America is in desperate need of more tradespeople as employment levels surge and older workers leaving the industry are not being replaced by new apprentices, a leading economist within the building industry in the United States says.
In a recent statement, Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson said a surge in both hiring and offering worker overtime was encouraging, but pointed to a looming shortfall of workers and would eventually push up wages and trade prices.
“There is a limit to how much overtime workers can put in, and companies will be seeking to expand employment even faster if the volume of projects continues to grow” Simonson said. “But the huge drop in the number of unemployed former construction workers may make it harder to keep adding employees.”
Simonson’s comments come as growing momentum within the American building sector leads to more demand for skilled labour.
Whilst public construction spending remains flat, private spending on multi-residential and single residential buildings during March was up 13 percent and 33 percent year-on-year respectively, whilst a surge in communication related infrastructure has seen non-residential spending jump 8.6 percent over the same period.
Because of this, the total number of workers employed surged to seven year highs of 6,000,000 in April and unemployment (9.4 percent) is at seven year lows, with key hot areas including Monroe in Michigan, El Centro in California, Pascagoula in Mississippi and Idaho in Washington.
At the same time, the size of the workforce is shrinking. As tradespeople retired or left the industry due to poor conditions during the post-GFC downturn and the number of new apprentices coming through dropped, AGC now says the industry has 1.1 billion fewer workers than it did four years ago.
That is hurting everywhere. Doug Dhon, of Colorado based Dhon Construction recently told the Coloradoan newspaper there was a shortage of drywallers, plumbers, framers, masons, electricians and other skilled occupations, and that he did not have a signal project on the books that was adequately staffed with suitable trades – a situation which meant he and others were struggling to deliver work within agreed timeframes.
“When you can't adequately man your projects, it puts you in a very hard spot for time” Dhon said.
"It's a critical threat to my industry and the problem is here right now, today."
Association officials say there has been a drop in the number of secondary-level construction training programs over the past few years, and have called on the governments at all levels to adopt measures to help schools, construction firms and local trade associations to conduct training programs for future workers.
“If elected and appointed officials don’t act soon to improve the quantity and quality of training opportunities for future workers, many construction employers will struggle to find the workers they need” AGC chief executive officer Stephen E. Sandherr said.
“It would be tragic if the construction industry can’t fill good-paying jobs because of a lack of trained recruits.”