Soulful Synergy provides training in a variety of construction trades and infrastructure jobs. Photo courtesy of Kings Capital Construction Group
Thanks to an increase in funding for New York State infrastructure projects, companies in this sector are hiring like never before.
The passing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill at the end of 2021 was like a meteor hitting the Earth — but in a good way — for the local construction industry, says George Drapeau, who heads up public affairs for the Construction Industry Council (CIC), a Newburgh-based industry trade group.
The bill provides $13 billion in funding for New York State infrastructure projects, including repairs and new construction of highways, roads, bridges, tunnels, and more. Its passing, Drapeau says, “signals that there is a commitment to the construction industry again, and a recommitment to infrastructure renewal.”
All of these projects signal the need for a skilled and dependable local labor force, which is good news for job seekers here in our region. “Local labor unions and industrial development agencies are realizing they need to jumpstart training and apprenticeship programs to ensure that we have the right talent for these new projects,” Drapeau explains. Especially in demand, he says, will be “people who can drive trucks, operate excavators and other heavy construction equipment, pour concrete, lay foundations, work with rebar and structural steel, as well as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and painters.”
Construction industry jobs that require more advanced education and training are also in high demand across Westchester and the Hudson Valley. The Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) project, which is bringing Canadian hydroelectric power to New York City, is one example, notes David Brezler, owner of construction project management and data analytics firm Brezler LLC. “This offshore wind project requires massive grid-upgrade work. That, coupled with the ongoing electrification of transportation, means that the design and engineering professionals associated with grid modernization, upgrades, and restoration will be exceedingly busy,” Brezler explains.
One of the largest labor shortages, he adds, will be in the project management side of these efforts. “There is an opportunity to create pipelines of project management talent with existing project management organizations right here in Westchester,” Brezler notes.
Project management training is available through multiple different avenues, including the Construction Management Association of America, he says.
A LACK OF TALENT ACROSS THE BOARD
That we were facing a shortage of construction workers even before the passing of the new bill and the renewed interest in renewable energy projects is no secret. With COVID-related impacts to the workforce as well as the aging out of many skilled construction laborers, the industry has been struggling to fill jobs. And between now and 2028, the construction sector in the Hudson Valley Region is projected to add nearly 600 new positions a year, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
“The construction industry, in general, is facing a lack of talent across the board — from field labor to superintendents, project managers and everything in between. We’ve seen this shortage for years,” notes JD Summa, president and CEO of Tarrytown-based Kings Capital Construction Group, a heavy construction firm that was recently named one of the best places to work in Westchester by 914INC. “As a result, the price has gone up tremendously as far as what it takes to entice skilled labor right now.”
This is good news for workers, despite being a challenge for companies like Kings Capital Construction Group. “There are so many great opportunities in construction right now that are often overlooked,” Summa notes. “Whether you want to attend college or not, you can find a place in the construction world. The industry has become so much more inclusive — this should be one of the sectors that everybody takes a look at before they make a decision about where they want to end up for their careers.”
FILLING THE SKILLS GAP WITH TRAINING PROGRAMS
One organization helping to fill the gap with industry-specific skills training is Soulful Synergy, a New Rochelle-based group that provides workforce development programs with a focus on economic justice and equity for underrepresented communities. Soulful Synergy’s lineup of programs allows participants to train for a variety of certifications in the construction trades, including those for OSHA standards, site safety training, scaffold and flagger positions, plus CPR and fire guard. Soulful Synergy also offers a new program, dubbed The Urban Handyperson, which provides participants with about 100 hours of hands-on skills training in carpentry. “We show them everything from worksite safety to basics like measuring, taping, hammering, painting, sanding, and finishing,” explains Dwayne R. Norris, COO and co-founder of Soulful Synergy.
Employment in the Hudson Valley Region’s construction sector is projected to grow by 21.5%, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
Soulful Synergy also offers appliance installation training and has partnered with local electrical firm Candela Systems to provide training for other, similar types of electrical eﬃciency work. “Several of our graduates have been hired by Candela,” Norris notes. Norris’ firm was also just selected by the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency for the first county-funded pre-apprenticeship training program for the construction trades, as part of a drive to hire more local workers. Many of their programs are run at The Guidance Center of Westchester, a community organization in Mount Vernon.
Westchesterites looking for training and career development opportunities in construction can also take advantage of local programs run by Westhab, a community organization based in Yonkers, which supplies industry-recognized hard- and soft-skills construction training. BOCES of Putnam and Northern Westchester runs classes for OSHA certification, while Certified Site Safety of New York, a woman-owned firm in White Plains, offers a variety of OSHA and NYC Department of Buildings training for New York job sites. Skills taught include things like scaffold installation and removal, traﬃc flagging and site safety positions. At SUNY Westchester Community College, those looking to enter or advance in the construction industry can enroll in courses for NYS EPA lead certification as well as to become a NYS mold assessor or remediator.
Local trade and industry organizations like the CIC and the Building & Realty Institute (BRI), based in Armonk, are also working closely with construction and building trade employers in Westchester to help connect them with qualified skilled labor. The CIC offers scholarships and does outreach among young people to raise awareness of pre-apprenticeship trade programs and other opportunities for them to train to work as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, or other tradespeople, notes Drapeau. In addition, the CIC runs an annual Construction Career Day in the spring, where students across the Hudson Valley can get an up-close look at a wide variety of construction opportunities in the region. For its part, the BRI is focused on helping its members solve the workforce shortage, and is sponsor and partner on some of the programs offered by Soulful Synergy at The Guidance Center of Westchester.