As such, the AOC relies on a workforce that is approximately 70 percent skilled tradespeople, a class of workers including masons, plasterers and woodworkers that have been in short supply in the labor market for the past several years.
For every three skilled tradespeople retiring in America today, only one new worker is taking their place.
"We're trying to attract our workforce of tomorrow while retaining our workforce of today," said the AOC's Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer John McPhaul. "That's how we'll ensure the transfer of knowledge and expertise in maintaining the historic buildings entrusted to our care." The AOC's Human Capital Management Division (HCMD) has been working intensely to create new recruitment efforts and identify new sources of skilled tradespeople.
Last fall, hopes were raised for establishing a new, long-term source of skilled labor when AOC staff members from HCMD and the Library Buildings and Grounds jurisdiction spent a day touring the American College of the Building Arts (ACBA) in Charleston, South Carolina.
"We're hoping to establish a partnership with the college that allows us to build a talent pipeline for AOC positions that are considered hard to fill," said McPhaul, who was accompanied on the trip by HCMD Chief of Talent Acquisition and Classification Marvin Cortez and Library Buildings and Grounds Mason Supervisor Mike Miller.
ACBA offers a unique liberal arts education that also trains artisans in the traditional building arts. The college was established in 1999, 10 years after Category 4 Hurricane Hugo devastated the coastal Carolina region and damaged more than 80 percent of Charleston's historic structures. The lack of skilled workers there delayed rebuilding efforts for years.
In 2004, ACBA began offering a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in building arts, making it the only four-year school in the country dedicated to traditional trades. The academic program offers craft specialization in seven disciplines: architectural carpentry, architectural stone, classical architecture, forged architectural ironwork, masonry, plasterwork and timber framing. The college also offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree.
During their visit to the school, McPhaul, Cortez and Miller were hosted by ACBA's chief academic officer and chief financial officer; they also met briefly with ACBA President Lt. General Colby M. Broadwater III. After touring offices and student workshops, the AOC delegation presented an overview of AOC career opportunities during two one-hour sessions that were each attended by around 50 students.
As the AOC's subject matter expert, Miller observed students at work in the college's shops and talked to them about what they were learning as well as what one could expect from an AOC job. "I think their students would be great assets for us," said Miller. "They're mature, they're learning the right skills and they also know computer applications, which you have to have in the trades today."
Miller, who's worked at the AOC for over 30 years, helped impress upon ACBA students the advantages of working at the AOC as opposed to short-term construction jobs. "I told them, here you have year-round work, you're treated like a real person, safety always comes first, and the benefits can't be beat," Miller said. "I think I opened some eyes, especially about the benefits and the chance to move up."
The AOC offers "career ladder" promotional opportunities in most jobs including skilled trades, where workers can advance from a helper position to journey level all the way up to a supervisory position. "It's a critical part of our worker retention efforts," McPhaul said.
Prospects for a fruitful partnership with ACBA appear promising. "We are hoping to establish some new internship positions within our existing summer intern program that helps fulfill ACBA student requirements to do 'externships' as part of their studies," McPhaul said. The AOC program would create three new intern positions: masonry aide, woodcrafter aide and plasterer work aide.
As a start, three ACBA students have been scheduled to participate in the AOC's 2020 Summer Intern Program. As this goes to print, however, it's uncertain as to when this year's program will begin given COVID-19 safety concerns.
"We're also looking at training exchange opportunities," Cortez said, "where we would send our artisans down to ACBA to learn some of the techniques taught by the college and then bring that knowledge back to the AOC to help train our people."
It would be a natural fit. The two organizations strive to foster a workforce dedicated to craftsmanship and historic preservation in service of the architectural heritage of our country and beyond.
Serve, preserve and inspire — it's the ethos behind the AOC's drive to recruit and nurture a skilled workforce now and in the future.
This is a big step in maintaining all our buildings, wish this could begin in our state with preserving our buildings. Wonderful future thinking!