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Q&A: Paul Morris of Delaware Tech on meeting the labor shortage

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By Kathy Canavan
Special to Delaware Business Times

Building sites dot Delaware from the Brandywine High School renovations to the new Christina River Bridge approaches, but the construction industry faces a labor shortage.

When the industry shed more than 2 million jobs across the country during the Recession, many of those workers left the industry for good. Now, the economy is rebounding, and construction firms are struggling to find skilled workers for jobs such as framing carpentry and high-rise concrete construction.

In some states, 78 percent of companies report they can’t find enough qualified workers, according to Construct Connect. The current workforce is getting older as well. More than one-fifth are 55 or older, and fewer than one-tenth are 24 or younger.

Paul Morris, associate vice president for workforce development at Delaware Tech, discussed local construction needs and the training programs the college is developing to meet them.

1. How difficult is it for companies here in Delaware to find qualified construction employees?

The partners we have been working with over the past two years have shared that they are experiencing some challenges with finding qualified heavy equipment operators, laborers and mechanics. When I talk to people in the construction industry, the main issues are a lack of experience within the field and credentials that are needed to perform various jobs.

2. Are Delaware Tech’s offerings growing as companies report different needs?

Yes. In response to needs, Delaware Tech is developing training programs such as diesel mechanic, heavy equipment operator, construction craftsman, welding and surveying. We also have an associate degree in construction management.

The majority of these training programs will be located in the college’s new Training Center in Middletown. Of course, we also offer some of these programs on our campuses throughout the state and at our Innovation and Technology Center in New Castle.

At Delaware Tech, it’s our mission to respond to the workforce needs of our state. When companies let us know what they need, we create programs to meet those needs.

3. Can you provide a specific example of a critical need in the construction industry?

There is a dire need for heavy equipment operators. Construction companies need credentialed operators, and a large number of current operators are nearing retirement age, so there is the potential for a shortage in the near future.

But in order to create a training program, we needed more space. We are extremely fortunate that the town of Middletown helped us locate a great spot they weren’t using, and we’ll be spending the next several months getting it ready for the first cohort to begin in January.

4. Is training available for back-office employees too, now that project execution has become more challenging?

At Delaware Tech, we offer project management courses, and we also have some courses that focus on regulatory issues within our construction management technology associate degree program.

5. What else are you doing to fill the needs of the construction industry?

Through Gov. Carney’s Pathways to Prosperity program, we are working with the Department of Education to develop a pathway in construction for high school students.

They can take courses throughout their junior and senior year and graduate with credentials in the field. They can also potentially earn credits toward a degree at Delaware Tech.

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