Guitar was the instrument of choice in the 1960s, and I started learning to play just before heading off to college. I like the sound, but I also like the feel of the strings under my fingers. It’s the same kind of tactile pleasure I used to get from driving a 16d sinker into a piece of spruce, which I think is one of the feedback loops that kept me interested in carpentry as a vocation. Apparently, I’m not alone in that. In a June 2016 article titled “Solving the Trade Shortage,” in Professional Builder, one of our sister publications, contributing editor Scott Sedam describes watching kids at the West Michigan Career Quest driving deck screws for the first time with an extended collated screw gun:
The kids beam when they get it right, and if you’ve ever done it, you understand. It’s that particular feeling when the screw bites at the right speed, then almost magically pulls itself into the wood and finishes with a high note that says, "Good job!”
I know that feeling.
Sedam has written extensively on the subject of the labor shortage over the last four years, coming at it from many different angles—immigration, unions, the demise of vo-tech education, the role of the industry in recruiting, to name a few. His message, which applies not just to new-home builders but also to the broader industry—including remodelers, manufacturers, and suppliers—boils down to three themes: 1) There are good examples of individuals and programs that are making strides toward solving the problem; 2) the construction industry itself isn’t doing much to help; and 3) the main obstacle, aside from the aforementioned inaction, is lack of funding to support existing programs and to start new ones.
The Skilled Labor Fund
I’m hoping that message will change in the next few years due to a new organization devoted to making a difference on all three counts. It’s called the Skilled Labor Fund, and its mission is to raise and distribute money to recruit and train people for careers in residential construction jobs.
Tony Mancini, group publisher and principal of SGC | Horizon (which publishes both this magazine and Professional Builder), gained approval in January 2016 to establish the fund as a part of the National Housing Endowment (NHE), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). His vision has several key components, all of which are incorporated into the new fund:
Inclusive. Mancini aligned a coalition that, in addition to NAHB and NHE, includes the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Representatives from all four organizations join Mancini on the fund’s operating committee.
Immediate. Unlike an endowed fund, which distributes only earnings on invested principal, the Skilled Labor Fund can directly and immediately distribute the money it raises. “It takes about 18 months to get someone trained and into the market,” Mancini says, “so people need the money now.”
Local. Rather than align itself with a single school or training program, the Skilled Labor Fund can work with any accredited 501(c)(3) nonprofit. “We wanted the flexibility to give money to people to spend in their local communities,” Mancini says. In some cases, donors may be able to earmark their contribution for specific programs.
Efficient. Because it’s part of the NHE, which has extremely low administrative costs, the fund is able to distribute 98.5 percent of the money it raises directly to programs. At the official launch at the International Builders’ Show 2017, the fund set an initial goal to raise $5 million.
Like the weather, everyone complains about the labor shortage, but nobody does anything about it. The Skilled Labor Fund makes it easy to change that. All you need to do is go to SkilledLaborFund.org and click Donate.
There’s a certain tactile pleasure in that, too.