Gulf Coast Workforce Initiative Completes Over 7,500 Trainings

The Business Roundtable's Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative (GCWDI) it is ahead of schedule in its effort to recruit and train up to 20,000 new construction workers in the Gulf Coast region by the end of 2009.

"Just over a year into our ambitious program, we already have over 7,500 training completions, with another 2,000 students enrolled in classes," said Charles Holliday Jr., chairman and CEO of DuPont and co-chairman of the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative. "Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have embraced our free classes, demonstrating the vitality of the region and the residents fierce desire to rebuild. We're so encouraged by the success thus far that we hope to step up recruiting efforts and expand into Alabama as well."

The GCWDI was conceived and developed by Business Roundtable in response to the devastating storms that ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States in late 2005. Members of Business Roundtable – 160 CEOs of the nation's leading companies – have spearheaded this public-private partnership by committing up to $5 million in funding to coordinate the training and assist in recruiting participants.

"This unique initiative is bringing together numerous government agencies, community and trade organizations, academic institutions and the business community to give up to 20,000 people the skills needed for rewarding, long-term careers in construction," said Riley Bechtel, chairman and CEO of the Bechtel Group Inc. and co-chairman of the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative. "The graduates are already becoming strong contributors to the Gulf Coast's rebuilding efforts and infrastructure development projects."

Participants enroll in free training that provides them with the necessary skills for entry-level jobs in the construction industry. Training is provided through partnerships with local community and technical colleges and with critical funding on both the federal and state levels. Upon completion of the coursework, graduates have the opportunity to participate in job fairs hosted at their training center. These job fairs provide trainees with an opportunity to be introduced to local contractors who are looking to hire additional construction workers.

The GCWDI recruits students through the GREAT campaign. GREAT, which stands for "Get Rewarded for Education and Advancement Training," has helped bolster residents' sense of self-worth through participation in the construction industry, drawing widespread praise from political leaders in the region.

Participants enroll in a 4-week course that gives them entry-level skills, including safety education, to prepare them for jobs in the construction industry. In the future, the Initiative hopes to offer options for advanced workshops and apprenticeships for students who want to prepare further for advanced construction trades jobs.

Training primarily is conducted by instructors certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), a not-for-profit organization created to develop industry-driven standardized curriculum with portable credentials to help address the skilled construction workforce shortage. New worker training also is also performed under the approved apprenticeship programs of the Building and Construction Trades.

"This initiative for positive action in the Gulf Coast is a true partnership involving federal, state and local government agencies, businesses, community organizations, educational institutions, and construction trade groups and associations," said Business Roundtable President John J. Castellani in May.

He noted that the U.S. Department of Labor has been an important partner, as both Louisiana and Mississippi have received funding through the U.S. Department of Labor's Pathways to Construction program and National Emergency Grants. The project has also worked closely with the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding, state legislatures, governors' offices, and numerous state agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In addition, Castellani said that the success of the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Initiative is due to the support of a large number of active partners from the public and private sectors. Partners also include colleges, contractors, labor unions, businesses and a large number of other groups. Initiative partners have been seeking to assist those who complete their training in the securing of construction jobs.

"We know that training is only the first step, and the Initiative has been working hard to reach out to local contractors in the Gulf Region to assist with job placement for the trainees when they finish the program," Castellani testified. "I am pleased to tell you that state agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi are reporting an average job placement rate of 80 percent for Initiative trained graduates."

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