Construction Education Gets GREAT

Staff | September 28, 2010

The private industry has teamed up with the education community on the Gulf Coast with the ambitious goal of training 20,000 workers by the end of 2009. The Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative, funded by the private industry and the Pathways to Construction education grants released to the Gulf Coast after the 2005 hurricanes, offers free tuition to students who wish to train in a wide variety of construction professions. Programs include instruction in welding, electrical work, utility line work, plumbing, and heavy equipment operation. The program launched Gulf Rebuild: Education Advancement and Training (GREAT), a campaign to promote opportunities in construction last year. It has already trained over 9,000 workers.

"Every part of the country is screaming for construction labor," says Tim Horst, Gulf Coast Workforce Development program manager. "The gulf coast is particularly vulnerable because of the high work demand, aging workforce and hurricane recovery." Horst says the program will do more than just add bodies to the workforce. Training new workers will support the hurricane rebuilding efforts, help those who were displaced by the storms and give students recruited into the construction industry an opportunity to find meaningful employment.

The initiative's greatest tool for recruiting is marketing the construction as a career with financial and advancement opportunities. "GREAT is about moving construction beyond the negative image of construction as dirty and dangerous profession," says Horst. "We want to portray it as a career that offers a personal sense of self worth with participation in the construction industry."

The program is funded by $25 million in multiple government grant sources including the two $5-million grants given to Louisiana and Mississippi after the hurricanes to train new workers, and a $15-million grant from the state of Louisiana. The private industry has also supplied $5 million in donations from several major oil companies, contractors and insurance companies.

Response in the industry has been positive, and most contractors are open to hiring new graduates from the program. "This program represents an unprecedented cooperation between business, education, and state and federal government," says Tad Page, Gulf Coast Workforce Development project manager — Contractor Communications, who works to promote the initiative to potential students and also helps match contractors with graduating students.

Beyond training, students are also matched with potential employers. Resumes are kept on hand, and there are plans to track students as they enter the workforce, in order to gauge the success of the program. This summer the National Center for Construction Education and Research in Florida began calling and checking on graduates to see where they are in their careers.

Construction training in each state is also set up differently. Mississippi requires students be screened for drugs, and Texas requires students to have employment lined up before enrollment. Efforts to track student success should also help give a better understanding of which model for training is most effective.

More information on the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative can be found online at


Students train in heavy equipment operation at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss. The training is part of the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative, a training initiative that hopes to add 20,000 construction workers to the industry by 2009.