While the U.S. economy is on an upswing, and our multifamily housing industry experiences an influx of new construction projects, builders have a newer challenge to hammer out: labor shortages. I see it with all of my Texas construction peers, plenty of jobs, yet not not enough skilled laborers to hire.
Forbes.com reported earlier this year that 2.2 million construction jobs (28 percent of the construction labor pool) were lost between 2007 and 2011, contributing to one-third of all jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the recession. Now with new construction projects on the rise across the country, we are all struggling to regain that labor force to complete the work.
Here within the Texas construction market, we really felt the effects of labor shortages in the summer of 2012, as addressed in an article by Community Impact Newspaper. As a result, we are working closely with owners to set realistic completion times. The thinning labor force has made for slower building on many projects. In some cases, it may take months longer than normal to complete a residential construction project, all due to not enough actual hands on deck.
The National Association of Home Builders reports that many former construction workers were forced to seek employment outside of the construction industry during the recession and are no longer available for hire. And while these veteran workers are now likely working in other industries, they are also nearing retirement.
Construction Education Foundation of North Texas President and Executive Director Jane Hanna has testified before the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce about the shortage of skilled workers in Texas, stating “The average age of a skilled craftsman is 49; the average age for a stone mason is 69.” Hanna continued, “In the next four-to-six years, 20 percent of the skilled laborers in the construction industry will be retiring.”
On the other end of the labor force spectrum, fewer college students are pursuing careers in the construction industry. Around our region, we see a lack of vocational training available and a decreased emphasis on importance for specialized jobs among young people. We see that the focus has greatly shifted toward steering all of our kids toward college and not toward a skilled trade.
To aid in boosting our skilled labor force numbers, organizations such as the Home Builders Institute provide career training and job placement within the building industry. In our own backyard, KWA participated this past summer in the Mayor’s Internship Program that places rising juniors and seniors from Dallas public and charter high schools with companies in industries where students have expressed an interest. KWA hosted Cristobal Rios, a Franklin D. Roosevelt High School 2013-2014 senior and a boy born into a construction family.
“I was thinking of pursuing a future in the medical field, but I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted, and I didn’t feel a passion for it,” said Rios. “My dad is in construction, so I grew up around it and thought I should try it out. [Through the internship], I realized that I want to become a project manager and maybe even come back to work for KWA.”
It’s our hope that through more programs and outreach to the younger generations, we will see a renewed interest in the construction field. Until then, we will continue to use all of our resources and collaborate partners to meet increasing construction demand.
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