Octavous Crosby, 36, has been on an upward trajectory with a steady paycheck — and no student loan debt — since entering the construction trades nearly two decades ago. Crosby, who grew up on Detroit’s east side, started off as an apprentice carpenter for his employer, construction company Barton Malow. Afterwards, he went on to become a journeyman, foreman and, most recently, a field superintendent. Superintendent is a top supervisory position in the commercial construction trades with an annual earning potential of $60,000 to $150,000 in metro Detroit. “It’s not a job for me. When I come to work every day, I enjoy it,” said Crosby, who graduated from the Detroit vocational high school, Randolph Career Technical Center.
Detroit-based Bedrock is encouraging more area residents to pursue similar careers in the construction trades to help alleviate a local labor shortage as the real estate firm ramps up work on three major building projects in the city.
Bedrock has teamed up with Barton Malow and Turner Construction to hold a construction trades job expo 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday at Cobo Center. The event is open to anyone interested in a construction job or training opportunities, regardless of previous experience in the trades. More than 20 different trades will be represented.
Full details for the event, called Ready. Set. Build!, are on the website readysetbuildexpo.com. You can also find pickup locations for free transportation to Cobo.
The expo is aimed at expanding the size of the local construction workforce because there is a shortage of skilled trades workers in metro Detroit, according to Dannis Mitchell, Barton Malow’s community engagement manager.
“Our industry is still experiencing the shortage,” Mitchell said. “A lot of the baby boomers are now aging out, and unfortunately our industry did not do the most stellar job in training people to backfill those jobs.”
One reason for the shortage was past decisions by high schools to de-emphasize the skilled trades as a career path. Some schools even shuttered their vocational programs and shop classes.
“Everyone forgets that in these skilled trades, you can make almost as much at 20 years old as a college graduate coming out,” said Brian Binke, president and CEO of The Birmingham Group. “There are a lot of positions that are left unfilled today that start out at $20 (an hour).”
Recently, however, there has been renewed interest among high schoolers in the trades.
“Going to college results in many cases in debt, and when a person graduates, they’re still not guaranteed that they will be able to get a career in their particular degree area,” Mitchell said.
“In the trades, not only are you attending school and being paid at the same time, but when you end your apprentice program, you won’t have any debt. So you set yourself up on a runway to success very early,” she said.
Apprenticeship programs can last from two to five years, depending on the trade. Those in local apprenticeship programs can start earning $12 to 15 an hour.
Upon completing the programs, wages can increase to $28 to $36 an hour for trade union members as they gain work experience, according to Mitchell. These jobs also include health insurance and other potential benefits, such as union pensions.
This week’s jobs expo is aimed at creating a pipeline of workers to help build three large Bedrock projects: a downtown skyscraper on the site of the old J.L. Hudson department store; the new Wayne County jail and criminal justice complex at 1301 E. Warren Ave.; and the Monroe Blocks building project, also downtown.
Work is already underway on the Hudson’s site project and the criminal justice complex, which are both expected to finish in 2022. A groundbreaking for the Monroe Blocks could happen next month.
Local requirements mandate that 51 percent or more of the construction work hours on the Hudson’s site and Monroe Blocks projects must be done by Detroit residents. For the new jail and justice complex, at least 51 percent of the work hours must be performed by Wayne County residents.
The standard work week for union tradesmen and women is 40 hours. Overtime pay begins after eight hours in a day, rising to double-time pay after 10 hours.
“We do a lot of schools in the summer between breaks and there’s just never enough time, so there’s a lot of overtime,” Crosby said.
While the availability of work in the construction trades typically tracks with the strength of the economy, Crosby said that even during the slowest periods of the last recession, he never had to go without a paycheck.
Because Michigan’s current shortage of skilled trades workers is so acute, the next economic downturn shouldn’t be devastating for those who are just now getting into those careers, said Binke, the construction recruitment firm CEO.
“Even if there is a major slowdown, there would still be jobs because there are so many more positions now than there are people to take them,” he said.
JC Reindl, Detroit Free Press Published 5:48 p.m. ET Nov. 13, 2018 | Updated 6:47 p.m. ET Nov. 13, 2018