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West Michigan Construction Institute facility slated to open in 2022, aid in construction labor shortage

BY Monday, August 30, 2021 04:43pm

GRAND RAPIDS — A hub for talent recruitment, skills development and job placement is expected to open early next year in Grand Rapids in hopes of filling the workforce pipeline for West Michigan construction jobs.

The West Michigan Construction Institute (WMCI) will be located at 801 Century Ave. SW, west of US-131 in Grand Rapids at Owen-Ames-Kimball Co.’s former equipment yard. 

Jen Schottke COURTESY PHOTO

The building is currently under construction and will include a common area, construction lab, classrooms and offices for the Associated Builders & Contractors’ West Michigan chapter. The project is expected to be completed in December 2021, with classes slated to begin at the new facility in January 2022.

“In my work advocating for the construction trades career pathway, I’ve had opportunities to go into a lot of schools and talk to high school counselors. They do have kids interested in construction, but they have no idea how to point them to that pathway,” said WMCI President Jen Schottke. “This creates a much more efficient and easier pipeline for high school counselors to direct students.”

Dan Vos Construction Co. is the general contractor and architect for the project. The WMCI is about halfway through meeting its capital campaign for the $5.75 million project, which received financial support from commercial construction companies throughout West Michigan, Schottke said. 

West Michigan’s construction sector is projected to grow by almost 16 percent over the next 10 years, yet nearly 48 percent of today’s construction workforce is expected to retire within the next 15 years, according to the WMCI. The labor shortage and increased construction costs during the COVID-19 pandemic have strained business opportunities for some West Michigan construction companies.

The new WMCI facility will expose students who would not have otherwise known how to get into a construction career and help to fill the region’s growing talent shortage, Schottke said.

“Construction has long been a friends and family kind of business,” Schottke said. “If you ask a tradesperson how they got their job, it is likely because of someone they knew that brought them in. Part of what we need to do as an industry is be more visible and accessible to individuals who don’t have a relative or friend in the industry.” 

The WMCI’s location was strategically chosen near the highway and is near all four quadrants of the city of Grand Rapids, Schottke said. 

The WMCI will hold daytime high school programming coordinated with area high schools, as well as community-wide training programs focused on apprenticeships and skills training in the evening for those already employed in the industry. 

WMCI students can enroll in programs including construction core, carpentry, electrical, interior finishes and plumbing. They can also pursue certifications or professional development in additional specialties such as a Building Industry Consulting Services International (BICSI) certified technician or copper installer. 

The length of the programs will range from one-week certification training to multi-year apprenticeship and craft training programs. The electrical program is a partnership with Grand Rapids Community College, which will move more than 400 students currently enrolled in electrical apprenticeships to the WMCI facility beginning in January 2022. 

“Partnerships build stronger communities,” GRCC President Bill Pink in a statement. “Our college has been partnering to prepare individuals for careers in the construction trades for decades, and the West Michigan Construction Institute is a perfect example of employers and educators collaborating to create opportunities for residents to be successful. Together, we will create a talented workforce ready for rewarding careers and help our West Michigan economy thrive.” 

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say the West Michigan Construction Institute will be at Owen-Ames-Kimball Co.’s former equipment yard.

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