JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — Sometimes the answer to a problem is right in front of you. In the case of the Johnson County Department of Corrections (JCDC) in Kansas, that answer also happened to be behind bars.
Thanks to a $200,000 grant from the state of Kansas, inmates in the Johnson County Department of Corrections Adult Residential Center have a fast pass to join the construction industry as compensated skilled laborers building a variety of construction projects.
The program launched on March 5 with 15 inmate-trainees signed up to learn an array of skilled trades, including framing, heating and air conditioning, electrical and plumbing. The grant helps pay the inmate’s salaries and related training expenses for the contractors who are teaching their inmate-trainees the ins and outs of becoming skilled laborers.
The hope is that the new program will help address the construction industry’s persistent labor shortages. In a recent study by the National Association of Home Builders, the trade organization found that 82 percent of its members believe the cost and availability of labor are their most concerning issues. In contrast, seven years ago, only 13 percent named labor costs as a chief concern.
“With the U.S adding roughly 210,000 new construction jobs in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and currently experiencing low unemployment, the industry’s growth keeps it from getting ahead of rising demand for workers,” cited a recent article about the issue in Curbed.
At the local level, the JCDC’s program may prove a fix for construction labor shortages. Among their partners in the program are the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City, Workforce Partnership of Johnson Leavenworth and Wyandotte Counties, and the Associated Builders and Contractors.
David Elliott, president of Construction and Planning Services, observed that the JCDC program will prove a boon for both inmates and contractors.
“We (contractors) desperately need workers,” Elliott said to Kansas City news outlet KSHB. “They (former inmates) can’t get a normal job. They can’t go into maintenance where they have to pass a background check. So this is a good trade for them to come in.”