As part of a national survey last fall, Washington state’s construction sector businesses reported a strong need for recruiting skilled workers for hourly craft jobs. In an attempt to address this, the state Senate on Monday, March 6 approved SB 5713 in a 47-2 vote. The bill’s sponsors say the measure would expand interest and recruitment in middle-wage jobs such as construction, which are often less advertised than those requiring postsecondary credentials. Also in support are industry employers who believe the measure would give them an extra leg up to address skilled worker needs.
State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1) is prime sponsor of the measure, and cosponsors include State Sens. Lynda Wilson (R-17), Hans Zeiger (R-25), and Curtis King (R-14). The two lawmakers who voted against the bill were State Sens. Maralyn Chase (D-32) and Bob Hasegawa (D-11).
Advertising Middle-Skill Career Paths
Palumbo told colleagues on the Senate floor, “This is a bill about getting kids into middle-skill jobs. As we all know, there are thousands and thousands of open headcount in Seattle in the tech industry, but what is less known is that there are plenty of jobs in the state, especially in construction, that don’t require a postsecondary degree.”
Last month, construction sector employers told the Senate Higher Education Committee that the bill would attract more workers and fill workforce shortages. According to an Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) 2016 survey, 70 percent of Washington construction firms and over two-thirds of surveyed firms nationally responded having trouble filling hourly craft jobs. These spots include carpenters, pipe layers, equipment operators and superintendents.
SB 5713 would create the state’s Skilled Worker Outreach, Recruitment, and Key Training Program, which would consist of a private-public matching grants for industry players to bolster their hiring efforts and expand their skilled workforce. Only employers currently offering or developing a skilled worker training awareness programs, such as apprenticeships, would be eligible to receive money. Also, applicants would have to describe how the grant would help solve industry workforce shortages.
Connecting Workers to Family-Wage Jobs
“This is not an apprenticeship program,” Palumbo said, “this has to do with recruitment and outreach specifically to 19 to 25-year-olds to let them know what are these great family-wage jobs that are available to them, especially in the construction industry. We’ve got a lot of these jobs, especially with the passage of Sound Transit 3, as well as the boom going on right now in Seattle and other parts of the state.”
State Rep. Lynda Wilson and her husband are co-owners of DeWilis Industries, a Vancouver, Washington based kitchen cabinet manufacturer. She told colleagues the bill would be one way to address the concerns cited in the AGCA survey from Washington construction businesses. “In fact, my own industry has trouble finding good skilled workers. I think this is a great bill to begin to improve the awareness of the jobs that are out there for good family wage jobs,” Wilson added.
Directing Youth To Job Opportunites
For the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Washington, the bill would allow for a more focused outreach to their target worker pool. That is according to Jerry VanderWood, Chief Lobbyist.
“We want the 19 to 26 year-olds who are stuck in a minimum wage job who don’t know about those opportunities that exist out there,” VanderWood told Senate Ways and Means Committee members at a Thursday, February 23 meeting. “We want to raise their awareness and plug them into great careers.”
However, State Sen. Steve Conway (D-29) voiced concern that the program would be unnecessary because of efforts already being made within the Employment Security Department and the state’s workforce training boards.
VanderWood replied, “We’re asking the legislature to invest a little more in the non-college bound by creating a matching grant program for entities that offer skilled workforce awareness programs to assist in outreach and recruiting efforts, and I think that’s the difference with the workforce development boards…(it’s) not about training itself.”