It takes a skilled blue-collar workforce to build a thriving white-collar haven
We’ve all heard that “if you build it, they will come.” But, once you’ve built it, will they stay?
Hoping the answer is yes, we as a city have set out to build a cosmopolitan nest for nurturing our up-and-coming executives. And with the right mix of attractive career and education options, enticing social and cultural attractions and exclusive retail outlets, we just might be able to keep our homegrown professionals from flying the coop.
The confidence of new businesses entering the market and several existing entities investing in large-scale growth at home has been contagious, leading to a construction boom unlike anything we’ve witnessed in decades. As a result, Greater Des Moines has become a community of clustered construction projects, each employing thousands of professional and skilled workers. In fact, in 2003, 5 percent of the region’s workforce was employed by the construction industry.
Of those employed in this sector, it’s the skilled labor force that has become the most coveted by those who are responsible for staffing Des Moines’ vibrant construction projects. Our extensive construction requires more construction workers, and local contractors are experiencing a serious shortage.
Many contributing factors have led to this shortage, not the least of which is the temptation of the higher income and higher social status promised at the end of professional career paths. Colleges and universities have experienced unprecedented enrollment numbers as professional parents encourage more and more children to follow in their footsteps.
The answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” has shifted from farmer, mechanic, firefighter to lawyer, doctor, architect. As a result, retiring mechanics and other skilled laborers are not being replaced in our community’s workforce at the rate that’s needed to sustain our growth — growth that is aimed at attracting even more executive-level workers.
Ironic, isn’t it? In our effort to make Des Moines more attractive to white-collar workers, the city is running itself out of the very skilled laborers we need to sustain our growth.
At Rental Service Corp., we are searching for ways to help Des Moines and other communities sustain this essential segment of our workforce. One solution we’ve already begun to pursue is the development of mentoring programs with our local technical colleges.
These programs will encourage students to pursue careers in the skilled professions, such as the construction equipment maintenance industry. By pairing students with organizations like Rental Service that can put them to work while they’re still in school, we will be introducing a new generation of students to the challenging careers and potentially high-income opportunities that exist in the skilled-labor industry.
By pairing programs like these with the efforts of economic development groups, such as the Greater Des Moines Partnership, we hope to balance our desire to attract executives with our need to maintain an adequate number of skilled laborers.
Mark Landers is a Des Moines-based district manager for Rental Service Corp., which operates nearly 500 construction equipment rental stores across North America.