New Master Builders of Iowa endowment to address skilled worker shortage

DES MOINES — An organization that represents the state’s construction industry has established a new $5 million endowment to award yearly grants to schools, businesses and charities for programs that promote jobs in the construction trades.

Chad Kleppe, president and CEO of the Master Builders of Iowa, said about 75,000 people are working on construction projects in Iowa today, but the demand is growing for more skilled workers.

“Our concern is that if we’re not being more pro-active from an industry perspective that matters are only going to get worse,” Kleppe said.

His organization is now accepting applications online for the grants, which will be awarded in December. The money isn’t for scholarships, but for projects or programs that promote construction jobs in carpentry, electrical and mechanical skills.

“Maybe exhibits at museums or exhibits at different locations that are construction based,” Kleppe said. “Our hope is that contractors will work with local schools to provide the capital infrastructure for construction equipment, shop equipment be it table saws or miter saws or things like that and couple with a contractor who will provide the expertise on how to work the equipment, provide the safety and then maybe some material suppliers to provide the in-kind support in that regard.”

Governor Kim Reynolds and Chad Kleppe.

The Associated General Contractors of America recently conducted a national survey and 77 percent of contractors said their number one concern was finding skilled workers.

“We are seeing more people retiring and we just are not filling those positions as quickly as we necessarily need,” Kleppe said.

Governor Kim Reynolds has identified Iowa workforce shortage issues as a top priority. She attended today’s announcement of what the Master Builders of Iowa are calling their Workforce Opportunities Require Knowledge and Skills or “M-B-I WORKS” project.

“The more that we can implement these types of programs into our middle schools and high schools, it helps educate parents to see that these are phenomenal opportunities,” she said. “It gives our students an opportunity to test run some of these careers, find that they have a passion for it and they recognize that this is a great career opportunity for them.”

The Master Builders’ plan is to support up to four projects each year. The organization’s president said one of their goals is to promote more diversity among Iowa’s construction workforce, including getting more women and minorities to consider careers in the construction trades.