Construction Jobs Green & Growing in Ramsey County
9 Jul 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to construction activities in 2020. Now, as the pandemic impacts recede, construction projects across Minnesota are picking up again, bringing forward a need for qualified workers in various trades industries. Nowhere is that more evident than in Ramsey County, where the need for skilled workers exists across many businesses and industries. As the Outreach Director with McGough Construction, Karin McCabe is familiar with workforce trends.
“Minnesota is suffering through a workforce labor challenge,” she said. “There are more construction jobs available than workforce to fill them, so we are certainly looking to get more people into the building trades.”
McGough is a St.Paul-based construction company which provides strategic planning, preconstruction services, construction services, development services and facility management. It has a long history of work in Ramsey County, including the St. Paul Police Department on Grove Street and projects for Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, St. Catherine University, Hamline University, 3M, Thomson Reuters, the Palace Theater and the Science Museum of Minnesota.
“As a commercial contractor, we subcontract out work we do not self-perform on all of our projects,” said McCabe. “We seek to fill those roles with qualified companies, including minority- and women-owned businesses.”
As with nearly every economic sector across the country, 2020 presented a disruption never experienced before.
“Immediately prior to COVID-19, we were projected to have one of our best years ever in terms of project activity,” said McCabe. “There was a huge wave of optimism for the entire construction industry.”
McGough was considered an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the uncertainty presented throughout the year caused project owners to pull back and place many on hold. But now, McCabe said, the level of confidence in these owners is increasing, causing the activity to increase again.
“We are able to bring back many of the individuals we had to lay off, because we do work with our employees with their career in mind,” she said.
McGough is also starting to work with local unions to hire new employees as project activity continues to increase.
“Despite some delays caused by a general industry-wide ramp up, there is optimism with the future and needing more workforce,” said McCabe.
One area that draws a high level of interest from younger and new entrants into the construction industry is green energy careers. McCabe said the importance of sustainability in society in general has increased over the past decade, cutting construction costs and decreasing project return-on-investments. Along with an anticipated increase in federal funding for green energy projects, the demand for renewable energy jobs should increase as well.
Robert Blake is Founder and CEO of Solar Bear, a Minnesota solar installation company that provides residential and commercial custom solar energy systems, along with other energy efficiency projects. Blake said requests for his services are enough to keep him busy for the next year.
“We definitely need to expand to meet that demand,” he said. “Over the past few years, the state has pumped a lot of money into workforce development for renewable energy so companies can hire people, especially electricians, for all the upcoming projects.”
The number of institutions now focused on workforce training for the solar industry, and other renewables, has increased dramatically over the past several years. White Bear Lake’s Century College has a Solar and Renewable Energy certificate program that leads directly to an Apprentice Electrician for solar installation companies. The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) has a large presence in renewable energy projects and education, specifically their Solar Training Academy. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) has two state-of-the-art electrical training centers in St. Paul and St. Michael, which is home to the most up-to-date solar photovoltaic training facility in the country.
McCabe said there are a number of local organizations invested in helping find individuals roles within the trades industries. Building Strong Communities is an apprenticeship preparatory program designed to help individuals, including women and persons of color, explore the trades and prepare for the construction industry. Goodwill-Easter Seals has online, hybrid and in-person industry-specific training programs at its Construction Training Facility. The organization partners with the County on their Enter Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota’s (GESMN) construction training program, where residents/students receive hands-on, paid construction training while working on residential housing projects. Read here about a recent remodeling project to convert a home in the historically-designated neighborhood in Dayton’s Bluff from a multi-unit to single-family home. Also, Summit Academy OIC, an accredited vocational school in nearby North Minneapolis, is a leader in workforce development and strives to create equity in employment.
Construction companies also have a focus on educating youth on the trades industries. The Ramsey County Youth Works! Initiative partners with area schools to increase awareness of and introduce youth to various industry employment possibilities. The Minnesota Trade Academy, of the statewide nonprofit Construction Career Pathways, allows high school students to participate in real-life projects that help them learn about careers in construction.
“We know if we can educate youth at the beginning of their formal education process, they may be interested and aware of the opportunities as they graduate high school, enabling them to step right into well-paying trades careers,” said McCabe. “The building trades are a wonderful family-sustaining career option and perfect for those who like to see an end-product from their work, problem solve as part of a team and do not mind getting dirty!”