools in the country without trade classes, many in the home building industry believe that a renewed interest in career technical education (CTE) can help reduce the country’s construction labor shortage.

Steve Malany, president of Portland, Ore.-based P&C Construction, runs a company that builds offices, hotels, and schools. Malany teamed up with the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) based in Wilsonville Ore. to cook up a plan to grow their own crop of skilled masons, carpenters, and pipefitters. Rather than visiting local high schools to recruit one-on-one, the plan was centered on affecting education policy at the state level.

“Several legislative session ago, our chapter and other associations began asking the legislature for a chance to revitalize the CTE programs in the high schools,” says Malany. “The legislature ended up passing a bill that allows the schools to apply for Revitalization Grants between $50,000 and $200,000 for startup money. Each district could apply it to what their local economy needed and supported. It ranged from classes on welding to medical to guitar making to carpentry programs.”

The CTE Revitalization grants in Oregon started in 2011 and by 2015 the amount of money appropriated totaled $23 million. The grants were originally designed to stem the high school dropout rate, and the initiative appears to be working. “There was a study showing that graduation rates increased by 15 to 20 percent when CTE classes were available which helped with attendance in all the classes,” says Malany.

The group is also working on getting the message out that today’s CTE classes are much more sophisticated and tech-driven than those of 30 years go. “There won’t be wood shop, sewing, and cooking – there will be classes for the high demand, high wage jobs such as health sciences, construction, manufacturing, high tech, and engineering,” he says.

The biggest obstacle preventing the wider adoption of CTE often comes from parents and guidance counselors who are still convinced that if a student doesn’t get a college degree they are doomed to a life of digging ditches. “The new CTE classes should provide exposure to our industry and let parents know that construction careers have a higher than average salary, health care, high tech tools and equipment – we should be getting more kids interested,” says Malany.

Rather than making pilgrimages to the state legislature at the start of each budgetary process to get the grants approved again, the team decided on a long-term approach. “With the success of the Revitalization Grants, the members of the CTE community knew that we needed to make this money available on a long term basis,” says Malany.

Malany and the AGC partnered up with Stand for Children, a non-profit, education advocacy organization based in Portland that’s also active in 17 other states to get the program on the state ballot. The program, known as the Oregon State Funding for Dropout Prevention and College Readiness Initiative was shortened to Measure 98 and was passed by a 65% to 35% margin in 2016.

“It instructed the legislature to allocate up to $380 million in funds,” says Malany. “In 2017, the legislature funded about 50% of the mandate but the governor’s preliminary budget for 2019 has the full funding this biennium.”

Encouraging signs have already started to pop up, Malany says. “CTE is a now a common phrase in both the school setting and more importantly in the public’s mindset,” he says. “For me that is start of the process, this will be a decade long process to get the classes back into the school and fully functioning like they did in the 50s, 60s and 70s.”