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On the Level: Tim Eldridge, VP of work force development for ABC’s Carolinas chapter

Tim Eldridge’s job gives him a front-row seat to the problems created by the shortage of workers in the construction industry. But he’s hoping some training programs will give the Carolinas a boost when the economy improves.

Lives in: Mountain Island Lake

Age: 53

Family: wife, Judy; daughter, Amy, 33

Education: master’s in education from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro; bachelor’s degree in industrial design from Appalachian State University in Boone

Tim Eldridge took over as vice president of work force development for the Associated Builders and Contractors’ Carolinas chapter in early 2009, just as the construction industry was slipping into freefall.

Eldridge spent the majority of his career in education, teaching engineering and architectural drafting at East Gaston High School in Mount Holly for 16 years. During that time, he also built houses on the side.

After his teaching job, he worked as a trainer/recruiter at Stanley-based Blum Inc., a hardware manufacturer for the furniture industry.

He then worked for several years for the North Carolina Department of Labor in the apprenticeship and training bureau as field consultant and later with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as a trade and industry curriculum consultant.

“I retired to get out of state government,” he said.

But his current job is hardly a walk in the park, as the construction industry is facing an unprecedented manpower shortage.

What are your job duties as vice president of work force development?

I’m over all of the education, training and safety for our membership in the Carolinas, from high school students to large general contractors and every one in between. There are about 500 companies in the Carolinas that are ABC members, all of which have multiple divisions and branches.

How significant is the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry? With the economy the way it is, it’s not being felt nearly as bad as it would be if the economy was going in a different direction. Companies are lean with a smaller work force. That’s why they’re able to stay in business. But when the economy turns you’re going to see a huge deficit in skilled workers, especially at the journeyman level (skilled apprentice).

How will this shortage of skilled construction workers impact the construction industry if and when the economy starts to turn around?

It could definitely impede our ability to recover. A lot of low-paying construction workers are no longer around. When the jobs disappeared, they picked up and moved to other places where they could work. People like roofers and drywall hangers that really supported residential building for many years are just not here now.

How is ABC responding to the recession’s impact on the construction?

In North Carolina, we’re working with public schools and colleges to implement NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) curriculum and accreditation for construction trade classes. This way high school students will have an avenue after graduation to continue their training. We also support two ABC university chapters — at Clemson University and West Carolina — where we provide speakers and training at monthly meetings for students in construction management programs. And we have training courses at our center in Charlotte. So the Carolinas will be ahead of the game in respect to trained workers when the economy starts to turn around.

Will the construction industry get back to where it was before the recession?

I’ve heard many people say we’ll never get back to where we were in 2005 and 2006. I hate to think that’s the case, but that kind of recovery sure seems a long ways off right now.

If you won $20 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money?

I’ve already done a lot of traveling, and I’ve got a lot of toys, so I’m pretty well satisfied in that respect. I guess I would make sure my friends and family are taken care of. Then maybe I’d help the local construction industry and possibly fund another training facility.

If you had only six months left to live, what would you do with the time?

Stop work and try to enjoy what time I had with family and friends.

Boykin can be reached at sam.boykin@mecktimes.com.

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