Sean Ray, VP of Craft Workforce Development, shares how Sundt is setting workers up for career success.
The shortage of skilled workers is affecting every industry, including construction. The Associated Builders and Contractors predicted that the construction industry as a whole will need to attract an estimated 342,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor. In response to this, Sundt has been ramping up our workforce development initiatives across the nation, with Phoenix, Arizona serving as the hub for all things training and development at our new training center.
Vice President of Craft Workforce Development Sean Ray sat down with us to talk about the future of workforce development in Arizona and what Sundt is doing to connect our people with resources and training to set them up for long-term success in their careers while meeting our clients’ needs.
What are the major challenges and opportunities we face in terms of workforce development and expansion in the construction industry?
“A huge challenge is, and has been, overcoming the biases that people have around working in construction. One of the most important things we can do to help expand the workforce is to raise awareness about the opportunities that exist in the industry. When most young people think about what it means to work in construction, they imagine themselves out in some dusty field with a shovel, breaking their backs for the rest of their lives.”
“The reality is that yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also extremely rewarding work that can very easily set you up for senior level and management roles that bring in well over six figures. Especially at an employee-owned company like Sundt, each person has a financial stake in the company, so the effort you put in directly affects your own bottom line.”
The skills shortage is a particularly hot topic in Arizona, where Sundt happens to be headquartered. What are we doing in Arizona and beyond to address the shortage of craft workers?
“There are several initiatives that local government is spearheading with Sundt’s help. One of those programs is Build Your Future Arizona, whose mission is to raise awareness about high paying construction careers and training opportunities to help create a sustainable workforce. We have ongoing partnerships with community colleges and trade schools like Central Arizona College (CAC). Our relationship with CAC has been in place for years now, and they host a lot of our trainings and provide college credits for our heavy equipment operator apprentices.”
“We have employee-owners who go out and visit high schools in the Valley to educate younger folks on what a career path in construction can do for them and how to get started. We also sponsor and participate actively in local career fairs and events like AZ Construction Career Days and Chandler Innovation Fair, just to name our upcoming ones. These events are an opportunity to change how students view construction careers and construction workers.”
Why has Sundt invested so heavily in apprenticeship programs and workforce development initiatives?
“Sundt leadership recognized this impending need for skilled craft. But we knew we couldn’t just wait around for skilled builders, we had to help create them and give our people those opportunities to grow their careers. Our apprenticeships really benefit all parties, even project owners. Sundt gets to increase our skilled workforce so we can pursue more work and staff the jobs we have with good people; our employee-owners have access to high quality training and career development opportunities; and our clients know their projects are being staffed with skilled builders who can perform a variety of trades.”
Which trades does Sundt perform, and why is it so beneficial to be able to perform a lot of our work ourselves?
“Sundt has nearly a dozen self-perform trades, including concrete, electrical, mechanical, pipefitting, structural steel, underground utilities and more. When we are able to perform a variety of high-demand trades with our own skilled crews, we have a great deal of control over scheduling and keeping costs low for owners and our business. This means we are able to reinvest into our people, such as through our apprenticeship programs.”
“And, every contractor does things differently, so when we’re able to train our own people, we get to teach them the “Sundt way.” They’re more effective in the field, and it provides opportunity for our people. When we notice the ones who go above and beyond and have that drive to take on greater responsibility, we can help move their career forward.”
What makes Sundt’s apprenticeship programs different from others?
“A lot of apprenticeship programs aren’t nearly as flexible and accessible as ours. Most require folks to attend night classes twice a week, after hours and off the clock. Who wants to do that? At Sundt, the company pays for our apprentices to fly out to the Center for Craft Excellence at the Training Center in Arizona for a week once a quarter. We cover their lodging, meals and travel, as well as pay them for the time they’re here learning.”
“And, it’s not just technical training we focus on. We also develop power skills like leadership and incorporate mental and financial wellness into our programs because we’re not only concerned with creating skilled builders, but strong, ethical leaders in the field.”
Is the industry coming together around the skilled worker shortage? If so, what is Sundt’s contribution to the conversation?
“We know that what’s best for the industry is also best for Sundt, so we’re heavily involved in the AGC and with NCCER and helping other contractors set up their programs. We’ve used the model we developed with CAC to create a similar partnership with Northwest College of Construction in Oregon, and we’re currently working on getting something set up for Austin Community College in Texas. We’ve seen how powerful CAC can be for training and helping students build careers, and though our partnership with Northwest College is still relatively new, we know it’s bringing benefit to the students and our construction projects in that region. When the construction industry and training programs can work together effectively, we can help create real solutions for the skilled worker shortage.”
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