With skilled labor shortages affecting the construction industry throughout North America and Canada, ABC New Mexico (ABCNM) has placed a huge emphasis on recruiting the next generation of workers. Offering a range of programs across a wide variety of skills, ABCNM is excited to showcase the innovative ways in which it has expanded its existing programs; many of which now include technological elements. While construction has always involved elements of technology, in our current climate, technology, and its widening list of associated skills is proving to be a fundamental aspect of the industry.
With this in mind, ABC chapters are keen to assist members by upskilling and supporting their education across this growing sector. In an effort to meet these needs, the association is offering the pathways needed to grow into the area. The ABC National Office has a Tech Alliance of 15 hand-picked companies that provide some form of technological service within the construction sector. By implementing technology into its training programs, ABCNM is hoping to distinguish itself from other training facilities and help tackle the skilled labor shortage by improving recruitment and retention of employees.
One specific area of technology ABCNM is rolling out is virtual reality (VR). The association has identified VR headset systems as an effective and creative tool for education in the construction industry as it allows for specific immersive experiences to be generated that will help to promote learning. Additionally, VR headset systems can be used to emulate real life experiences. This will not only be beneficial for safety, but can also improve design visualization, project planning and coordination, training and education, customer experience and site management.
For plumbing, mechanical, and electrical students, they will have access to a more hands on experience through VR than they would typically experience in the training labs — which ABCNM is quickly outgrowing. In fact, the influx of students has become so massive that ABCNM is continuously looking for additional space, and while the increase may be an obstacle, it offers hope that the end of the skilled labor shortage is near.
President and CEO of ABCNM, Carla Kugler, is passionate about all things construction, and is excited to add some innovation to the association’s current programs, but figuring out space is a separate issue for Kugler. “We’re suffering some growing pains which is a good problem to have. Our classes start in two weeks and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going to put everybody. In 2009, we built a 13,000 square foot training facility. By 2019 we had outgrown the facility, so we built an additional 13,000 square feet. We were lucky enough to have the land in order to be able to do that.” For Kugler, this challenge is simply the result of meeting the needs of the industry. She believes that the benefits of offering such a wide range of programs far outweighs any difficulties experienced. “We now have 26,000 square feet. We’ve got five labs, we’ve got seven classroom spaces and we are pushing capacity almost to that between all of the programs that we have. So not only apprenticeship — which we have eight trades — but we also offer continuing education, medical gases certification, customized training, project management and supervision. With all of these activities going on, we may end up having to either go up or figure out where we’re going to go and expand.”
“The chapter is currently exploring multiple avenues to equip the industry with enough skilled workers to meet demand.”
In recent years, ABC has very much been on the frontlines of recruitment efforts for the construction industry. Kugler sits on the State Workforce Development Board, which is a governor appointed board in New Mexico aiming to align and implement sector strategies for economic development and workforce. Last year, New Mexico state legislature allocated roughly $10 million for workforce recruitment, specifically pre apprenticeship. ABCNM continuously visit every college, career fair or outreach effort that it can to help encourage people to join the workforce. Not only for the industry, but for its members.
As part of these recruitment efforts, ABCNM has been involved in pre-apprenticeship outreaches with the intention of providing high school juniors/seniors with work based learning experiences. The state of New Mexico is currently implementing a franchise known as ‘Be Pro, Be Proud.’ This idea originated in Arkansas, and is essentially a semi-truck equipped with simulators for construction, which will tour middle schools and high schools around the state in an effort to recruit more people into apprenticeship.
ABCNM’s recruitment efforts are not just limited to students, however. The chapter is currently exploring multiple avenues to equip the industry with enough skilled workers to meet demand. ABCNM deals with veterans, second chance citizens and anyone interested in getting involved in the construction industry. However, there is a lot more to ABCNM than training and recruitment.
Safety is at the forefront of everything ABC does, not just ABCNM but every chapter. Kugler is keenly aware of the need to create workplaces where workers get home to their families each night. As she explains the efforts the association is making in this regard, I am struck by the realization that safety initiatives actually create a community within the construction industry. Kugler explains initiatives in which people are not competing with each other, and instead supporting one another.
ABC’s STEP program is its national safety program, and is almost like a benchmark tool for safety. STEP is a safety management program designed to help safety performance and is recognized by federal OSHA. How it works is that each company — regardless of size — measures its safety practices on 25 key components. If it follows these key components, the company will ultimately enhance the overall safety performance of its work place. While ABCNM promotes the STEP program locally, the chapter also has a partnership with its local state OSHA, known as CLAS — Construction Leader’s Agreement to Safety.
“The CLAS program goes a little bit further, it’s a little different because of the partnership that we have with our local OSHA. It’s just one guy that OSHA has designated to handle the partnerships. We verify, we do job site visits, we do leadership visits, we basically monitor our own team and that exempts the contractor from surprise onsite inspections.
“It gives contractors good-faith with regard to penalties, allowing them to remedy before fines. And it’s a best practice for OSHA because we’re going to watch our people under OSHA’s guidance. We are basically saying that we will ensure that our people are being safe, and that allows OSHA the time to monitor those that are not within the partnership. So, for their limited resources in our big state, it has been a great partnership for years.”
At the core of ABCNM is its members. If there is a way to make their lives easier, then the team at ABCNM is willing to do it. This care goes beyond tackling the skill shortage and managing safety, however. The association advocates for members at state and legislative level, campaigning tirelessly on the issues that affect them.
ABCNM’s strong focus on political advocacy is a bi-directional discussion. The association believes that it is as important to communicate with members as it is to advocate with lawmakers. For Kugler, it is hugely important that ABCNM is being the catalyst of information. This means that it offers a bespoke communication service for members, based on their individual needs. The association is always contactable by phone and often works as a liaison between government agencies and contractors. With this level of support, it is no wonder that ABCNM has so many members. As Kugler explains, association membership offers the power to be part of something bigger.
“We have found that ABC members really like to do work with other ABC members, and that is both on a national level and local level. I get phone calls all the time, or emails, asking for referrals for ABC membership. I honestly believe that we can grow our own business, or help members grow their own business. ABC is a quality brand and the contractors that are within that community really respect each other. I think that there’s a variety of things being a member brings to a contractor and we are here to support them.”
With its growing investment in technology, focus on recruitment and the support system it provides to its members, ABCNM is not only bringing the association into the future, it is creating a place for contractors to thrive. A future where the skilled worker shortage is a thing of the past, and ABC New Mexico is the thing of the future.