Building a worker pipeline

Northeast Wisconsin Construction Alliance gains its footing

Posted on Feb 27, 2019 :: New North
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Facing the same talent struggles as many other industries across the region, construction leaders, along with education and workforce representatives, looked to a successful local initiative that increased employment interest and changed perceptions — the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance (NEWMA).

Since NEWMA began in 2006, the organization has transformed the image of manufacturing, forged vital links between businesses and educators, and increased the number of people interested in a manufacturing career.

With that as a model, construction firms, educators and a variety of organizations launched the Northeast Wisconsin Construction Alliance (NEWCA). The genesis for NEWCA came out of the Green Bay Area Public School District’s Bridges Construction & Renovation Advisory Team. As members talked, it was clear something more was needed to grow the workforce for the construction industry.

Bill Monfre, president of Quality Insulators Inc. and Asbestos Removal Inc., was a committee member and decided to get involved with the newly formed NEWCA. As the only construction business owner involved at the time, he was asked to be the board president and accepted.

“There was always a continuous discussion about how businesses could get more involved, and we saw that schools were doing their part and some businesses and associations were doing their own thing,” he says. “The idea was raised: Why can’t we come together and take on the challenge of not having enough workers?”

Many construction companies are also part of NEWMA and saw what it did for the manufacturing industry, Monfre says.

“There was this consensus — what if we model ourselves after what they did? Get members to join an alliance and work together on issues instead of everyone doing their own thing,” Monfre says. “This needs to be industry-led. A lot of entities are trying to solve the problem themselves, but we can do so much more together.”

Another member of that initial advisory committee, Elise Opicka, senior HR partner for people and culture at the BOE Group, says NEWCA’s top goal is to increase the number of employees working in the construction industry.

“It is important that people, especially young people and the important influencers in their lives, understand the tremendous opportunities that a career in the construction industry can provide,” she says. “Combining efforts allows for construction companies to simply promote that truth and get people interested.”

The construction industry struggles to find workers for multiple reasons, says Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board. Like other industries, its workforce is aging, and younger employees aren’t coming in fast enough to replace them. In addition, the 2008 recession hit the construction industry hard, putting many on the sidelines. Many employees moved on to another career instead of waiting for the construction sector to recover, which took several years.

“The goal is to create a pipeline of workers,” he says. “These are good jobs and we definitely need to do more to promote them.”

Opicka says raising awareness about NEWCA and getting businesses and other organizations to sign up as members is an initial critical goal.

“As we get more members, we’ll be able to hire a director to help manage the alliance and help us execute our goals,” she says. “Most every construction company is aware of the labor shortage because they feel it every single day. What they may not be aware of is that they can contribute to doing something about this universal issue by joining forces with fellow construction companies in the NEW Construction Alliance to tackle the problem head on.”

NEWMA blazed a great trail for NEWCA to follow, Monfre says.

“We need that executive director to help us get the programs and synergies that we want,” he says. “That will take us to the next level.”

NEWCA is hosting an information and recruitment event on March 7 at Fox Valley Technical College as a way to educate more people about the alliance and encourage more organizations and businesses to sign up as members.

The event runs from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. in Room E130A at FVTC and will feature several workforce and economic-related speakers who will delve deeper into the industry’s challenges and suggest potential solutions. To register for the event, contact Mary Willcox at the Bay Area Workforce Development Board by calling 920-431-4100 or sending an email to [email protected]