by William Skink
One of the more consistent complaints from all the conversations about the housing affordability crisis comes from developers and centers on the red-tape involved in the construction process. Reduce some of that red-tape, they say, and the cost of building will go down. Do council members Heather Harp and Gwen Jones understand this concept?
In the Missoula Current today Harp and Jones are championing their idea to coerce contractors into creating apprentice programs if they don’t already have one. I’ll get to why this is a bad idea in a moment. Here’s the rationale for the apprentice program:
City councilors Heather Harp and Gwen Jones created a plan that provides a bidding preference to contractors using a State of Montana Registered Apprentice Program for city of Missoula construction projects totaling $500,000 or more.
The plan is supposed to promote job training, improve the skills of the workforce, and get younger people interested in the benefits of a job in skilled labor.
I understand the rationale, and getting younger folks interested in skilled labor is not a bad thing, but will the method of coercion being proposed have unintended consequences?
Here is how the coercion will work if enough Council member vote to approve this plan:
Contractors that use apprentices for at least 10 percent of the total labor hours on construction projects owned by the city of Missoula will be given a 5 percent preference in the bidding process.
So, why is this a bad idea?
In one of my posts last week I highlighted the perspective of Hermina Jean Harold, the executive director of Trust Montana and a community organizer for the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation. Harold thinks the housing recommendations being proposed should include inclusionary zoning because both Bozeman and Whitefish eventually realized this type of zoning is a necessary component in addressing affordability.
In Missoula our civic leadership decided NOT to learn any lessons from Bozeman and Whitefish. Because of that decision they are going to need all the voluntary cooperation from developers they can elicit.
With that reality in mind, I anticipate this coercive apprentice program will be counterproductive on two levels: it does the exact opposite of reducing red-tape while simultaneously pissing off the very people our City Council members will need voluntary help from to make housing more affordable in Missoula.
I didn’t need an article from the Missoula Current to know that at least one contractor is angry about this program. Here is a comment from the post I wrote about gentrifying Missoula’s Hip Strip:
Hi William, Why yes I do know the backlash from chalenging Missoulas policies. They have just thrown us contractors a new twist to force apprenticeship programs despite every contractoir being against this. Sorry guys I raised my voice against our nazi regime, now we all pay. Not only do we pay, but so does the poor apprentice making half the money he would have if current regs were left alone.. Yes Gwen Jones is right up there nosing around in things she knows nothing about, smug and acting like a wide eyed school girl to get what she wants.
The Missoula Current also referenced a contractor who is against this resolution. Here’s the one dissenting voice allowed in the article:
Co-owner of Shadow Asphalt Jeremy Ogilvie didn’t support the resolution. Putting inexperienced people in the field is dangerous, he said, and while having an apprenticeship program isn’t mandatory, the competition among contractors would force his company to participate.
“It’s a 10-man crew, working as one,” he said. “Just like a football team, everyone has to have their role and know when to do it and how to do it or it doesn’t work. Throwing a couple high school kids out there at the wong time just means that my guys are responsible for the safety of other people that might not understand how to work around heavy equipment.”
Having to have 10 percent of the labor work done by apprentices may also mean turning away experienced workers to meet the program requirements.
Ogilevie said that his company is already training about eight young workers to load trucks, break concrete, and on other aspects of the job that don’t involve a high skillset. They have to work up to that point, he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of unintended consequences with managing it and expenses on a small business,” Ogilvie said. “We will try to follow the rules, we will become certified if we have to, but I think it’s not going to have the outcome that you want.”
Here are some questions not answered by this article: Will this program add time and money to construction projects? Will it disproportionally hurt small businesses? And, will it actually produce the desired results?
I’m assuming the answers to these questions are important to the luminous ones who come up with these ideas, but maybe that’s a wrong assumption.