The construction industry in Oregon is booming. Employment has grown steadily since 2010 and is now higher than during the pre-recession boom (Simonson 2019b). Yet, meeting demand is difficult for many companies. In a recent survey, close to 90 percent of construction industry employers in Oregon reported difficulties with filling hourly paid craft positions, and in many trades over half of contractors report that recruitment difficulties increased since 2018 (Simonson 2019a). To keep growing and meet demand over the coming years, the industry has to train and retain a new generation of workers to replace retiring workers, and it has to diversify its employment profile to meet stakeholder expectations for a more racially, ethnically, and gender diverse workforce.
Access to child care is an often overlooked building block for improving recruitment, retention, and diversity in the trades. Reliable child care allows an individual to develop the skills and work habits that employers look for, and broadens the pool from which the industry can recruit; without reliable child care, a parent with dependent children may find it difficult to be successful in their career, or may not even consider entering a training program.
Oregon is one of the most expensive states in the nation for child care (Child Care Aware of America 2018).1 In many counties, finding child care – at whatever price—is difficult (King and Dodson 2019). A 2018 survey of construction apprentices found that 45 percent of mothers and 26 percent of fathers identified the cost of child care as a problem, with similar responses in relation to finding consistent child care (Wilkinson and Kelly 2018). Work in construction starts early and traveling to sites can often require substantial time, requiring child care drop off before formal child care centers open. Even though apprentices earn comparatively high hourly wages compared to many typically female jobs,2 there may be considerable out-of-work periods especially early on during the apprenticeship, and when working, the need for care during travel and early hours may still make child care costs a substantial barrier to staying in the trades.
The construction industry in Oregon, however, is fortunate to have access to a range of supports to tackle the child care barriers to recruiting and retaining a more diverse workforce, with supports available at each stage of the skilled construction labor spectrum. Since 2010, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon Labor & Industries have provided public funding for Apprentice-Related Child Care (ARCC) and other supports for apprentices in highway-related trades. In 2017, Labor’s Community Service Agency instituted the Pre-Apprenticeship Child Care Initiative (PACCI), a pilot public-private program to extend child care supports to pre-apprentices. Last not least, in 2019, Labor Littles, a new privately funded non-profit supported by Oregon’s Building Trades, is helping union tradesmen and women find union in-home child care providers willing to provide care to cover the construction work day.
This briefing paper describes the three child care initiatives and discusses how these help construction businesses in Oregon recruit and retain the next generation of skilled workers.