The state of Florida and the pool industry residing in it are making moves to address the crippling labor shortage that has plagued the construction industry since the Great Recession.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is investing $50,000 into a Construction Industry Workforce Task Force. The think tank will include 22 members representing a variety of sectors, including the pool industry.
The funds will be used by the M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management at the University of Florida to coordinate at least three sessions beginning in July to explore ways to recruit and train more skilled laborers.
Among its goals:
• Develop a program to train the next generation of construction workers in the state
• Review current methods and resources that are available for construction training
• Review the state of construction training available in K-12 schools
• Increase the number of qualified building code inspectors
The group will submit a final report to the governor, the president of the senate and the speaker of the house by next February.
The Florida Swimming Pool Association appointed its executive committee secretary, Jim Bingold, to represent it on the task force. Incidentally, Bingold had already set in motion an industry-specific project that addresses this very need.
In January, FSPA officials met with lawmakers in Tallahassee, where Bingold floated the idea of establishing some sort of vocational school for pool builders. Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) then arranged for Bingold to discuss the possibility with Richard Reeder, associate dean of trade and industries at Palm Beach State College.
Bingold, an area manager for Proline Distributors, said Reeder has had several meetings with FSPA so far and that such a program could come to fruition because the college is already educating students in similar industries, such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical. Modules for these classes could be modified for students interested in careers in the pool and spa industry, he said. Plus, PBSC has curricula on customer service and sales, which would apply to pool building as well.
“Their existing program is really sharp,” Bingold said.
Currently he is working with other trade members to develop a couple more modules specific to the industry, addressing topics such as water chemistry, steel and plastering. This curricula, combined with what’s currently available at PBSC, could establish one of the most unique vocational schools in the state. It’s something that’s sorely needed as employers struggle to find qualified help.
As a distributor, Bingold hears the complaints from his customers daily. “They tell me one in every 100 [applicants] has some basic aptitude,” he said. That’s a disturbing trend that he blames partly on the dearth of shop and mechanical classes available to high school students.
“I think if they can get a pilot program here, then they can duplicate it around the state,” Bingold said. “That would give young people a huge opportunity to learn this business.”
Such a solution is the sort of forward thinking the Construction Industry Workforce will welcome when it meets for the first time on July 27.