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Contractors Warn of Worker Deficit

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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Nearly 75 percent of U.S. construction companies report an insufficient pipeline of qualified craft workers, according to a new study.

Filling onsite construction jobs, such as carpenters, equipment operators and laborers, was the most frequently reported difficulty, according to the survey released Thursday (Sept. 4) by the Associated General Contractors of America.

construction workers
Associated General Contractors of America

Of the 74 percent of contractors that are having difficulty finding qualified craft workers, the most frequently reported difficulties are in filling onsite construction jobs, including equipment operators and other laborers.

The shortage is not limited to craft workers. Fifty-three percent of companies reported having difficulty filling professional positions, including project supervisors, estimators and engineers, the association said.

Most businesses expect the labor shortages will only get worse in the coming year and officials are calling for immigration and education reform measures to stop the shortfall.

The surveys, completed by nearly 700 construction companies, were conducted in July and August 2013.

Click here for AGC’s analysis and survey results. View the national results here.

Worker Shortfall Looms

“We need to take short- and long-term steps to make sure there are enough workers to meet future demand and avoid the costly construction delays that would come with labor shortages,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the AGC.

Eighty-six percent of the survey respondents said they expected that it would remain difficult or get harder to find qualified craft workers over the next 12 months, while 72 percent say the market for professional positions will remain hard or get even worse.

Seventy-four percent of respondents report there are not enough qualified craft workers available to meet future demand, while 49 percent said there weren’t enough construction professionals available, Sandherr said.

August Construction Figures

Construction employment totaled 5,798,000 workers in August, according to the AGC’s analysis of the newest labor figures.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for workers actively looking for jobs and last employed in construction declined from 11.3 percent in August 2012 to 9.1 percent last month—the lowest August rate since 2008.

construction workers
Associated General Contractors of America

Nearly 700 construction companies participated in the survey. Most of the firms are involved in building construction, followed by heavy/industrial construction, highway construction or municipal or utility construction.

“Over the past three years, the number of unemployed, experienced construction workers has dropped by half,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist.

“Unfortunately, the construction industry has been able to hire only about a third of those workers, while the rest have left construction for other industries, schooling, and retirement or have dropped out of the labor force.

“The recent leveling-off of construction hiring means the industry risks losing more of its experienced workers, setting up a potentially grave shortfall when demand for construction resumes.”

Steps to Avert Shortages

Sandherr noted that many contractors reported taking steps to prepare future construction workers.

Worker survey
Associated General Contractors of America

He said that 48 percent of responding businesses were mentoring future craft workers, 38 percent were participating in career fairs, and 33 percent were supporting high school-level construction skills academies.

In addition, 47 percent of responding companies are offering internships for construction professionals.

Immigration Changes Urged

Sandherr cautioned that more needs to be done to address labor shortages.

He said Congress needs to remove "arbitrary caps" on construction workers that were included in immigration reform the Senate passed earlier this year.

“Lifting those restrictions will go a long way to ensuring construction jobs left vacant by domestic labor shortages go to workers who are in the country legally,” Sandherr said.

Moreover, he urged elected and appointed officials to do more to ensure that public school students have an opportunity to participate in programs that teach skills like construction.

Sandherr said that skills-based programs offer students a more hands-on way to learn math and science. Such programs have been shown to reduce dropout rates and give students an opportunity to earn the higher pay and benefits that come with construction jobs, the association said.


Tagged categories: Associated General Contractors; Construction; Contractors; Craftsmanship; Good Technical Practice; Industry surveys; Labor; Trends

Comment from Martin Scott, (9/10/2013, 10:26 AM)

This is a lie, as there are millions of unemployed workers (American Citgizens) looking for full time employment.

Comment from Brian Drucks, (9/10/2013, 10:38 AM)

The reason there is and will be a shortage of construction workers is because we as a country have allowed the wages to be so low middle class workers do not want to go into the construction industry. As a fourth generation owner I remember when my grandfathers entire work force was made up of white middle class men. The problem is immigration. Make it more difficult not easier and you will see the laws of supply and demand create a strong workforce being paid a fair wage.

Comment from peter gibson, (9/10/2013, 11:14 AM)

The problem is not immigration; but inept, dumb & lazy citizenry who have no interest in getting their hands dirty. There are enough bodies to go around. But most are unemployable.

Comment from tim barrett, (9/10/2013, 11:42 AM)

There is truth to both Peter's and Brian's comments, neither is mutually exclusive of the problem.

Comment from Brian Drucks, (9/10/2013, 1:20 PM)

Peter, not sure of your age, but I think you are confusing the lazy, dumb and unemployable with my discussion of the disapearrence of the middle class blue collar worker. Whats the going wage for a non-union construction worker today $ 15-25 with no benefits. That is not a middle class wage. Yet the consumer expects skilled, willing workers to work at wages that were not even the norm 20 years ago. Let's face it, we as consumers, have destroyed the livelihood that was part of the backbone that built this country.

Comment from Richard Lopeman, (9/10/2013, 1:22 PM)

There are some major problems with working in the construction trades. I have , but do not currently, worked in the construction field all my life, mainly coatings, sandblasting and labor. Most of the companies in the construction field DO NOT offer ANY benefits, at least to rank and file employees, as in insurance, paid days off, paid vacation, sick leave, etc.,. Even low life companies like walmart and mcdonalds have SOME benefits ( although LOWEST Wages ). Another problem is low / stagnant wages, I made the SAME in the late eighties / early nineties as I was paid at my last three employers in 2008 to recently. Another problem is No job security, when a project is over, layoffs ensue. We all need at least a decent, living wage, at least some of the normal benefits - like insurance and sick leave and paid time off / vacation.

Comment from brian ofarrell, (9/26/2013, 9:27 AM)

Shortage of craft workers is a problem that has always been around. If a contractor has a highly skilled work force then they pursue more work resulting in a shortage. When the industry is slow contractors are taking work at tighter margins and depend on the skill of their workers to make them money. They do not hire and invest in apprentices. When the economy recovers you have a very limited number of apprentices to choose from because industry has not been training as many. Many of the apprentices that had received basic training in school and were not able to find employment due to there lack of experience have moved along to other industries. The best time to invest in training is when the economy is slow. When the economy is slow employers cannot afford to invest in training. We will start investing in training when the economy picks up and we have no choice but to invest as there will be no skilled workers available. Complaining about the problem does not fix it. Getting involved and understanding the issues is the way to rectify this problem.

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