The adage rings true: You don’t need a four-year degree to make a decent living.
In Arizona, the construction industry is building ground -- and demolishing stereotypes.
According to a report by the Office of Economic Opportunity, Arizona gained 19,000 new construction jobs from Nov. 2017 to Nov. 2018.
The trend is also evident in the Verde Valley.
According to a 2018 report by the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization, when comparing the mix of employment, the Verde Valley has a higher percentage of jobs in construction than both the state and Yavapai County.
Construction also leads “blue collar” job employment, according to the report.
“Your growth factor is due to Arizona being a very attractive state to relocate to – families and retirees,” said Sandy Griffis, executive director of Yavapai County Contractors Association. “Yavapai County is receiving growth as well due to the ‘move-out’ factor from families across the U.S.”
But many local contracting business are starving for workers, according to local stakeholders.
“In our opinion the community is begging for it,” said Bob Weir, superintendent of the Valley Academy for Career and Technology Education. “It’s a big career for our students.”
Weir said when he first took over as superintendent for VACTE in 2016, one of the first things he did was hold a meeting with locals in the construction industry to assess what the community needs were.
“They told us there was a shortage of workers that had any skills at all and would stick around,” he said.
Griffis of YCCA said that although low employment is “a good thing” it shows a tight labor market.
That’s where VACTE comes in. The program is a joint technical education district servicing local high schools in the region. It is one of 14 Career and Technical Education Districts in Arizona. Weir said they started building their construction program because of the “huge vocational need.”
“You can prepare kids to learn soft skills, show up, and the job can pay $16 - 17 an hour ... a good wage for this area,” he said. “And in less than a year, they move on to the $20 range. It’s a good career choice. Not just short-term choice.”
Weir said he knows of at least three students who gradated his program who are employed.
He said he knows of another student currently working an electrician apprenticeship making $20 an hour.
A huge part of VACTE, Weir said, is overcoming the stigma of vocational training.
“We are saying you can come out with skills and make as much without a big fancy master’s degree,” he said.
Also, he said, “construction is more than just swinging a hammer.”
John Bassous, local contractor and owner of Tierra Verde Builders, employs VACTE students to intern at his business.
He said there is a significant need for a “labor force willing to learn.”
“We understand that most of the people who apply for us may not have years and years of experience in construction,” he said. “But are they willing to learn it? That’s what I’m referring to.”
Bassous said the greatest value VACTE brings is getting people who are willing to learn.
“We get to teach them our way which we think is very important,” he said.
Another value, he said, is getting people locally.
“I think at the beginning stages when you’re first starting anywhere, it’s important to live locally,” he said. “If you come from out-of-state, the learning curve can be significant. Most of who we hire from out-of-state. the learning curve is significantly longer.”
Talented people, Bassous said, are a huge “recipe for growth.”
“We project that companies that are well-weeded should have no problem keeping our boys busy,” he said.