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Construction & Design

Hurricanes giving worker-starved sector lesson in poor planning

A national construction labor shortage has been magnified by two devastating hurricanes, leaving many in the construction industry struggling to fill positions.

A recent report by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that nationwide, 70 percent of construction firms are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce.
Officials from the AGC said firms are changing the way they operate, recruit and compensate workers, as demand for construction continues to grow.

Even before Hurricane Harvey, 69 percent of Texas contractors said they struggled to fill construction positions, according to the report released in late August by the AGC.

The report points to a need for more investment in career and technical education, and for public officials and legislators to pass measures that will help, like the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

“In the short-term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors, in the report.

“Over the long-term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”

Forty-six percent of firms also reported they are doing more in-house training to cope with job shortages while 47 percent reported they are increasing overtime hours and 41 percent are increasing their use of subcontractors, according to the report.

In addition, 22 percent report they are increasing their use of labor-saving equipment, 11 percent are using offsite prefabrication and 7 percent are using virtual construction methods like Building Information Modeling.

“It’s definitely something the industry as a whole across the country has been contending with,” said Joshua Reap, vice president of communications of the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).

“We estimate [the industry] will face a shortage of 2 million skilled workers by 2019,” said Reap, who attributed the shortage in part to the number of workers who will be retiring soon.

“You’re talking about people in mid to late career looking to retire in a few years. It’s creating a huge vacuum.”
Reap also attributed the shortage to the comeback from the recession, which fueled more buildings and construction.
However, he said NYC has a “good grip” on the problem since it is more densely populated than other areas of the country, and pointed to efforts at the state and national level to fix the problem, through increased awareness of the construction industry and other skilled professions.

“For many years, there’s been such great emphasis on college, but many have ignored or not looked at construction, they’ve looked at it as secondary – that’s wrong,” said Reap.

“You can be a plumber and after a few years be earning $70 to $85,000 as a plumber. You can do skill training and come out of it with no college debt.”

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