by Corrine Casanova
During the recession here in northern Nevada, construction essentially became a dead industry. Because of this, many skilled workers were forced to leave the construction industry and pursue very different opportunities. Over 20,000 jobs were lost in the construction industry alone by the year 2000 in the Reno area. As Nevada had the nation’s highest unemployment rate at the time, many construction companies needed to reinvent themselves. To keep afloat, construction companies needed to become lean and mean and have a diverse portfolio.
And that is precisely what Clark/Sullivan Construction did.
Fast forward to today. Now construction is Nevada’s fastest growing sector. Pain points accompany that growth. The skilled worker shortage in the trades is one of those painful realities. Jarrett Rosenau, President of Clark/Sullivan’s Nevada Operations, explained, “We’ve got some big vacuums in the industry due to the recession we experienced in 2008. For example, locating qualified superintendents has been problematic. This title comes with experience and it’s a progression. When the recession hit, people that had been in the trades for 30 years simply left the industry. They didn’t want to take jobs from younger people who needed a job at that time so they either retired or went back to school to learn something new. We are now feeling that huge vacuum in terms of qualified tradesmen. In 2007, the average union carpenter age was 42 and now it is 49.” To combat this talent gap there are educational institutions that are laser focused on getting youth into the trades.
The Academy for Career Education (ACE) is a tuition-free charter and trade school in Reno. They aim to infuse the standard, high school core-curriculum with career-applicable training methods in construction and engineering. Through their curriculum, they are addressing the gap in skilled labor. They’ve been operating as a full-time accredited institution since 2002 and have over 450 graduates, the majority of them working in the industry. ACE Director, Leigh Berdrow, shared the vision of ACE as being the kids going on to get continuing education or work in the industry. They’ve had 16 graduating classes so far. They work closely with Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) as students attend TMCC and get college credit as part of their high school education. They also work with the Nevada Builders Alliance, the Builder’s Association of Northern Nevada (BANN) and the Association of General Contractors (AGC).
ACE targets middle school aged children as they have students in grades 9-12. ACE’s goal is to have their students either find work in the industry or continue with secondary education. Statistically, 38 percent of the students continue with secondary education while 34 percent go right into the industry or the military. So far, there has been 16 graduating classes with a 93-96 percent graduation rate. “There are more job offers than students graduating at this point. Many of our juniors and seniors are offered work on a part-time basis and then often work for those employers. When employers line up to meet the high school graduates, it is too late. These kids have already been scooped up,” said Berdrow. One of the biggest supporters of ACE is the AGC who banded together to build the ACE school. Clark/Sullivan’s Rosenau is the current chairman of the organization whose mission is to support their members, enhance the image and awareness of the construction industry and quality of life through skill, integrity and responsibility. It’s a natural fit for organizations like AGC and construction companies like Clark/Sullivan to partner up with educational institutions like ACE to promote that young talent for our future workforce. In fact, ACE worked with AGC to receive a $200,000 grant from the Governor’s Office of Science, for a virtual training tool which allows students to use heavy equipment in a safe manner. This fall, this tool will be housed at AGC which is located right down the street from ACE.
A skilled workforce is something Jerry Hogan, Vice President/Chief Estimator at Clark/Sullivan, sees as vital in the industry. Without it, it’s impossible to make accurate job bids as talent is often the largest cost and variable when quoting a job. From a grass roots level, he sees a need for a rehaul of the image of a construction worker. He explained, “I’ve got news for you. It’s not a gorilla with a hammer. In the past there has been a bad connotation with the people that work in the construction industry. People don’t realize that we are a diverse workforce. We are a skilled workforce first and foremost with varying degrees of education. There are many engineers in this field. We also are becoming more and more technology driven. Today, all our drawings have hyperlinks and technology plays an important role in our growth.”
Recruitment of construction workers isn’t always easy, especially here in northern Nevada. Rosenau explained, “Reno can have huge temperature swings. Working in the trades isn’t for the faint of heart. They are out in the elements and there is often a lot of wear and tear on the body. Some of these tradesmen are wizards, the most fantastically talented and creative people you’ve ever met.”
No matter what the economy, Clark/Sullivan has a diversified portfolio when it comes to the types of projects they have (they have a mix between public works and private) as well as the location of the projects. They have two locations: one in Reno and one in Sacramento and a total of about 120 employees.