Work force initiative responds to need for more workers

The Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative (GCWDI) is a partnership of public and private organizations that consists of federal, state and local government agencies, businesses, community organizations and construction trade groups and associations. The initiative is working to develop a skilled work force to provide additional help for rebuilding the Gulf Coast region, which was devastated after the 2005 hurricane season. Even before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Gulf Coast region had a labor shortage. And after the hurricanes, thousands of additional construction workers were needed to help with rebuilding.

As a result, Business Roundtable, an association of 160 chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies, was formed. Through this collaboration, Business Roundtable companies have committed up to $5 million during the next four years to provide early funding for the initiative. Many companies and partner organizations also are providing contributions. In addition, Louisiana and Mississippi have received funding through the U.S. Department of Labor's Pathways to Construction program and National Emergency Grants. The Roofing Industry Alliance for Progress, a separate but related educational and research organization of NRCA, also is working with the initiative by encouraging community and technical colleges partnered with the initiative to provide roofing education as part of their construction training programs. In addition, the Alliance is trying to get support from local roofing contractors who could hire roofing program graduates.

Through its Get Rewarded for Education and Advancement Training (GREAT) campaign, the initiative plans to recruit and train up to 20,000 new construction workers for the Gulf Coast region by the end of 2009. Participants can enroll in free skills courses that offer an overview of the construction trades and workplace safety and provide the basic skills needed to start a construction career. As the program expands, the initiative plans to add training in various construction specialties.

Course curriculum and instructors are certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), a nonprofit education foundation that provides construction-related education, training and certification. NCCER was created in the 1990s to address the labor shortage issue in the construction industry. Since then, with the help of construction firms, it has established nationally recognized training programs in more than 40 craft areas.

NCCER's accreditation guidelines are based on uniform standards and criteria, which are echoed in its training programs. The National Registry maintains records for all trainees who complete any NCCER standardized program conducted by an NCCER-accredited organization, including training completion, assessments and performance results. It then issues credentials that recognize trainees' accomplishments.

Providing skills for people in the Gulf Coast region may improve the labor shortage issues and increase employment, says Riley Bechtel, co-chairman of the initiative and chairman and chief executive officer of the Bechtel Group Inc., San Francisco.

"The massive challenge of reconstruction in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita offers a major opportunity to build skills and employment in the impacted region, especially among disadvantaged and displaced residents, helping the region retain and develop its residents, and accelerating its economic recovery," Bechtel says. "The regional demand for construction labor significantly exceeded supply even before Katrina and Rita. This has obviously been accentuated by the recovery and occurs in the context of a growing national shortage of construction labor.

"This partnership between government and business will be a powerful catalyst for recovery in the Gulf region and development of the local population and a model for future disaster recovery," he continues.

Participants must be legal U.S. residents, pass a basic literacy test and submit to a drug test to be eligible for the program. Training and materials are free for the entry skills course, and tools are provided for trainees who fulfill jobs with contractors associated with the initiative.

Participants receive up to 120 hours of free training, which includes basic safety, hand tools, power tools, construction math, basic rigging and blueprint reading. The average salary for a construction professional is $20 per hour.

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) says positive results are expected from the GREAT program.

"This program is a win-win-win for Mississippi," he says. "Men and women are getting trained tuition-free for well-paying and long-term jobs in the construction industry; businesses are getting skilled workers; and we can continue our work to rebuild Mississippi and keep our economy growing."

Earlier this year, Business Roundtable President John J. Castellani provided a program update for the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, praising the program.

"We know that training is only the first step, and the initiative has been working hard to reach out to local contractors in the Gulf region to assist with job placement for the trainees when they finish the program," Castellani says. "I am pleased to tell you that state agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi are reporting an average job placement rate of 80 percent for initiative-trained graduates."

Although there is still a lot of work to be done, positive results can already be seen, Bechtel says.

"This unique initiative is bringing together numerous government agencies, community and trade organizations, academic institutions and the business community to give up to 20,000 people the skills needed for rewarding, long-term careers in construction," he says. "The graduates are already becoming strong contributors to the Gulf Coast's rebuilding efforts and infrastructure development projects."

For more information about the GREAT program, visit

This Web exclusive information is a supplement to A unifying force.