While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling the equipment industry’s workforce challenges, an ongoing stigma from parents, teachers and school counselors, as well as a lack of incentives for students to pursue technical and vocational education are holding back the industry, Diane Benck, general operations manager and owner of Lisle, Illinois-based West Side Tractors Sales Co., said in her March 31 testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Workforce Development Subcommittee.
Commenting on behalf of her family’s construction equipment dealership, the Association of Equipment Distributors and the AED Foundation, Benck stressed the obstacles faced by small businesses, saying, “There are many hurdles that small, family-owned, capital-intensive businesses face, including supply chain issues, inflation and an ever-changing regulatory and tax environment. However, the most persistent, which has lasted for decades, is the lack of skilled workers.”
Citing an AED Foundation study by researchers at the College of William & Mary, which found that AED members forgo more than $2.4 billion in revenue due to the lack of skilled workers, Benck emphasized the economic impact and inefficiencies created by the shortage. “Please understand, when equipment dealers don’t have the skilled workforce needed to repair and maintain heavy equipment, construction projects are delayed, costing contractors and our other customers in lost time and money,” said Benck. “It truly creates inefficiencies up and down the supply chain.”
In addition, she demonstrated her support of the AED Foundation stating she was proud of the work the organization was doing to tackle the industry’s workforce issues. “We continue to push our kids to pursue four-year degrees, when there are millions upon millions of jobs in the skilled trades open, which require taking on minimal debt and an opportunity to work toward the American dream.”
Benck made the following recommendations to address the workforce shortage:
- Deliver the message that the skilled trades are a rewarding and lucrative career.
- Invest in career and technical education programs, including an increase in funding for the Perkins Act to help educate the next generation of skilled workers.
- Make Pell Grants available to postsecondary career and technology education students in short-term certificate programs that provide industry-based credentials.
- Consider needs on a state-by-state basis by working closely with local educators and policymakers to ensure resources are dedicated to educating students for in-demand careers.
Benck concluded by urging policymakers, business leaders and educators to work together to close the skills gap. “To address the issue, the country must provide increased funding to career and technical education programs to build the pipeline of skilled workers and incentivize students to pursue alternatives to four-year degrees,” said Benck. “As a nation, it’s imperative that we steer the next generation to careers in the skilled trades and align public policy and investments to growing this important workforce for our future.”
You can read Benck’s full written testimony here.