Carlea Johnson, 17, said she fell in love with the sound of a miter saw at 15 years old.
The Pontiac High School junior’s grandfather owned a construction company. She spent a lot of time during her younger years talking about the industry with him. That inspired her to get involved in the skilled trades. Her mom and aunt were also involved in construction.
Johnson is currently enrolled in the Oakland Schools Construction Technology Apprenticeship Program – a partnership between Oakland Schools, Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 1076 in Pontiac, and the Michigan Laborers’ Training Apprenticeship Institute.
Over the course of the two-year program, she will learn skills while working in the classroom, in the school’s lab, which includes building a house, and on-the-job with Auch Construction that she hopes will lead to a successful career in a field yearning for more talent.
“The process started in September and I was so eager to start,” said Johnson. “I love getting my hands dirty. I knew I had to get involved with an apprenticeship program.”
While Johnson is learning skills and a trade, she’s also helping address a talent shortage that’s expected to grow in coming years.
In this Johnson’s program, the local laborers union screens potential apprenticeship candidates. Following program admittance, Johnson received five weeks of training through the Michigan Laborers’ Training and Apprenticeship Institute in Perry, Michigan.
After her time in Perry, she was sent to work with a contractor – Pontiac-based Auch Construction.
For Johnson, an apprenticeship program focused on skilled trades,means she will gain valuable hands-on experience and knowledge while helping employers fill a need.
“It’s an easy first step,” said Johnson. “You can go into construction and you don’t have to be out on the road. There are other options for you, like carpentry or masonry. You can do anything you can put your mind to.”
Vince DeLeonardis, president and CEO of Auch Construction, said it’s important in a talent-shortage market to reach out into the schools and let parents and students know about the opportunities to work in skilled trades.
“For a long time, students looked by these programs,” said DeLeonardis. “Now, I think we’re doing a better job of letting these kids know about these great programs where students are gaining practical knowledge and getting prepared for college and beyond.”
He said Carlea’s passion for the skilled trades is obvious and that there needs to be more young people like her engaged in the workforce.
“She has an excellent work ethic and the ability to navigate a job site,” said DeLeonardis. “That’s what we are looking for. For her, there are a lot of opportunities to go far, including with us. This apprenticeship will expose her to what the laborers do and the other related trades as well.”
Doug Smith, director of workforce development at Oakland Community College, said it’s the community college working in collaboration with school systems that’s at the heart of reducing the skills gap. He said it’s important that people enter the workforce with some basic skills, not just technical talent.
According to Oakland County’s three-year economic forecast, 42,000 jobs will be added over the next three years, which means employers will be under more pressure to fill those added positions and find the right talent.
Smith said one challenge getting people back into the workforce is the time they have been sidelined without a job. During the previous five recessions, people were unemployed an average 15 to 20 weeks, making it easier to bring these people back into the workforce.
It’s 40 to 45 weeks now, according to Smith.
“If you’re out of the workforce for 40 weeks, getting you back ... is much harder or we can’t do it at all,” said Smith. “We have to go after this group by working with employers and using job training and apprenticeship programs to develop that talent.
“We need to reach out to veterans, returning citizens, the disabled, and our youth,” he said.
Jack Van Tiem, vice president for Kelly Services-Metro Detroit region, said it’s critical that the county and others continue to foster partnerships that encourage various skills.
“Another option is to fund budgets to provide training, mentoring and coaching for all age ranges,” said Van Tiem. “Also, explore the undersourced, under-leveraged groups of potential workers, such as those with physical and mental impairments, victims of abuse, refugees, and technical training programs for those incarcerated, and felony-friendly employer environments.”
One of those groups would be teenagers. Over the past eight years, the labor force participation rate for people age 16 to 19 has hovered between 33 to 35 percent, the highest for any age group, while the unemployment rate has fluctuated between 15 and 20 percent.
