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Workers in High Demand

This article appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on May 31st

| The Journal Gazette

Construction projects are popping up across northeast Indiana like fuzzy, yellow dandelions.

While steelworkers erect the skeleton of the $100 million Ash Skyline Plaza downtown, site work is set to begin for the $27 million Cityscape Flats residential project just a few blocks away. Work also continues across town on the $16 million conference center expansion at Memorial Coliseum.

Last week, General Motors announced a project of staggering proportions: a $1.2 billion expansion and upgrade of its Allen County truck assembly plant. Parkview Health officials also last week announced they are embarking on the design stage for their $80 million cancer center. Earlier in the month, FCC (Adams) announced plans to invest $129 million to expand its Berne automatic transmission clutch factory.

Now that the dollars are committed, the only thing left to do is find the raw materials and manpower to transform these visions into reality. But that might be easier said than done.

As the economy heats up, the construction industry faces a shortage of people trained to do the specialized work that major building projects require. The number of people entering the apprenticeship pipeline and various training programs in recent years isn’t expected to be nearly enough to offset growing demand, experts say.

Two workers are retiring for every one entering the profession, according to data from NCCER. The Florida nonprofit was created in 1996 as the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

“It’s a real problem,” said Brad Benhart, associate clinical professor in Purdue Polytechnic’s building construction management department. “We’re at the threshold of a massive retirement of skilled-trades workers at all levels.”

The worker shortage is already being felt locally on projects including the Memorial Coliseum expansion. Randy Brown, general manager, has heard the project’s managers express concern during construction updates.

“They’ve been able to fill the slots,” he said, “but they’ve had to work extra hard to do so.”

 

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Kate Martin