Workforce Training Pays Big Dividends

February 2nd, 2016 by Wendy Novak

With more than 17 percent of the craft workers retiring in the next five years it is more important than ever to train tomorrow’s construction workers. The construction industry is falling short of its workforce demand by almost 1.6 million positions by 2022, based on the latest estimates by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

In December 2004, economic think tank The Brookings Institute released a study titled Toward a New Metropolis: The Opportunity to Rebuild America. The study noted that “Residential and commercial development in the next 25 years will eclipse anything seen in previous generations,” and that “Nearly half of what will be the built environment in 2030 doesn’t exist yet.”

Still the lack of a skilled workforce continues to be a challenge for contractors and owners alike. The 2016 Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) chairman and president of Willmar Electric Service, David Chapin, said that, “ABC members report that they could do more work if they had the skilled workers to do the jobs.”

The problem is multifaceted. Despite much evidence to contradict the outcome, our education system still prepares the vast majority of students for a college education while little is being done to either promote or prepare young people for careers in the construction trades. Simultaneously, for years the industry thought the only valid way to learn was working from the bottom up with training happening only on the job.

However, construction, like most other careers, has become increasingly technical and specialized and training is essential to ensure that we have a highly-skilled workforce for the future.

For employers, investing just one percent in training can deliver double-digit returns.

A recent study by the Construction Industry Institute (CII) found that investing just 1 percent of a project’s labor budget in training could have double-digit returns. The study showed that 1 percent yielded: 11% improved productivity; 14% decrease in turnover; 15% decrease in absenteeism; 26% decrease in injuries; and 23% decrease in rework. These are savings that far exceed the investment in training.

For those interested in joining the trades.

The average 2015 college graduate owes about $35,000 in student loan debt—the highest level in history, according to government data. Despite lower national unemployment figures, many of these four-year graduates have little guarantee of job placement, making for an unstable future.

The average construction industry graduate who completes an associate’s degree or a state-funded, certified two- three- or four-year apprenticeship program, (the average electrician, welder or plumber) stands to earn more than $50,000 a year right out of the gate. He or she has little to no student loan debt, and already holds a high-paying job—plus career skills that are in top demand as the baby boomer generation retires.

In Washington we have a myriad of training programs that support the industry. ABC offers a wide variety of training classes including safety, project management and in conjunction with Toastmasters, public speaking and presentation. For training in the trades, ABC’s partner, the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington (CITC), offers state-approved apprenticeship and craft training in the carpentry, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, heavy equipment operator, painting, plumbing, laborers, residential electrical, low energy and sheet metal trades. For more information go to:

Nationally there are a number of resources as well:

The first National Craft Championships was held in 1987 with only a handful of participants competing in four craft competitions. Some 25 years later, more than 2,000 men and women have competed in what has grown to become one of the construction industry’s most recognized and revered craft skills events, thanks to the dedication and hard work of our member firms and ABC chapters. The ABC Workforce Conference site is

For those considering construction careers: ABC’s Careers in Construction –





Wonders all around us

January 14th, 2016 by Sean Lewis

WestlakeCnstrctn-2The great thing about commuting – and yes, so far, I’ve only found one – is that it gives you time to think, and that thinking can often take you down an interesting path – especially when, in my case, I see all kinds of construction going on in my daily travels: roads, homes, condos, stores, bridges, hotels, even full-fledged skyscrapers.

Just from my office window, in fact, I see no less than three new office buildings being constructed and another undergoing a major renovation. Move to a different window, and I see over a dozen construction cranes and at least three or four tall buildings going up in the downtown Seattle area.

These projects make me both think and wonder. I think about their complexity and the integration of myriad systems and materials, and I wonder how people make them happen, how they efficiently schedule and manage so many people and processes. For my money, the expertise on display especially on these big projects is something to be truly admired. I know that the knowledge and methodology and efficiency that goes into designing and constructing these buildings has been honed over generations, but, to me, it’s all still quite amazing. The art of construction (and architecture, and building design) just keeps advancing. And while many of us see it every day, I wonder – there I go again — how many of us pause with any regularity to think about what we’re looking at.

If you haven’t lately, take a few moments next time you’re stalled in traffic or maybe stopped at a traffic light anywhere near downtown Seattle. Locate the nearest major building under construction and consider the accumulation of real knowledge and expertise that you’re looking at. If you look closely, there’s plenty to see.

 Hey, move it along, buddy. The light is green!

PCL gives $20K to food banks

December 31st, 2015 by Ben


PCL Construction last month donated $10,000 to Food Lifeline and another $10,000 to Northwest Harvest.
If that wasn’t enough, a crew of 20 PCL staffers helped repackage 880 pounds of produce and 850 pounds of ground coffee at Food Lifeline’s Shoreline facility. The repackaged food was distributed to community food banks.
A donation of $10,000 results in 45,000 meals, according to Northwest Harvest.
PCL’s Seattle operation has donated $90,000 over the last seven years to area food banks. Combined with the efforts of 13 other offices across the country, PCL has donated more than $1 million to food banks.
Great job PCL!

