Apr 7, 2017, 1:55am PDT, Puget Sound Business Journal

Shannon Affholter, executive director of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County, and Colleen McAleer, President of Washington Business Alliance and a Commissioner at the Port of Port Angeles.

One of the major challenges facing the home building industry is access to skilled labor. A recent survey of National Association of Home Builders members found that more than four out of five builders surveyed, or 82 percent, expect the cost and availability of labor will be their top issue in 2017, up from 78 percent of builders in 2016. Another recent survey of local companies in the home building industry confirms access to skilled labor is a major concern in King and Snohomish counties as well. Washington state lost more than 70,000 construction jobs during the recession. While hiring has improved in recent years, the construction sector still hasn’t fully recovered. A significant portion of employees who left the industry during the recession never returned, and the industry still struggles to find workers at all  levels.

 Other key sectors in Washington state are experiencing worker shortages as well, including advanced manufacturing, clean energy, information technology,  maritime and health care among others. Adding to this overall challenge is the fact that more and more of our workforce is nearing retirement age — and more  skilled workers are needed to replace baby boomers as they retire.

 To do this, we must encourage more young people to enter the trades. However, an estimated 70 percent of Washington state high school students don’t complete  college, or earn any type of post-secondary credential. Young people are left unprepared for the workforce and unable to benefit from these opportunities.

 Unfortunately, the K-12 system is not fully equipped to train young people for the residential building industry, or other important trades. In recent years, funding  for materials, supplies and operating costs for career and technical education (CTE) and skill centers has been reduced in Washington schools.

 In 1996, 28 percent of total education spending was directed at career and technical education. In 2006, CTE spending fell to 8 percent and by 2016, to just 2.14  percent. Part of the challenge is that the equipment and faculty expertise required for these courses can be expensive.

As the Legislature prepares to vote on new K-12 investments driven by the McCleary decision, increasing the state’s investment in career and technical education programs throughout middle and high schools must be a part of the solution. MSOC funding is needed to support these essential programs, which help students access learning experiences connecting them to careers via CTE. Washington students who participate in CTE programs during high school graduate at an impressive 92 percent, compared to the state average of 78 percent.

Having a skilled and capable workforce that can meet the demand for new home construction, and other key sectors of our economy, is critical. Furthermore, the housing industry is a significant part of our region’s economy in terms of income, jobs and revenue. Having enough workers in the construction trades is important not only to the industry’s continued success, but our region’s quality of life.

Ultimately, more focus is needed to better prepare and connect students to industries where jobs are in high demand. This is true not only in the construction industry, but also in other sectors that are dealing with labor shortfalls. It is imperative we develop a pipeline of younger workers to shore up the ranks of skilled labor, and be ready to support and replace retiring workers.

CTE courses in the K-12 system provide the necessary education and training to lead to long-term high-paying careers. Properly funding CTE programs is vital to Washington’s economic future. As the Legislature considers new K-12 investments, let’s ensure career-connected learning is a priority.

Shannon Affholter is the executive director of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Colleen McAleer is president of the Washington Business Alliance and is a commissioner at the Port of Port Angeles.