Indiana News

Pilot program to grow highway workforce

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside Indiana Business): The Indiana Department of Transportation and Indiana Construction Roundtable Foundation have launched a pilot program to grow the pipeline of highway construction workers.

BY Roads is an 11-week program that includes classroom and hands-on training to help students earn various certifications and prepare them for jobs in the industry. ICRF President Chris Price says the goal is to provide a basic level of skills training to make students marketable to employers.

In an interview with Inside Indiana Business, Price said there will be a lot of sustainable activity in the highway sector in the next 10-20 years, creating a need for more workers.

“In Indiana, the average age of our construction trades workers is 55, so we have an aging workforce and a growing demand,” said Price. “So over the next five years, the state’s projecting a need of 150,000+ people for the industry, so that’s a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities. I think that the need that we’re meeting is a lot of people don’t have the training or skills needed to be confident to pursue these opportunities.”

The program begins on June 21. INDOT says the effort will focus on skills and safety training with classes being held in the evenings twice per week. Students who complete the program will earn NCCER Core and OSHA-10 certifications, as well as hands-on training in highway construction safety, heavy equipment identification, excavation math, and crane safety and emergency procedures.

“With construction, you need that mix of classroom learning and hands-on activities,” Price said. “If you’re learning about hand tools, for example, there would be a classroom part, but then you have to do those activities where you can identify and use the tools that you’ll be using on the job site.”

INDOT Director of Workforce Development David Dalton says the state has a road and bridge plan for the next 20 years, adding to the already significant need for workers.

“Infrastructure is not going away,” Dalton said. “With all the projects that are currently going in our state along with what’s expected, there’s just a significant need to fill those positions, especially with the current status of the highway construction workforce. We need to think about how we can get that next group of individuals the skills and opportunities to get into these high-paying positions.”

The program is being provided free to students due to funding from INDOT, which is also working to eliminate barriers for participation such as childcare or transportation. About halfway into the program, a hiring fair will take place giving students the chance to meet with employers while completing the second half of the program.

Price says the diversity of the students is a unique aspect of the BY Roads program.

“As an industry, the construction industry is largely white males and our program has been 80% minority participation and 20% female participation,” said Price. “If you look at the diversity of the construction workforce, that’s just far outperforming where our workforce is currently.”

Dalton says the partners’ short-term goal is to see how the program runs for the first class and engaging employers for the first hiring event. Long-term, he says the goal is to scale the program to encompass the entire state.

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