Studies show that every dollar earned in San Diego will be spent an average of five to seven times in San Diego before that particular dollar leaves our region. Each of those transactions creates jobs and generates local tax revenue. Construction done right can provide a major economic stimulus to a local economy.
For example, a $700 million construction project like the one being undertaken by Sweetwater Union High School District should be worth over $4 billion dollars to the local economy. Of course, if the work is given to contractors from out of town and they are allowed to bring their work force in, that economic benefit would be lost.
Many municipalities around the nation give bid preferences to their local contractors; San Diego does not.
Many municipalities also have agreements with their local building trades ensuring that local workers benefit from the tax dollars they are spending to finance these projects. There are some of these agreements in place in San Diego, but we can do better. In fact, we can forge agreements that ensure that the great construction jobs and the resulting careers created by our local tax dollars are given to our local population.
Construction careers are great careers. A journeyman electrician in San Diego makes a current wage of more than $32 per hour and depending on where they work, great health and retirement benefits on top of that wage. Despite this, we are currently facing a dire shortage of tradesmen in the construction industry. It has been estimated that currently for every five construction workers who retire, only one begins his/her career.
Construction is unique as an industry in that we train our own through apprenticeship programs. And these are not one to two week training courses. Depending on the trade, an apprenticeship program takes anywhere from one to five years to complete. The main reason for our impending worker shortage has been a lack of support for apprenticeship programs.
It is true that prevailing wage laws require the use of apprentices on any publicly funded project, but the numbers required are low and there are loopholes allowing even these minimal requirements to be avoided. Even more detrimental to the future is the lack of any requirement for these apprentices to actually be trained and eventually become journeymen.
Our association has been pushing owners to adopt a policy that would require electrical contractors to certify that a significant percentage of their electricians graduated from a certified apprenticeship program. A similar requirement could be crafted for other trades. This simple step would give ALL apprenticeship programs the incentive to train and graduate their apprentices altering the current downward trend of available workers. Because supply and demand is a sound economic principle, an added benefit would be the moderation of any large increases in the future cost of construction labor.
Stimulating the local economy, providing good, career-oriented jobs, stabilizing future construction costs … How can a public owner achieve all of these objectives while also providing additional neighborhood-specific benefits? Stay tuned.