Labor analysis, training model for new academy on table as City moves to skill up workforce
COVINGTON, Ky. – Learning the “lost skills” related to repairing, restoring, and maintaining historic buildings is a viable career choice that will earn workers a living wage and make them highly sought-after by a wide array of potential employers.
That’s the clear takeaway from a new labor and market analysis of this region that confirms what anecdotes have been suggesting: There is a huge and critical need for an ongoing effort led by the City of Covington to work with its partners to train a new generation of workers.
In fact, writes consultant Donovan Rypkema of PlaceEconomics: “Virtually every finding of this report supports the establishment of the Covington Academy of Heritage Trades.”
In a public event Tuesday, Rypkema and City officials will discuss the report, and workforce needs and opportunities related to heritage trades, with would-be employers and potential investors.
Targeted invitations have been going out for weeks, but there are still spots available. If you fit those categories and are interested in attending the event, held at 4 p.m. at the Kentucky Career Center at 1324 Madison Ave., you can sign up at HERITAGE TRADES PRESENTATION. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. (Later events will be set up for prospective students and instructors.)
Later Tuesday evening, Rypkema, the author of The Economics of Historic Preservation, will present the findings of “Historic Trades Labor Analysis: Baseline Data for Covington, Kentucky” to the City’s Board of Commissioners.
Among the findings:
- 94 – The number of jobs each year already supported by permit activity in Covington’s local and National Register historic districts alone since 2013.
- 9% -- How much more a trades worker with training, experience, or expertise in historic preservation reported being paid, compared to those in non-historic construction trades.
- $8.5MM – Collective wages paid to workers on projects in Covington’s local and National Register historic districts per year between 2013 and 2021.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, another consultant working on the project, Bob Yapp of Missouri-based Preservation Resources Inc., will join with City officials to hold one-on-one meetings with potential employers/contractors to continue discussing the most effective and accessible model for the program, classes, and “academy.”
The City announced the initiative in October 2021 with this HERITAGE TRADES RELEASE. Then in December, it announced a related effort to support the Building Industry Association of Northern Kentucky’s plans to open a satellite campus in Latonia of the Enzweiler Building Institute, which teaches more “mainstream” construction trades like carpentry, plumbing, electric, and HVAC. That proposal can be seen in this CONSTRUCTION TRADES release.
Workforce development and skills training are priorities of Covington’s Economic Development Department, which seeks to raise the quality of life throughout the city by “skilling up” the workforce, said its director, Tom West.
“These are as much workforce development issues as they are business development, but in reality you can’t separate the two,” West said. “The more talented and skilled the local workforce, the more vibrant and sustainable the local economy.”
That’s why the City and its partners are taking pains to create a heritage trades program that is accessible to the largest number of potential workers, said Christopher Myers, Covington’s Historic Preservation Officer and Regulatory Services Manager. This includes overcoming barriers related to transportation, cost, child care, language, and scheduling. Most of all, it requires setting up a model that makes the training feasible without forcing people to give up all current household income.
“We’re exploring the best model to make the training as accessible as possible and effective,” Myers said. “If people can’t attend because of hurdles that we could have overcome, then we didn’t set up the right framework.”
Many details still need to be worked out. But Myers said the program could wind up with a dual framework:
- Weekend workshops focused on specific skills that would introduce new workers to the heritage trades by giving them hands-on training and familiarity with tools and materials.
- Certificate programs for 11 specific trades requiring a set number of “contact hours,” with an average of 190 hours across the 11 trades.
The goal of the introductory workshops, Myers said, “is to get people to ask themselves, ‘Is this something I can see myself doing? Is this something I’m physically capable of doing, and find interesting?’ We want basically to give them a taste so they can figure out how far they want to go into a trade.”
The goal of the certificate programs, on the other hand is larger: “to create a workforce of skilled craftspeople who are ready to work,” he said.
One proposal being discussed is whether construction companies and contractors would hire new employees at entry-level positions and then, one week a month, pay them to attend training, Myers said. In return, the companies – many of which are desperate for workers – would directly support Academy trainees who could fill in their workforce and thereby grow their businesses and help them bid on more jobs.
“In essence, the comapanies would be building a talent pipeline tailored to their needs,” Myers said.
Among the 11 programs are those related to historic masonry and plaster, preservation carpentry, box gutters, stained glass, and window restoration.
Rypkema’s presentations on Tuesday will show a “snapshot” of the current heritage trades labor force across Covington, Northern Kentucky, and Greater Cincinnati. Yapp’s sessions with contractors on Wednesday will take a deep dive into curriculum for each program.
The search for financial support is ongoing, although several parts have already been nailed down. Those are:
- Two federally funded grants totaling just over $38,000 received last year through the Kentucky Heritage Council, along with the City matches, paid for the consultants’ work to date.
- A $30,000 grant awarded to the City by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) earlier this year will be used for marketing, creation of a website, student recruitment, and a student screening tool. The foundation is the region’s leading community foundation. “Thanks to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, we will be able to change the trajectory of the lives of that many more Covington families,” Myers said. “Its support is critical.”
- The Covington Board of Commissioners earlier this year set aside $250,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds for the academy’s start-up.
- And the City recently received notice that it stands to receive funds from three separate but related grant applications, although it’s not authorized yet to talk about those.
Myers said the City and its consultants have engaged a long list of partners in discussing the program, the best model to offer the training, and how to overcome barriers facing students. He said he and others involved in the effort are blown away by the enthusiasm, interest, and engagement shown from students, instructors, potential employers, and community partners.
West, whose background is in workforce development, said City officials – both in his department and serving on the Commission – are acutely aware of four driving factors behind the heritage trades academy:
- 47.9 percent of buildings in Covington date to 1939 or earlier, and many property owners report difficulty finding contractors with the skill and expertise to work on old buildings.
- Renewed interest in helping architecturally significant buildings reach their potential.
- Challenges related to quality of life and financial security among some Covington families because of chronic problems of unemployment or underemployment.
- And the construction industry’s desperate need for workers, measured at 2.2 million over the next three years, according to Rypkema’s analysis.
“The Covington Academy of Heritage Trades is more than just a job-training program – this is a holistic approach to strengthening the capacity of our economy, our workforce, and our families’ futures,” West said.
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