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Port Addresses Skilled Worker Shortage in Construction Trades 

November 29, 2022

The Port of Seattle is investing over $4 billion in infrastructure projects at the airport and seaport over the next five years to address rising demand for travel and trade. And our region needs a robust skilled trades workforce that can build it. 

Public and private construction across the Tri-County region (Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties) has increased and is expected to continue growing over the next five years, with $233 billion dollars in projects and 330 billion labor hours projected over the next five years. The existing workforce is aging and responding to changing labor markets. In the short term, there are not enough skilled workers to meet this demand. 

Skilled labor shortages in construction trades cause project delays and increase the overall cost to the Port and public and private developers. 

According to a recent analysis by Community Attributes, regional demand for construction workers between 2022 and 2026 is projected at about 159,000 workers per year. A shortage of over 5,400 skilled workers is projected between 2022 and 2026. 

Port response 

To grow equitable access to well-paying skilled trades careers, the Port and other public entities have adopted Priority Hire programs, focused on providing family wage jobs to qualified construction workers living in economically distressed communities, leading to economic growth and job creation across the region. But retention of these skilled workers remains a challenge. 

To address the shortage and increase equitable access and retention, the Port of Seattle Commission approved an investment of $4.75 million over the next seven years in worker outreach, training, retention and wraparound services for construction trades and green jobs and for program evaluation.  Funding includes Port contracts with training and community-based organizations and the Port’s share of joint contracts with other regional public agency partners, and retention and navigation services for up to four years. 

The funds will allow the Port to: 

  • Continue outreach, training, placement, and retention to fill regional workforce gaps with an equity focus (includes green jobs training) 
  • Support Youth Career Launch resolution by partnering with school districts (Federal Way, Kent, Seattle, Highline, Renton) to support career and technical education programming and students entering construction trades 
  • Sponsor Project Management and Basic Foreman Training for BIPOC/women to put them in leadership positions 
  • Conduct targeted outreach and assessment events related to the following: 
    • People of color, women, and those from economically distressed neighborhoods 
    • Enrollment in Pre-Apprenticeship and/or Apprenticeship 
    • $3.5 million for training over three years 
  • Placement into apprenticeship, trade-related employment 
  • Leadership development training for BIPOC and women 
  • Training focus on clean and renewable energy 
  • Retention services ($1 million over seven years) 
    • Career navigation for recent high school graduates who have preferred entry credential 
    • Case management and support services for apprentices to journeyperson status 
    • Wraparound services 

“This funding is critical to sustaining our efforts in growing the construction trade pipeline in the region and meeting the construction workforce demands. Funding these efforts for multiple years will allow us to seal the leaks in the skilled worker pipeline. Currently, around 1500 people start their careers in construction annually in the region. But over the next five years, many of them, unfortunately, exit the trades because they are not provided sufficient support or guidance. Providing training, case management, career navigation, support services, and leadership training will go a long way in shaping the industry's future,” said Carl Hugle, Port Workforce Development Program Manager and Data Analyst. 

The Port’s investment is part of a regional effort to address the shortage of skilled workers in construction and trades-related industries in the Puget Sound Region. Increasing outreach, training, retention, and wraparound services support demand for more skilled construction workers. There's also a need to get more women and black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to serve as first-line supervisors. 

“Investing workforce development funds with an equity lens will result in increased living standards for BIPOC, immigrant, and refugee families in our region. Funding training, retention and navigation programs will also ensure that individuals will be provided with support services that will ensure they stay in careers in port sectors,” said Luis Navarro, Port Director of Workforce Development.  

Demand for trades workers is also growing in the manufacturing and maritime sectors, resulting in difficulty finding and retaining trades workers due to increased competition with construction sector wages. Green career pathways have the highest growth potential in the industry. Nearly 2,300 new jobs in green construction careers are expected in the Tri-County region over the next 10 years. 

Partnering for trades 

The Port continues to work with regional public partners including Sound Transit, City of Seattle, King County, and WSDOT to address the shortage of skilled trades workers. 

Public agencies are trying to retain employees and improve worker productivity and culture by: 

  • Funding pre-apprenticeship training programs and recruiting workers from underserved communities 
  • Adopting standards for respectful work language on their contracts Prohibiting hazing, bullying, and harassment on jobsites 
  • Implementing bystander training programs and practices that promote an inclusive and safe worksite 

Public agency partners have also developed a shared plan to: 

  • Expand available pathways to apprenticeships 
  • Champion for greater workforce diversity 
  • Strengthen apprentice placement, retention, and completion rates 
  • Support the implementation of “Safe and Acceptable” workplace rules 
  • Share accountability for common outcomes 

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