There’s no question that Michigan has a dire need for road improvements. Aside from complaints from all of us driving them, the last infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a D- on roads, tied for the worst grade with Michigan’s stormwater system.
The good news is that billions of dollars worth of road projects are being earmarked for Michigan. In metro Detroit, we’ve seen massive projects like I-696 and I-75, but the reality is that an influx of cash doesn’t fix the problem if the workers aren’t around for the jobs.
“These jobs are not going to be outsourced, they’re not going overseas so we need people,” said Ken Bertolini, the director of workforce development at Michigan Infrastructure & Transportation Association. “We need local people to fulfill that work obligation.”
Bertolini works with dozens of companies to come up with solutions to a worker shortage in the construction industry. Lean years of road budgets didn’t just lead to roads crumbling, it also forced workers out of the area to find jobs where they were available. Bertolini said many of those people aren’t coming back, or in some cases, workers have aged out of the trade or have moved up in the business leaving entry jobs. With billions of dollars worth of projects earmarked for the next several years, there’s a dire need for talent in an industry.
“You need a basic level of training to enter our work industry, and it’s hard to get into it without that,” said Bertolini.
That’s why businesses that are traditionally competitors are teaming up to train workers. This year, there are 25 high school students from Detroit taking part in a pre-apprentice program through the Detroit Workforce of the Future program that trains them for 20 hours then puts them in the field for 20 hours. Many of the workers participate in the Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program.
“Things kind of changed once I got into this,” said Aaron Wright, who returned for a second year in the program after being a part of it as a junior last year. “At first, I was wandering around finding out what I wanted to do, but I saw this and thought, ‘Yeah, cool.’”
Wright is a recent graduate of Cody APL. He worked with Cadillac Asphalt in 2017, this year he’s working with Angelo Iafrate Construction. Other companies like Ideal Group Construction, Barton Malow, Dan’s Excavating, CA Hull and AJAX and Utility Services of America are all training students as well.
“It’s a big difference between school and this type of work,” said William Scott, a pre-apprentice who wants to work heavy machinery on construction sites. “This work is hands on. I think it’s for me because I like to work with my hands, and I’m a fast learner.”
The interest from high school students to get a jumpstart is good news for construction companies, and tax payers. If companies have to attract out-of-state workers to perform jobs the cost goes up. That means construction dollars would be spread thinner. Beyond road construction work, it’s a big deal for companies looking to perform jobs in the city of Detroit. If a contractor uses less than 51-percent of local workers’ hours to finish a job in Detroit they’re fined if the project involves government funding — it led to millions of dollars in fines to build the Little Caesars Arena, and fines could pile up for road crews building city roads, as well.
If you’re interested in shadowing a student while they learn on-the-job skills you can reach out to Bertolini by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Prospective workers can also learn more by visiting MITA’s workforce development site .