The narrative that the construction workforce is slowly declining as the most experienced of the group begins to retire has been lingering around the industry for years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently estimates that there are around 158,000 unfilled jobs in the construction sector. There’s been a largely unfocused effort across the industry to try to bridge the workforce gap, but two retail giants recently announced that they are putting their money where their mouth is and committing their time and money to the effort. Construction jobs are an often overlooked profession that can pay very well without the requirement of getting a college degree.
In late February, Lowe’s announced a new program called Track to the Trades, which is a pre-apprenticeship program for their employees that will provide career alternatives and financial support. Part time and full time employees of Lowe’s will be eligible for the program, which will take between 6 to 10 months to complete. The company will give the participants up to $2,500 to gain certification in carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, or appliance repair.
The program began its pilot on March 1 in 4 cities: Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Richmond. By the end of 2018, the company expects that the program will be available nationwide.
"The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need," said Jennifer L. Weber, Lowe's chief human resources officer, in a press release. "With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers, allowing us to better meet the demands of customers while creating long-term educational benefits and economic opportunity for our people."
Not to be outdone, Home Depot announced this week that they will be committing $50 million to skilled trades training and plans to train 20,000 new tradespeople by 2028. The Home Depot Foundation, in conjunction with the Home Builders Institute, launched their pilot program in 2017 specifically for members of the military. The first students of that pilot, from Ft. Stewart and Ft. Bragg, are set to graduate this month.
It takes 12 weeks to complete Home Depot’s pre-apprenticeship program and there is no cost to the student. The company stated that the program already has a job placement rate of 90%. Additional military bases across the country will soon be able to participate in the program.
"We want to bring shop class back, from coast-to-coast," said Shannon Gerber, executive director of The Home Depot Foundation, in a press release. "We're thrilled to train 20,000 next-generation plumbers, electricians, carpenters and beyond. It's a true honor to welcome our first classes of separating soldiers as they transition to civilian life and into successful careers in the trades."
For those not in the military, the Home Depot Foundation is also currently partnering with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) to administer an “advanced level trades training program” for residents of Atlanta’s Westside community. Through 2028, they plan to expand the program to underserved high schools across the country.