Partnership will address skilled worker shortage in Arizona

In a construction industry that expects to have two million fewer workers than it will need in just three years, Tempe-based Sundt Construction and Central Arizona College (CAC), located in nearby Coolidge, are working on unique ways to recruit and train skilled workers.

In spring 2016, Sundt Construction approached CAC to explore an apprenticeship partnership in heavy equipment operations. During these discussions, a larger gap in available skilled workers emerged, leading Sundt and CAC to conclude that expanding the partnership beyond the apprenticeship was necessary and warranted.

There was one major and significant obstacle for CAC. Most of its construction courses and curriculum were outdated and focused primarily on residential building. In order to meet the growing needs of commercial construction, CAC administrators worked with Sundt leadership to develop four craft-trade pathways in structural welding, industrial construction, pipefitting and concrete construction technology.

These new pathways as well as the heavy equipment operator program are designed to:

  • Align with NCCER Core Certification and American Welding Society requirements.
  • Embed OSHA 30
  • Consist of 30 college credit hours
  • Include “soft” skills
  • Lead to level 1 and 2 certification in the trade as well as a CAC credential

The most unique attribute of this partnership is the fact that Sundt and CAC jointly designed every aspect of the courses and programs. This was a pivotal moment in traditional higher education course and program development and design.

The process started with the specific craft competencies and skills needed by Sundt and ended with five customized and tailored academic pathways. This has led to a true partnership where Sundt provides instructors for two of the pathways and equipment for pipefitting and welding, and CAC furnishes on-site lab space and instruction. CAC and Sundt built these pathways in less than three months, which enabled students to begin coursework in August 2017.

Once students earn their certificates, those who are hired by Sundt receive a $1,000 tuition reimbursement to help defray the cost of the $2,500 program.

The new approach is working. CAC’s construction technology program was dwindling with fewer than 10 students enrolled annually. At the beginning of the 2017 fall semester, more than 100 students were already enrolled in the CAC-Sundt Pre-employment Training Opportunities.