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The Importance of Strengthening Our Workforce

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Graphic of a building made up of people on each level with additional people working on the outside of a building

I want to discuss an issue critical to the entire industry: attracting and retaining skilled workers. Workforce development has been a struggle for a lot of us over the years. We’ve known for a long time that our senior technicians will be coming into retirement at some point, and we need to find ways to bring new people into the industry.  

It’s more important than ever to work with young people and get them interested in the trades. It’s going to take all of us to bring more people into our industry. We must work together to show that any job in the trades can be a rewarding career.  

We need to volunteer our time at high school job fairs promoting the trade. Get to know people who can help you get involved. Consider sitting on the advisory boards of local vocational schools so you can give input on the curriculum and programs.  

Promote how your business can provide rewarding careers through social media, as well as in traditional media. Develop in-house training programs for full-time staff and paid apprenticeship programs to bring more young people into your business.  

ACCA is also working on several workforce development initiatives, including developing a job board to connect member contractors to potential applicants. The association understands workforce development is the number one policy priority for contractors, as the skilled trades gap issue has existed for years —made worse by the pandemic. In the HVACR trade alone, there are more than 100,000 job openings that still need to be filled, and ACCA is supporting funding and legislation to help bridge this gap.  

We’ve supported the following:  

  • Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 864/H.R. 2037). This bipartisan, bicameral legislation increases the flexibility of Pell Grants by extending eligibility to short-term job training programs that are in high demand. Currently, Pell Grants are only extended to traditional four-year programs.  
  • Student Debt Alternative and CTE Awareness Act (H.R. 3365). This legislation would require the Department of Education to publish information on the Office of Federal Student Aid website regarding general CTE information, CTE programs in all 50 states, and Perkins funding. Additionally, the FAFSA application must include a one-page summary about CTE programs and how they are a viable alternative to a four-year degree. The act would require applicants to sign an acknowledgment box before starting their FAFSA application. There are also serious discussions about including increased funding for career and technical education in budget reconciliation. Negotiations are ongoing. 
  • Supporting Small Business and Career and Technical Education Act (H.R. 3366). This legislation would amend the Small Business Act to direct Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) to assist small businesses in hiring graduates from career and technical education programs, in addition to the existing services SBDCs and WBCs provide. The bill also supports career and technical education graduates by directing SBDCs and WBCs to assist them in starting up a small business.  

The Jumpstarting our Businesses and Supporting Small Business bills are particularly important to ACCA. We support making funds available for our industry to help get people excited about having a career in the trades.  

You can also learn more about attracting workers by attending the ACCA 2022 Conference & Expo, March 28-30, 2022, at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.  

At ACCA 2022, network with other contractors to learn what they are doing to find quality people and join ACCA MIX® Groups to share best practices with other contractors. Conference speakers are also a great resource not only for workforce development issues, but also to learn more about growing your business. You can also learn about the latest products and services from manufacturers and other vendors at the Expo.  

It’s been great serving as the chairman for ACCA this past year, though it was different due to COVID-19, we still accomplished a lot, getting the association on the right path to grow and help the industry. Our president Barton James, as well as the entire staff, have done a great job helping to guide ACCA through COVID over these past few years. It’s also been great working with fellow contractors on the board, helping to further the industry together. Thank you for letting me serve as your chairman! 

Brian Stack
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