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Business Observer Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 5 months ago

Construction industry officials develop program to attract more workers

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The program was designed to educate workers on building skills and construction safety.

Well before businesses had to deal with the Great Resignation, Bob Kramer and Mike Love were already on the case. 

In a way, Kramer, a Skanska senior project manager based in Fort Myers, and Love, with the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center, were ahead of the game when it came to finding innovative ways to bring more workers into their industry. Four years to be exact. 

In 2017, the pair set out to shed light on the construction industry — Kramer with one of the biggest construction firms in the world, based in Sweden, and Love with a learning laboratory for entrepreneurial enterprises, run by the city of Fort Myers. 

They worked together to develop a pre-construction readiness program, which consisted of two to three free classes a week throughout a two-month period. The program was designed to provide education on building skills and construction safety, in an attempt to bring more workers into the industry. Anyone could attend.

Since then, the program has expanded into a partnership with the Lee County School District. The new focus is on high school seniors with no plans to attend college. The seniors enrolled in the program are educated on basic safety, how to read maps, use hand tools and more. They also get to take tours of Lowe’s and construction sites. 

“We gave them an inside look into construction,” Kramer says. The goal of the program? Get students started working in the industry upon graduation — with a deeper understanding of what’s out there. 

In May, the program of 12 students from Dunbar High School included a graduation ceremony. While most graduation ceremonies are traditional — you walk across a stage and throw your cap — this ceremony was a bit different in that there were job opportunities lined up out the door. 

The event featured eight to 10 local trade companies that came bearing applications. Kramer says a few students filled out applications then and there, which is why a Skanska representative was there to provide help if needed.  

The partnership with the school district is expected to continue, with future plans of expanding to other schools. Kramer has also received some interest in starting a program in Orlando. 

Additionally, Skanska designed a mentorship program alongside the University of South Florida to provide subcontractors with training, development and partnership opportunities that would support the growth of businesses in the Tampa area. 

The biggest challenge now is getting buy-in from local trade companies to show what type of work is available. Kramer has that mostly covered, too. “Because of the labor shortage,” Kramer says, “the trade companies were excited and ready to use their time and resources to show the kids what’s out there.”

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