Partnership Addresses Aging Workforce

By Aram Kalousdian, Editor | September 28, 2010

In several areas of the construction industry workforce, on a national average, the age group is approximately 54 years old, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Chief Deputy Director Jackie Shinn told attendees of MDOT's 27th Annual Small Business Development Conference held in Pontiac in March.

"So, we are not only facing the challenge of an aging infrastructure, we also have an aging workforce. How we best address that is a challenge that the federal government has put out to the states and has asked us to put together statewide partnerships to address those issues," Shinn said.

In January, Governor Granholm asked for a statewide partnership committee that includes all of the skilled trades groups, MDOT, and the Department of Labor and Economic Growth. The committee's mission has been to address how to train a future workforce and get them into the various skilled trades and other activities that will be needed to sustain the construction industry for the next 30 years.

The federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) has two sections addressing these issues. The first one allows every state to use federal funds for training, education and workforce development activities that include such things as career awareness and transportation career preparation. All of these activities are to include minorities and women as the target audience. Shinn said that MDOT's Small Business Development office is very active in this effort and is serving as a coordinator for this effort.

The second section is more permissive and is not a mandate. It is suggested that larger transportation projects with federal funds encourage the collaboration between federal, state and local governments; community colleges; apprenticeship programs; local high schools; and community-based organizations that are interested in proving the job skills of low income individuals.

Shinn said that MDOT is aware of the fact that very often communities see a large project under construction and they are not seeing their community reflected in the workforce.

"We want to try to remedy that. In order to do that, we have to get programs started so that those workers are available in the local communities to be hired by you and other transportation and construction industry individuals," Shinn said.

"We've selected a vision so that we all know what we're working toward. That vision is a sustained road construction workforce made up of diverse, trained and certified individuals in Michigan. Our mission is to equip this diverse pool of Michigan residents with skills for sustainable employment in the road construction industry.

"The statewide partnership's mission is to identify, leverage and maximize state, federal and local resources to create a sustainable process for supplying this diverse pool of road construction workers.

"There are some very intense efforts going on with respect to this. The subcommittees that are currently working will identify some of the key issues that impact the development and growth of the industry workforce. In other words, what are Michigan's problems? What do we look like compared to other states? Do we need electricians? Do we need carpenters? What is the universe that we are trying to address?

"The next goal is to develop some policies and strategies to address full participation in job training and employment opportunities for minority, female and economically disadvantaged individuals in the building of federally funded transportation projects."

Shinn said that another goal is to develop a statewide program for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training for the same targeted groups.

"When we talk about pre-apprenticeship we are talking about life skills, such as how to complete an employment application, what is expected of the individual and understanding work rules," Shinn said. She added that the goal includes providing linkage to the various apprenticeships and journeyman training that is available.

"Another goal is a regional blueprint for this collaboration and cooperation with community-based organizations, contractors, unions, schools, community colleges, and other people that are involved with this type of effort." The Road Construction Workforce Development Activity program was expected to be announced in May.

Linda Parker, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, discussed the effects of Proposal 2 on Affirmative Action programs in Michigan. The ballot proposal was passed by Michigan voters in November 2006. The constitutional amendment bans some Affirmative Action programs in Michigan.

"Affirmative Action is not over in the state of Michigan. The constitutional amendment only bans Affirmative Action that creates preferential treatment based on race, sex, ethnicity, color, and national origin in public contracting, public employment and public education. So you could, in fact have instances where it looks as if race or gender was taken into account but it was done in such a way that it did not create preferential treatment," Parker said.

Parker explained that the constitutional amendment has a provision in it that exempts programs that receive federal funding under certain conditions.

"If the state or other public entity receives federal funds and those funds require the receiving entity to implement Affirmative Action practices or policies and they make the implementation of those policies contingent to receiving those funds, then the program is exempt from the ban," Parker said. MDOT's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program is not subject to the constitutional amendment.