Apprenticeship Program Best Practices Guide
In February 2020, the Center for International Trade and Transportation (CITT) developed the Highway Construction Apprenticeship Development Guide: Highway Construction Workforce Best Practices, a guide developed as a practical addendum to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Roads to Your Future Playbook. This “Playbook” serves as a practical guide for employers on attracting, training, and retaining a skilled workforce in highway construction. It describes a series of recommended “plays” for employers to develop more resilient workforces that are based on findings from FHWA’s Highway Construction Workforce Partnership (HCWP) pilot programs. These pilots were created to help trained workers find jobs or obtain promotion qualifications, build a resilient workforce, and develop a new model for identifying, training, and placing individuals on the career path of a highway construction professional.
The Highway Construction Apprenticeship Development Guide—a companion piece to the Playbook—was developed by CITT’s Education and Workforce Development Analyst Deanna Matsumoto and Research Assistant Caitlin Mace, as part of a Southwest Transportation Workforce Center grant awarded to CITT by FHWA. As part of her work, Matsumoto and a team of research assistants conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with the Working Groups/Task Forces for ten out of the twelve HCWP pilot locations in order to gain insight on each Working Group’s best practices. The Guide matches pilot program recommendations with plays from the Playbook. A future update of the FHWA Playbook will incorporate CITT’s work to produce a final, comprehensive document.
There is a rising demand for highway workers, yet there is a deficit in the highway construction workforce. Industry surveys show that many highway contractors have trouble finding, training, and retaining qualified workers. CITT’s Matsumoto explains “The Associated General Contractors of America has stated that 60% of construction jobs go unfilled. To address this workforce gap, we identified several proven and innovative best practices that can be implemented with highway construction workforce development teams throughout the nation.” Some of the recommendations in the Guide included establishing shared and standardized technology platforms, issuing certifications relevant to the field, educating career mentors on the benefits of highway construction jobs, and partnering with community and adult education organizations.
The Guide also develops additional recommendations for future career development programs, building upon those addressed in the Playbook. It recommends implementing many progressive strategies for outreach such as using social media to recruit workers, creating a “no wrong door” policy that seeks to fit potential workers into positions that best suit their skills, and targeting areas where mobility infrastructure development was a high need, thereby facilitating economic development for communities through mobility in addition to job creation. Other innovative recommendations included facilitating childcare services for employees, addressing transportation obstacles through ride-sharing and similar programs, and case management services to assist with external factors that play into career success such as housing, food insecurity, substance abuse, and financial literacy education. These recommendations were all pulled from best practices identified through the interviews with the FHWA Pilot Program managers.
The objective of this comprehensive Guide is to begin resolving the highway construction worker shortage crisis and building a resilient, sustainable, and technically savvy highway construction workforce. The recommendations laid out in the Guide help both employee and employer, support overall industry growth, and serve as an initial step in allowing the industry to address the growing demand for highway construction labor. The findings are also of value to a broader set of industry sectors, including those in transportation where apprenticeship programs are not well established but where workforce challenges demand a bigger toolkit.