WASHINGTON – A new report finds that 80 percent of building contractors nationwide are having difficulty finding qualified craft workers, according to a survey by The Associated General Contractors of America, a leading construction industry association, and the software company Autodesk.
“Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist.
The survey involved more than 2,500 construction firms this summer and found similar shortages across the country: 81 percent of contractors in the West and South reported having a hard time filling hourly craft positions, 80 percent in the Midwest and 77 percent in the Northeast.
With the booming economy raising demand for new construction in 281 out of 358 metro areas between July 2017 and July 2018, Simonson said the construction shortages are serious.
“With a rise in the share of firms having trouble finding skilled craft workers, it’s evident that we need to re-skill the future workforce,” said Sarah Hodges, who directs the construction business line at Autodesk. “There is no better time than now.”
The AGC and other industry players noted the need for continuing technology advances and policy reforms in education and immigration to push craftsman workforce development.
“The best way to encourage continued economic growth, make it easier to rebuild aging infrastructure and place more young adults into high-paying careers is to address construction workforce shortages,” Simonson said.
Robert Lee, director of the construction services firm English Construction in Virginia, said the government started to allow several community colleges to award a craftsman degree two years ago.
For example, Wytheville Community College in Virginia has technical education programs that lead to a Career Readiness Certificate to provide employers a measurement tool for job candidates.
Lee said this policy is a “huge change,’ but the problem is so many people do not want to attend.
Current tight labor market conditions, Simonson noted, have projected increasing base pay rates and better incentives and bonuses for craft workers, which could attract work-oriented young students.
Steve Manley, president of a Portland-based construction firm, P&C Construction, said one way to get more young workers into the construction industry is to encourage “education externships,” which requires higher education teachers to spend a half day at project management sites every week so that they can impart the work skills to the students.
The lack of immigration policy reforms, Simonson said, might worsen the problem of construction worker shortages. Currently, it is estimated that 10 million individuals in the U.S. would join the workforce if they could lawfully work for employers.
Besides more worker training and immigration reform, Hodges said that labor-saving technologies and virtual construction methods such as building information modeling, or BIM, could help bridge the gap between workforce demand and supply.