Armstrong focused on budget issues

Gail Armstrong

As an owner of a construction company here in New Mexico, I am a champion for the construction trades. My company has trained hundreds of workers who earn good wages and are able to support their families, buy homes and contribute to the economy of this state.

Many workers left the construction industry following the construction downturn that accompanied the 2009 recession. At the same time, many traditional training paths into the skilled trades, such as high school vocational education programs, have been eliminated. And the construction industry is feeling the impact of baby boomer retirements, with older workers leaving the workforce and taking their valuable skills with them.

The impact of the construction industry skills gap is felt not only by industry employers, but also other businesses and consumers, as well. Shortages of skilled workers can have a significant impact on project timing and pricing. The ripple effect of the construction industry skills gap includes altering the way some firms will do business.

Unfortunately, most people have no idea that skilled trades can lead to a prosperous career. Some 6.2 million jobs in construction are currently vacant, yet most parents feel that college is the best career path for our children graduating from high school.

We need to change the image problem that the construction industry suffers from. It is hard to attract workers when people think that construction work is dirty, dangerous and low-paying, with few benefits.

This could not be further from the truth. Today’s construction job sites are safer than ever, and provide opportunity for great salaries and benefits.

Along with the image problems, we need to address this skills gap here in New Mexico, and find creative ways to attract and train workers for careers in construction.

Vocational training must make a resurgence in this state. We need to start to allocate more resources to career and technical education programs.

Other states such as California have committed significant dollars to improving career and technical education programs across their state.

Part of the money is going to help public schools, community colleges and trade schools establish partnerships to create programs to prepare students for careers.

With more and more legislation focusing on funneling students into four-year institutions, trade schools are at risk of being left behind, causing the skills gap to widen.

We as legislators need to advocate for education policies that are inclusive of the trades. We need to fund initiatives that help provide opportunities for trade workers.

If we can focus on the above, we as a state can help to close the skilled-trades gap and provide more jobs for our residents in construction.