Smith said it’s important to engage younger individuals because fewer are working during high school and need training and hands-on experience before getting a job.
He said employers are more willing to bring alternative groups into skilled trades because there is a smaller talent pool, including teens with apprenticeships and job training experience.
“Employers are also trying to tackle this skills gap by attempting to hang onto their employees longer than in years past,’ said Smith. “When you hit 4 percent unemployment, or just under in Oakland County, there is a large part of the population that has been disengaged from the workforce and they’re just not participating.”
WHAT EMPLOYERS DEMAND
Employers want colleges and trade schools, apprenticeship programs and internships to concentrate on skilled trades such as welding, which is in extremely high demand, according to Smith.
Apprenticeships are tougher to develop than internships because it’s up to employers to create a U.S. labor department-approved program. Internships depend less on employer responsibility and participation.
OCC recently announced four $2,500 scholarships to provide financial assistance to those seeking degrees in computer information systems. The scholarships are funded by Delta Network Services.
“We work with mostly larger companies,” said Smith. “The highest demand we get right now are for students with experience working with programmable logistical controllers, which control manufacturing processes and systems.”
At the state level, research is being done to determine real-time labor demand in industries that advertise the most jobs.
Jason Palmer, director of the state’s labor market information and strategic initiatives, said 31 percent of March job openings required a high school diploma or some college, particularly for computer or mathematics jobs.
“The unemployed are experiencing barriers that may need new job skills or training,” he said. “When you’re getting fewer and fewer people applying for jobs, employers are beginning to look at these alternative populations. Jobs available for youth are different and more high-skilled.”
The most advertised occupations in March on various statewide corporate job boards and Pure Michigan Talent Connect, according to data gathered by The Conference Board for use in the state’s real-time labor demand monthly reports, are:
• Registered nurses, 3,210,
• Industrial engineers, 2,150,
• Heavy- and tractor-trailer truck drivers, 1,880,
• Software developers, 1,660,
• Mechanical Engineers, 1,520,
• Retail salesperson, 1,460.
Oakland County Michigan Works!, the county’s workforce development arm, is also working to develop talent employers need but can’t find. It publishes an apprenticeship guide and a report of the most in-demand skills that employers are seeking.
Jennifer Llewellyn, the county’s workforce development manager, said many companies are looking for teens to fill positions because the competition for talent is so fierce.
“As demand for talent increases, companies expand their willingness to train and reach out to populations they may not have considered previously, including teens, seniors, stay-at-home moms, and individuals with disabilities.”
She added that companies are aware that demand for talent is real and are more proactive with their talent pipeline, which includes engaging high schools, technical schools and community colleges to reach and engage young talent.
To help develop the talent pipeline, the state has provided $2 million to 86 Oakland County companies to train individuals in high-demand sectors.
“Companies are having a very difficult time finding talent because the jobs that are open don’t match up with those individuals that are looking for employment,” said Llewellyn. “As a result, we are noticing an increase in wages for entry level positions. Co-ops, internships, and work experience are starting to increase again, much like what we saw in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”
She said although nearly every occupation could have apprentices, the county’s primary focus is creating apprenticeships in advanced manufacturing, healthcare, information technology, and construction.
According to the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s most recent labor market report, the labor force in the Metro Detroit region increased 0.3 percent from March 2017 to March 2018 while the amount of people unemployed dropped 5.3 percent.
In March, Oakland County’s unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, fourth lowest among the state’s 83 counties. Eighty-two of Michigan’s 83 counties recorded seasonal unemployment rate reductions in March.
According to Dan Riley, researcher with the Oakland County Department of Economic Development, the share of workers in industrial and construction skilled trades occupations that are under the age of 35 has risen between 2009 and 2017.
“However, this data does not take into account the number of job openings (demand) that may have gone unfulfilled during that the period,” said Riley. “We cannot tell if the job growth at that lower end of the age range could have actually been higher if there was a greater supply of labor.”