On Monday night, June 17, the City of Missoula passed a resolution sponsored by Gwen Jones and myself that addresses the workforce shortage in the trades. Specifically, any public investment infrastructure projects done by the City that will cost $500,000 or more will have an incentive for contractors with registered apprentices. Contractors who demonstrate that 10% of the workforce they will put on the job are registered apprentices will receive a 5% bid preference. This means when they bid the job, their bid is considered to be lowered by 5% in order to be more competitive, yet they will get paid the full bid amount.
This bidding preference incentivizes contractors to engage with the Montana Department of Labor to start their own registered apprentice program within their company. However, if no bids from contractors with registered apprentices are received, the bidding process proceeds per the usual and the job is awarded.
Our resolution is a small step forward to address the workforce shortage. Montana, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a severe workforce shortage in the trades. This has come about for various reasons, including demographics as the older generation retires, and the Great Recession, which forced many out of the trades due to lack of work and those workers never returned. Additionally, a cultural shift has evolved where young people want to make an impact on the world in the non-profit world, or seek employment in the tech sector, or don’t want to get dirty on the job.
The bottom line is that, as our older generation retires from the trades, we are already woefully behind in filling those slots — and it will only get worse. Case in point: 50,000 plumbers are retiring this year in the U.S., but only 3,000 plumbing apprentices are stepping into those shoes.
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City Council consistently hears the refrain that Missoulians need better-paying jobs with health insurance and retirement benefits that attract and retain a sustainable workforce. Working in the trades as a registered apprentice is an excellent career path to eventually have a good-paying job with benefits sufficient to support a family and buy a house in Missoula. Hard work? Absolutely, but worth it, as it provides workers an honest and substantive way to earn a living.
Working as a registered apprentice means receiving excellent training from the bottom-up, promoting comprehensive safety training and finally, it results in no student loans since you earn as you learn. Also, if a worker completes a registered apprenticeship, their experience and seniority will be recognized and rewarded in other states. It’s more than a piece of paper; it demonstrates that employers want the best for their employees. Should a family have to relocate, the tradesperson carries proof of his/her capabilities that stack up to the competition in the new community.
The resolution passed by the City of Missoula in no way completely solves this problem; but is a small nudge to incentivize contractors to recruit people into the trades, and to do it in a safety-oriented, structured way that benefits both employer and employee. Government has limited tools, but this is a small step in the right direction.
On a parallel track, we promote engagement with all our partners by talking to our youth and educating them on the benefits of going into the trades and working with MCPS and Missoula College to connect, communicate with, and recruit kids to pursue these careers. Additionally, Missoula Economic Partnership is taking an active role in facilitating communication on this issue, as the lack of workforce in the trades impacts Missoula’s business development in general. If Missoula has a coordinated effort on all fronts to promote workforce recruitment, our community will be better off.