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As Westchester heads into the post-pandemic world, there’s a growing sense of vibrancy in the county’s construction industry.
A number of new projects, many bolstered by the massive $1.2 trillion federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress at the end of 2021, are starting to take shape.
New York State received a hefty $13 billion from the package, giving a green light to extensive plans for building or repairing everything from highways and bridges to sewers and waterlines.
To add to the momentum, state voters approved a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act in November 2022. This legislation will help boost the environment as well as the job market, through infrastructure and other improvements aimed at preserving natural resources and opening up an estimated 84,000 jobs. “These will fund a lot of project work, capital construction, and upgrades to the existing infrastructure,” says George Drapeau, public affairs specialist for the Construction Industry Council (CIC) of Westchester & Hudson Valley, a Tarrytown-based trade organization. “All in all, it will create a lot of jobs.”
“We’re back to almost prepandemic levels, and employers are competing fiercely for talent,” says Jason Chapin, director of workforce development for the Westchester County Association, a regional economic development and business advocacy organization.
He notes that, according to the state Department of Labor, last year wrapped up with a December unemployment rate of just 2.5% in the county.
“That’s close to historic lows,” Chapin says. “So if you’re graduating from high school or college, or you’ve been out of the workforce and want to get back in, there’s probably never been a better time. There’s tremendous opportunity now.”
Among the regional companies eager to hire is Kings Capital Construction Group in Tarrytown, one of the region’s best-known heavy construction management and commercial general contracting companies. “We’re always on the lookout for skilled, qualified workers in all areas of construction, from project management to on-site laborers,” says Victoria Bruno, business development manager at Kings Capital.
One project requiring a huge pool of employees from across the state is the South Fork Wind renewable energy farm, based 35 miles off Long Island’s coast. Scheduled to launch operations later this year, South Fork is one of five New York wind farms in development. The New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) estimates that overall, these enterprises will create 10,000 new jobs — from construction workers to technicians.
The county’s private construction sector has seen a rebound, too. Drapeau of the CIC points out a $650 million, mixed-use redevelopment of the former White Plains Mall. Known as Hamilton Green, the project broke ground in December 2022 and will combine residential, commercial, and retail space.
With all these avenues of progress, it’s no surprise that the state Department of Labor estimates the New York construction field will likely grow by more than 24% in the 10-year span ending in 2030.
“We’re always on the lookout for skilled, qualified workers in all areas of construction, from project management to on-site laborers.”
—Victoria Bruno, Business Development Manager, Kings Capital Construction Group
Part of the lure of construction jobs is that they embrace a multitude of skill sets, from project engineers, truck drivers, and heavy-equipment operators to workers who can frame buildings, handle concrete and steel, to electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and painters.
Salaries vary widely, depending on education, certification, and experience. Salary.com reports the average construction worker in the White Plains area typically earns from about $40,500 to $50,700, with a project manager earning on average between $130,600 and $147,200.
As the shape of the job market continues to shift, more employers are welcoming workers who don’t have a four-year college degree.
“The workforce seems to be moving from what used to be known as ‘credentialed hiring’ to more ‘skilled hiring,’” says Tracy Racicot, director of the Center for Adult & Community Services at Southern Westchester BOCES. “If somebody is interested in working as an entry-level electrician, for instance, organizations like BOCES can provide hands-on basic skills training. Then employers can hire these folks and offer their own additional training. We find that many employers don’t want canned training these days. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.”
Other training options include The Career/Tech Center at BOCES of Putnam and Northern Westchester, with an array of classes such as construction electricity, carpentry, welding, HVAC, masonry, and more.
SUNY Westchester Community College’s classes aimed at construction-related careers include electrical technician, plumbing and HVAC/R (the “R” is for “refrigeration”), home inspection, truck driving, green building, and sustainable design. “And through corporate and foundation partnerships, many of our short-term workforce training students receive scholarships,” says Mark Stellar, the college’s director of strategic marketing and communications.
At Pace University, students can earn a Construction Project Management certification; the school also offers related areas of study in blueprint reading, construction cost estimating, and construction contract law and practices.
Several local groups focus on grassroots training to help residents gain hands-on skills that often translate into lucrative jobs. Westhab in Yonkers runs a Back to Work program for underemployed and unemployed individuals, while Soulful Synergy is a minority-owned nonprofit in New Rochelle that features a TradeGrade Program leading to employment pathways in several fields, including construction. Soulful Synergy also presents a popular Urban Handyperson Program that provides hands-on practice in basic construction skills for home and building repairs.
More Training Sources
The Westchester County Office of Economic Development, headed by Bridget Gibbons, cultivates a talent pipeline of workers and matches them with employers; plans are also in the works to launch a pre-apprenticeship program for the construction trade.
Thom Kleiner, executive director of the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board in White Plains, says the board often works with schools and organizations to guide students of all ages in certification programs and vocational training.
CIC offers scholarships and holds a popular annual spring Construction Career Day. A CIC affiliate, The Building Contractors Association of Westchester & the Mid-Hudson Region, serves as a key informational source for the construction industry.
Labor unions such as the Teamsters can also be an excellent source of hands-on training. “The Teamsters offer so many ways to learn a skill,” says Denise June, training director of Teamsters Local 456 in Elmsford. “We work with construction, lumberyards, warehouses, municipalities, freight, dispatching — from A to Z, you name it.”
June previously worked in heavy construction driving dump trucks, trailers, and other vehicles of the trade. “Now I also focus on training other people, to help them advance into a career,” she says. June heads up a Local 456 driving course that boasts an innovative feature: a classroom simulator console that mimics the inside of a truck cab.
“This way, people can practice shifting gears before they even get behind the wheel of a real truck,” says June. “It helps them feel more comfortable and confident — and with confidence comes success.”