Barbara Bashall: Combatting shortage of local workers |

Barbara Bashall: Combatting shortage of local workers

There is a shortage of workers in the local construction trades.

I was talking with a cabinet maker the other day, and he was bemoaning the fact he couldn’t find workers to hire. What’s worse, he said he didn’t see people entering the trades, which means the problem may only get worse.

It’s true there aren’t enough entry-level workers learning skills necessary to land jobs, work their way up the ladder, and perhaps start their own businesses. Without enough boots on the ground and hands on the hammers, established professional contractors and subcontractors are stretched thin. The frustrating result is consumers’ projects are sometimes not started or finished in a timely manner.

One important component of the mission of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association is to end that discouraging cycle.

The good news: we are making inroads and the path ahead is promising.

We partner with a variety of organizations to create job opportunities for people seeking employment in the construction industry. One of our most valuable collaborations is with Sierra College, and specifically, the Sierra College-Nevada County Campus (SC-NCC).

NCC offers a series of three courses that help prepare people to become skilled and proficient construction workers. Classes are offered Fridays and Saturdays, beginning at 9 a.m. and end around 3 p.m.

“Students who complete these classes are invited to a ‘Meet and Greet’ with construction employers, many of whom are NCCA members,” says SC-NCC Executive Dean Stephanie Ortiz. “Our goal is to connect students with employers for potential jobs and/or externships.”

Stephanie met with our NCCA executive board on several occasions, and armed with our input, she and college colleagues developed a series of construction courses that can be completed within three months. Together we brainstormed the schedule that we felt would most appeal to working people who might be motivated to enroll in construction classes.

“These classes are non-credit and tuition-free,” Stephanie explains. “The enrollment application is free, and we have counselors available as well as admission and records staff to help new students. Relatively short courses in construction are an ideal way for students and employers to solve the problem of the lack of qualified employees in construction sector. This curriculum has been developed in direct response to contractors’ difficulties of hiring qualified workers.”

The first three courses, “Safety for the Building Trades,” is a 28-hour lecture with a hands-on learning component that teaches students how to address a variety of construction safety and health hazards they may encounter. The classes provide safety information to construction workers about employee and employer rights and responsibilities. Students learn the importance of identification, avoidance, abatement, control, and prevention of job-related hazards on construction sites. Upon successful completion, students are issued a 10-hour OSHA card issued by the instructor.

The second course is even more rigorous: the 49-hour “Introduction to the Building Trades and Tools.”

Each successive course contains more hands-on learning time than the previous. With 27 hours of lecture and 21 hours of lab work, this second course includes an overview of the local and regional building trades industry, introduction to the proper and safe operation of hand and power tools, and the fundamentals of construction math, measurements and blueprints. Employability skills are emphasized such as time management, communication, and proper attire for success in the construction industry.

The third course is “Basic Material Handling/Building,” a culminating, comprehensive 53-hour course. It offers an overview of building materials and techniques, including plumbing, electrical and HVAC. Students learn the fundamentals of framing, flooring and tiling and related building codes.

We are fortunate to have as instructor for these courses Louis Garcia, an electrician with more than two decades of experience, a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Informational Technology, and a Master of Arts degree in Business Administration.

“The classes use hands-on exposure to multiple trades in residential construction, a focus on OSHA safety standards, and the construction soft skills necessary to secure employment for students,” Louis tells me. “During all three courses, students learn which trade they wish to pursue, and we then attempt to match students with employers who will help develop those interests.”

The end result is hopefully a paid externship with industry partners such as the NCCA. 

Says Louis, “Depending on the trade, students can spend the next few years perfecting their craft and working their way toward a contractor’s license.”

“Workforce development is a core belief at our community college,” Stephanie adds. “People deserve to land jobs in meaningful careers.”

The NCCA concurs wholeheartedly.

Barbara Bashall writes a monthly column for The Union. She is the executive director of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, a nonprofit group of 320 general contractors, sub-contractors, building material suppliers, and other construction professionals whose mission is to promote high standards, integrity, and ethical practices within the construction industry. Visit or call 530-274-1919. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.

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