According to a study, the construction industry in South Florida is facing a significant labor shortage, with a need for over 342,000 additional workers by 2024. This shortage was exacerbated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting industry leaders to think creatively to attract a new workforce.
The Birth of an Apprenticeship Program
In response to this pressing challenge, South Florida found an innovative solution in the form of an apprenticeship program, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Miami Dade College and the University of Miami’s College of Engineering. This groundbreaking program offers aspiring construction professionals a unique opportunity to learn the ropes of the industry while working toward a promising career.
One individual who seized this opportunity was Rafael Diaz, who arrived in the United States from Cuba with a degree in hydraulic engineering. When he stumbled upon an advertisement for the apprenticeship program on his social media feed, he couldn’t believe his luck. “I saw it and said, ‘Hey, it’s too good to be true. It’s a free program they’re going to pay you. You’re going to study at a great university.’ I just clicked, sent my info, and started the process, and luckily, I’m here,” Diaz explained.
Diaz is part of a cohort of students benefiting from this innovative apprenticeship program, which offers free education and invaluable hands-on experience. Students attend classes twice a week in the evenings, where they acquire essential knowledge and skills. During the day, they don their hard hats and work on construction sites across Miami-Dade County, gaining practical experience that sets them on the path to success.
Meeting Industry Demands
Related Urban Construction, a Miami-based construction company, is a prominent partner in this program. They’ve hired apprentices at competitive wages, starting at $19 an hour, complete with full benefits and built-in raises. George Lage, VP of Construction at Related Urban Construction, highlighted the urgent need for skilled workers in the industry, especially at the management level. “There is a tremendous need. There’s a lot of construction in Miami, and it’s a very competitive market, so we figured hiring and educating new workers would be a great approach,” Lage emphasized.
The need for construction workers became critical during the height of the pandemic, and today, the demand is still soaring. According to a study by the Associated Builders and Contractors, the construction industry would need to attract over 342,000 additional workers on top of its regular hiring pace to meet labor demands in 2024. This demand is particularly pronounced for project managers requiring more experience and expertise.
Support and Career Advancement
What sets these apprentices apart is their unwavering drive and determination. “The most important thing about these apprentices is their drive, and that’s what we’re really looking for in our people: individuals who are excited and have a lot of drive,” Lage pointed out.
The apprenticeship program not only fast-tracks students into managerial roles but also provides them with crucial support along the way. College of Engineering Professor Esber Andiroglu highlighted how the program ensures that apprentices receive periodic pay raises as they complete course modules and gain on-the-job training experience. This ensures that they are well-prepared for the market and compensated accordingly when they graduate.
Pierina Fumo, an industrial engineer from Venezuela, is one such apprentice who has seen her life transformed by this program. Four months into her yearlong apprenticeship, she expressed her enthusiasm, saying, “I’m hoping I get to stay with this company. I love it, I love my coworkers. Now I’m an apprentice assistant construction manager, so hopefully in five years or so, I’ll get to be a construction manager and hopefully with this company,” reflecting the program’s potential to provide fulfilling and promising careers.
A Beacon of Hope
The South Florida construction apprenticeship program serves as a beacon of hope, addressing the industry’s labor shortage and offering individuals like Rafael Diaz and Pierina Fumo a chance to pursue rewarding careers and contribute to the region’s continued growth and development.
Original Article By Lorena Inclán- NBC Miami