Building blunders: Smokestack implosion gone wrong

December 2nd, 2015 by Ben

A smokestack removal project in Pell City, Alabama, didn’t go according to plan. The stack was still standing after a round of explosives went off at its base. What happened next is hard to believe: the contractor got into his excavator and chipped away on the teetering structure. Can you guess what happened after that? Check out the video.

Tower crane at 10,000 feet? You’re going to need a helicopter

November 13th, 2015 by Ben

Putting up a tower crane can be challenging, but have you ever tried to build one at 10,000 feet on the side of a mountain? Or one that can withstand 174 mph winds and temperatures down to -13F?

That’s just what Liebherr did over the summer on Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain bordering Austria. The crane is an integral part to building the new Eibsee cable car, which by the end of 2017 will whisk visitors 14,600 feet to the summit from a station near Lake Eibsee, a vertical gain of 6,400 feet.

Tower crane pieces were flown in by Heliswiss using a Russian-made Kamov Ka-32 helicopter. The 150 EC-B 6 Litronic flattop crane is now the highest point in Germany.

Bayerische Zugspitzbahn Bergbahn AG operates the aerial tramway that was built in 1963. It has two cabins (one going up and one down) that each hold 40 passengers. The new cabin has space for 120 passengers. The new cable system will have a 2-mile span between support pillars.

Check out the video:

Construction Economic Forecast looks promising through 2016.

October 27th, 2015 by Wendy Novak

At a recent presentation to Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington economist, Anirban Basu, spoke of the outlook for construction in the Northwest and throughout the country.

Basu said that the U.S. economy is in the mid-cycle of recovery with no imminent indication of a recession. The global economy is expanding at three percent annually with the U.S. growing at 2.5 percent. We are adding jobs in the U.S. although some people have a negative perception resulting from being paid less than they were prior to the recession. With low unemployment, consumer growth, which leads economic growth, remains strong so we can expect the economy to continue to grow, albeit slowly.

Washington is fourth in employment growth in the U.S. Construction is strong here in all markets especially in multifamily residential. Commercial construction starts in the region plummeted 40 percent in August but that is more a result of work started in downtown Bellevue on the massive Lincoln Square expansion in August 2014 according to Dodge Data & Analytics, a New Jersey-based company that tracks the North American construction industry. So that drop doesn’t portend a dramatic drop in commercial construction projects – with permitting agencies seeing new applications for projects in all commercial areas on almost a daily basis.

Single family construction will likely pick up in the next few years when Gen Y members begin to have children. The in-city life style of living in small apartments will change and people will seek single family homes to raise their families.

However Basu issued some cautionary notes: one that the Fed has not raised interest rates in nine years and the current economy is based on low interest rates so a raise in the near future could be highly disruptive; and two that we need to beware of government intervention in the market economy. The latter is especially important in Washington based on our current political climate. Both should be considered as we fill out our ballots this fall.

Click here for Mr. Basu’s presentation.


“Progress” isn’t always, necessarily

October 1st, 2015 by Sean Lewis

It was great to see, earlier this year, state legislators respond appropriately to efforts by many in the construction industry to stop a proposed bill that had good intentions, I’m sure, but would be neither practical or effective.

House Bill 1754 would have mandated the listing of many building-envelope subcontractors, beyond the many already often required, at the time the lowest-responsive-bid general contractor was identified on a public-project bid.

Hardly an issue critical to world peace, but this one struck a personal chord with me.

As a past bid-runner for one of the region’s larger GCs, I’m pretty familiar with how bid days go on any mid- to large-scale project. Bidrooms are hectic and pressurized; there are myriad last-minute calls to make, bids coming in left and right; coffee consumed by the gallon. The amount of critical data that has to be accurately processed by the bidding team can be staggering. The clock literally does tick down to the last second as the guy or gal on the other end of the phone – me, for sixteen years – waits for the final numbers before completing the bid forms, sealing the envelope and slapping it on the counter — while, of course, trying to look as calm and collected as possible (sometimes I’d fake a casual yawn, even, for maximum effect, but really, I’m almost out of breath just describing it). It gets a little hairy.

Typically, submitted bids are then opened immediately by the owner. GC’s bid packages often include a base price, a number of itemized alternates and a number of lowest-subcontractors’ bids on major scopes of work. While the building-envelope scope is of course a critical component of any project, adding yet another sizable group of firms and bids to that list of immediately required data, to me, is just too much and unnecessarily compromises the team’s ability to deliver the truly critical numbers.

Doug Orth, of the State Building Code Council, put it well when testifying last May before the Senate Ways and Means Committee: “The way the bill is written, I would interpret the envelope as everything outside of the paint. That is everything from structural systems, window systems, framing systems, insulation systems, brick, masonry, glazing, roofing — everything. It’s not possible to list them all within days or a week.” Orth was joined by AGC’s Duke Schaub and Tymon Berger of Ashbaugh Beal.

The bill had already passed the House, but ultimately, it died in the Senate — which was good news for GCs and estimators, and especially for my fellow members of The Brother/Sisterhood of Construction Bid-Runners (it’s a secret society; that’s all I’m permitted to tell you).

– SL

Are prevailing wages burdening taxpayers?

