Here’s how one local group is helping with the shortage of skilled trade workers

A rendering of the foyer at the new Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky at 109 West Loudon Avenue.
A rendering of the foyer at the new Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky at 109 West Loudon Avenue.

According to Manpower Group, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses, or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades, the welders, electricians, machinists and others prevalent in manufacturing and construction.

Responding to the demand is Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky.

Tom Martin talked with BIACK Executive Vice President Todd Johnson about his organization’s apprentice and workforce development training program that has a new address.

Question: When we talked last winter, the licensed trades were dealing with a significant shortage of talented skilled workers. Has that situation improved?

Answer: I wouldn’t say it has improved. It has gotten worse. We’re now in summer and we’re in full swing in our industry putting houses and commercial buildings on the ground here in Central Kentucky. Within the last two weeks, I’ve had 40-plus calls from members asking if we have students available that we recruited or if we know of anyone looking, or just an able body that wanted to go to work to meet the demand out there right now.

Q: And this has been going on for a while.

A: It has. It’s still the overspill from the downturn in the economy when we had so many of our skilled trades professionals just leave the industry because of the lack of work. We’re still rebounding. And couple that with the fact that the average age of a licensed trade company owner in the State of Kentucky is about 60 years old. Just here in Central Kentucky through our association, which has about 750 members, we see most of the members who are not renewing with us are those small companies that are going out of business because the owner is retiring and they don’t have a succession plan for their company. And that’s further exacerbating the problem.

Q: Your organization is out to attract and train new talent to take those jobs and to fill in the gaps left by businesses that are closing. Give us some background on the Building Institute of Central Kentucky.

A: The Building Institute was born out of the necessity. We opened our doors in September 2014 with two trades, carpentry and HVAC. We’ve since expanded into five trades: carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and property maintenance.

We are state licensed and approved for house and building construction. And we work with the Department of Labor on their apprentice programs to provide an accelerated path to licensure for our students. We’ve had great success of our students getting employed.

By Christmas break, well over 90 percent of our students will be employed. In April, we graduated about 27 students. Those in the licensed trade, over 60 percent of them had already passed their state exam and just needed their graduation hours from us to get their journeyman’s license. All are gainfully employed and making great livings.

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Todd Johnson Mark Mahan

Q: How about earnings in the skilled trades in the Central Kentucky area?

A: Most of our students are starting at $11 or $12 dollars an hour knowing nothing. By the time they graduate in the licensed trades, they’re earning well over $40,000 a year as a base salary and many of them earning by the time they graduate up in the $60,000 to $70,000 dollars if they’re working the overtime that’s made available to them.

Q: You’ve been in the process of moving the institute to a new, much more spacious location. What’s the new address?

A: We outgrew our space that we were in out on Trade Street and we’ve been able to move into this facility vacated by Lextran at 109 West Loudon Avenue. We are in the process of fitting up right now to get ready for our classes beginning in September.

Q: So, enrollment for the next round of classes is underway and when do classes begin?

A: Yes. In fact, we’ve been enrolling since our graduation in April. And most of the students that we’ve been able to bring in right now are working in the industry in which they’ll be starting training for in September. Classes will begin on September 5 and we are actively enrolling students and the need is great.

Q: Is there tuition?

A: There is tuition. Our tuition is very affordable at $3,500 a year. All of our programs are two-year programs except for electrical, which is a state mandated four-year program. So, for an investment of $7,000 and our tie to the industry and our success rate of our students getting jobs, I would think it’d be a pretty attractive opportunity for anyone looking for a career.

Q: And most of your students are working while they’re actually taking classes, which would help cover the tuition.

A: Absolutely. And the majority of our employment partners who are hiring our students have a program where they’re paying at least half of the tuition back to the students. They guarantee that the students have a little bit of skin in the game and they’re reimbursing them for their tuition. And at the end of the two-year program, usually about half, some a little more.

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A rendering of the new offices for the Building Institute of Central Kentucky are located at 109 West Loudon Avenue.

Q: Once these students have graduated, does the institute help them with state licensing and that sort of thing?

A: What we do through our program is different than a lot of other trades training programs. We incorporate input from the companies, the company owners, and what they want in employees and what they need in the field. And what that’s resulted in is a very streamlined and specific curriculum for all of our trades to get them to the point of licensure. A little unique to that, all of our instruction goes on at night so that our students can work during the day in the trade in which they’re being trained.

Q: How do they get in touch?

A: The best way is through our website. We have a portal at You can reach our office at 273-5117.

Tom Martin’s Q and A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on The interview also will air on WEKU-FM 88.9 on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.