Vermont Business Magazine Skilled workforce shortages plague the construction industry, with October Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing 379,000 vacant jobs in the sector nationally. BLS released the full employment situation for October on Friday, Nov. 1.
Meanwhile, Middlebury-based Bread Loaf Corporation, Construction Manager of Bennington’s ambitious Putnam Block Redevelopment Project—intended to catalyze economic and community development in southern Vermont—has been staying ahead of the curve, leveraging the skilled labor shortage to its advantage.
Photo: Training workers at Putnam Block. Courtesy photo.
Where the firm joins its peers in remaining eager to continue recruiting and retaining skilled workers from the general labor pool, it stands out, in a remarkable win-win, by investing in the folks already on the payroll. Since mid-September, Bread Loaf Corporation has been offering free weekly training sessions for its unskilled workers, who already contribute in other ways.
The payoff for the workers is a marketable skillset and path to promotion; the company, and the industry, gains talent they can build on.
Ryan Ahern, Bread Loaf Corporation’s Director of Safety and Training, spearheads the initiative. Backed by the site’s construction foreman, lift operator, and other skilled construction workers, Ahern says the innovation turns part of his workforce into volunteer teachers for an eager pool of vetted, ready labor—who now will have to pay nothing for a vital leg up in the field.
Taught are fundamental skills such as tool use and general framing techniques, moving up to foundational carpentry, with such skills as building a stud wall and framing sequencing, familiarity with technical terminology, and lift safety.
On average, Ahearn says, approximately 15 employees take classes every week. There’s even a translator for a hearing-impaired worker.
Justin Wright, Bread Loaf Corporation’s site Supervisor, says the program is an unexpected but remarkable part of the legacy of the $31 million Putnam Block Redevelopment Project, which is expected to serve as a model for rural downtowns throughout the Green Mountain State and in rural areas across the country.
“We’re very happy with how this is working out for the workers showing us what they’ve got and for our skilled construction professionals, who are really impressing us with the care they’re giving to make sure the right skills are taught safely and in the right way. It not only improves workplace morale, it also provides a team building experience for the crew,” Wright says.
In addition to renovating three buildings gracing the National Register listed Historic District, Phase I demolishes structures, executes environmental remediation, and creates parking and mixed-use office, residential, restaurant, and retail space. The block will boast 78,000 square feet of renovated space and 30 new market-rate and income-qualified apartments. Planners expect the work to draw more than 50 new residents downtown and to create hundreds of permanent jobs.
The project, with M&S Development as development consultant and Stevens & Associates as lead design firm, is backed by more than 17 public and private sources and more than 20 local investors. The groundbreaking was Aug. 7.
Bread Loaf, established in 1968, also specializes in planning, design, Integrated Project Management, and historic preservation. And it continues to welcome skilled construction workers for interviews at the Putnam Block Redevelopment Project site, where early leases are in the works. For more information, contact Ryan Ahern at firstname.lastname@example.org.