Californians eagerly await Congressional implementation of President Trump’s recently released infrastructure proposal, a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild our country’s neglected bridges, dams, schools, highways, streets and public transit. Even with funding, a lack of skilled construction workers presents a serious barrier to success.

California’s lack of investment in career and technical education programs has resulted in a shortage of more than 500,000 trained construction craft professionals. This number is expected to double in response to the proposed infrastructure program.

Construction employs one out of 20 people in the California private work force and accounts for three percent of the State Gross Product. Construction grew 14 percent in 2015 and has continued to grow over the last few years.

Helix Electric, with 100 construction projects across the country, understands the magnitude of this shortage firsthand, and struggles to find qualified individuals for current job openings. Helix currently has 42 immediate openings for a variety of jobs, from entry level to supervisor. A look at our website tells the story.

To call attention to this issue, February has been designated National Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. It comes at the ideal time to highlight the construction industry work force shortages, as well as a potential solution to the ever-increasing shortage of skilled construction workers.

Nearly one-third of the fastest growing occupations do not require a college degree. Unfortunately, our policymakers, administrators and educators too often subscribe to the “college-for-all” mentality and fail to offer students another path to career success. This leaves high school graduates who cannot afford college or who find that college isn’t the right fit for them unsure about what’s next. Policymakers at all levels of government must help bridge the skills gap and build the skilled workforce of the future.

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) provides a state and federally accredited apprenticeship program which offers a rigorous curriculum that prepares thousands of students for well paying, real-world careers. In this program, the students are challenged to push themselves to be successful in the classroom and on the job everyday.

A typical apprenticeship lasts four years. Tuition is free. The student receives a full-time salary in a full-time job providing hands-on work experience. Students and their family are provided full medical benefits. Eighty seven percent of apprenticeship graduates find immediate employment upon graduation and earn far more over the course of a lifetime than their peers. An electrical apprentice who graduates as a journeyman can expect to earn $55 per hour.

At Helix, we’ve been participating in apprenticeship programs for many years and currently employ over 200 apprentices. It’s a work-learn solution that has proven extremely effective. Many of our most senior executives started in the electrical trade as an apprentice.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a workforce shortage of 1.6 million construction professionals by 2022. The construction industry’s need for workers is expected to grow twice as fast as the average across all industries over the next decade. Through accredited career and technical education, like the ABC Apprenticeship Program, individuals can gain the skills, education and experience necessary to enter the work force and enjoy a well paying career,

CTE works. A significant investment by policymakers and a shift in mindset by educators, families and students is needed to provide more young Americans with opportunities to learn the skills needed for well paying careers that build and re-build our communities.