September 10th, 2015 by Wendy Novak

Prevailing wage law is of monumental importance to the construction industry and to all taxpayers.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington has worked for years to educate legislators on the importance of prevailing wage law. Now there are some legislators who are concerned about how the prevailing wage is determined, how the act is being further expanded offsite and how an artificially high wage puts a burden on already strained public works’ budgets.

Even though most ABC contractors are largely private-sector contractors, every one of them and their employees are taxpayers who bear the inflated costs due to the ever-expanding scope of the prevailing wage law.

Several prevailing wage reform bills were introduced in the 2015 legislative session. Although none passed, they provided the opportunity for more education and discussion about the issue.

Organized labor put forth some bills that would have increased the cost to public agencies, and ultimately the taxpayers, by making the collectively bargained union wage the prevailing wage. Fortunately there were enough free enterprise advocates in the state Senate who questioned the wisdom of expanding the Prevailing Wage Act to stop those bills.

As ABC of Western Washington president, I lead our government affairs efforts. Representing merit shop employers’ and employees’ interests to government at all levels is our primary function, and I am happy to have that as one of my most important responsibilities.

I represent contractors on the state’s Prevailing Wage Advisory Committee and serve on the executive committee of the Washington Construction Industry Council, an organization that coordinates representation of the real estate, design and construction communities in Olympia and leverages ABC’s ability to represent our members’ interests.

On the ground in Olympia is long-time ABC lobbyist Cliff Webster of the Carney Badley Spellman law firm. Cliff has served ABC for 25 years and is widely regarded as one of the most effective lobbyists in state government. Working with Cliff is Nathan Fitzgerald, the other half of our Olympia team.

Industry involvement is key to ABC’s advocacy efforts to represent industry’s interests in Olympia and Washington, D.C. The ABC Government and Labor Affairs Council (GLA) raises money to help elect pro-business candidates. GLA also sponsors events throughout the year to get members and legislators together to improve our ability to meet with elected officials and tell them how legislation and regulation affects not only the industry’s ability to provide employment to Washington’s citizens but also how to save citizens tax money on public construction projects.

Building History

September 4th, 2015 by Sean Lewis

Each fall, the Associated General Contractors of Washington hosts an annual “Past Presidents & Old-Timers’ Dinner” night (they all seem take that name in good humor) to honor its many past presidents and honorary members. I was able to attend my first of these events last fall.

Talk about sitting in a room full of history.

I’ve been in the construction business for over twenty years and was surrounded by names – some of whom I knew and had met before, but many I’d only heard and read about. Names like Wick, Young, Paup, Deeny, Clark, Crutcher and many more. Not to mention Frodesen – that would be Mr. John Frodesen – who was in attendance that night and who’d been AGC president back in 1965. Sheeesh.

As you can imagine, there’s no shortage of amazing stories that are rehashed at an event like this – stories of how buildings and roads got built in the face of adversity; how technical impossibilities were overcome; how schedules were met (or not), how near disaster was averted (or not) and sometimes even how disaster was simply survived. Plenty of successes and yes, some failures along the way too. But so much survival and perseverance, and moving on, one step and one day at a time, like building a massive building, brick by brick. It was quite a collection of in-the-trenches experience, business acumen, good instincts, technical smarts, of course, and — maybe most of all – “people skills.” And you can only guess at the vast amount of knowledge this group has passed on to others over the years that goes into many of the very buildings we see going up around us today.

As we enter a new football season (thank God), I’m reminded of one particularly timely anecdote that came to light that night.

Back in 1976, local businessman and developer Herman Sarkowsky had his office in the AGC Building on South Lake Union. He also happened to be part owner of the Seattle Seahawks — and they needed a location from which to conduct their first-ever NFL draft. According to co-owner John Nordstrom, they ended up packing Sarkowsky’s small office full of people – GM John Thompson, along with Nordstrom family members John, Lloyd, Jim, Bruce and Elmer, plus a few more. Thompson’s son Rick was at the draft HQ table in New York, connected to Seattle by a single phone line, keeping the local boys up-to-date as the draft progressed. “There was no ESPN or internet then, of course — it was a little different in those days,” chuckled Nordstrom. Head coach Jack Patera, as Nordstrom recalled, was not present.

Their inaugural draft including names that some of you “old timers” might recall, like Steve Niehaus, Sherman Smith, Don Dufek and UW quarterback Chris Rowland – as well as some guy named Steve Raible who ended up catching his fair share of passes over his six seasons with the Seahawks. I hear he went into broadcasting…

Anyway, there you go. Just another little bit of construction-industry history that’s all around us.  Go, ‘Hawks!


MBA staff cleans up Bellevue park

August 11th, 2015 by Ben


Last Friday, staff from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties spent a good part of the day clearing trails, spreading ground cover and performing light yard work at the Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue.

It’s not the first time the MBA has improved the park. In 2009 the builders’ association completed Wet Lab 2 at the park’s Environmental Education Center as part of its centennial year celebration. The 5-Star Built Green lab is used by the Pacific Science Center to teach kids about the environment.

Last week’s work is part of the MBA’s ongoing volunteer work to better the community.

Way to go guys!

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