Time to Understand the Many Opportunities a Career in Construction Can Offer
by Sandy Griffis, Executive Director, Yavapai County Contractors Association
At long last the construction industry is emerging from a severe downturn that began more than nine years ago, and many of our local firms report they are having a tough time finding skilled workers or for that matter, even men and women who want to learn the trades.
I am sure many of you think this seems to be counterintuitive for an industry that was forced to lay off more than 2 million workers since 2009. Our current shortage is the consequence of many factors – education and demographics along with economic and political reasons.
As far as the education factor, secondary-school career and technical-education training programs across the country have lessened over the years and that means that as the construction industry is expanding to meet growing demand, they have fewer young people entering the workforce. Every local industry firm is having a hard time finding skilled workers. We cannot afford to leave this issue unaddressed as these shortages will ultimately undermine the industry’s recovery and impact broader economic growth as staffing shortages lead to construction delays. We are seeing delays right here in Yavapai County.
As far as the economic factor, as construction firms struggle to fill key positions, they are forced to propose slower schedules for projects, tempering the pace of economic development. In addition, understaffed construction firms are more hesitant to bid on new projects knowing they lack the manpower to complete the work on schedule, and we are seeing that impact here in Yavapai County.
With fewer bidders competing for work, owners are spending more for projects. In October 2017, a local homeowner obtained a bid for a full bath remodel – tub conversion to walk-in shower, new vanities, sinks, faucets, flooring, toilet, paint and wall expansion and addition of an operable window. The bid in October was $15,760. The homeowner did not move forward due to family travel and a brief illness. Last month members of the family reached out to the contractor and were told it would be seven months before the project could be started. Upon obtaining another bid, the owner learned the price is now $19,345 for identical work.
Another educational factor contributing to the dismantling of the construction-worker pipeline is the lack of focus and demand for college preparatory programs. The interest in establishing educational programs designed to prepare students for college continues to be at an all-time low. The consequence has been the overwhelming impression among youths, their parents and teachers that career and technical education is unacceptable, despite the fact that construction jobs often pay better than many post-college options, especially post-downturn.
In all, some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year and do not require bachelor’s degrees are available, according to Rockford Career College. Yet, the march to bachelor’s degrees continues. And while people who obtain a college degree are more likely to be employed and make more money than those who don’t, that premium appears to be softening. Their median earnings were lower in 2015, when adjusted for inflation, than in 2010.
People are going to college without a plan, without a career in mind, because the mindset in high school is just, “Go to college.”
While the dismantling of the construction workforce pipeline helps explain why there aren’t many new young construction workers available to meet growing demand, it is estimated that the construction industry will need to add 1.5 million new workers to keep pace with demand and replace retirees by the end of the year.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 Current Population Survey, roughly 40 percent of the construction workforce is 45 years of age or older. The construction industry is undergoing the most dramatic demographic shift in its history. Thousands upon thousands of members of the construction workforce are retiring over the next decade, at a time when the industry is projected to continue steady and moderate sensible growth. This creates workforce challenges that require a national strategy, encompassing the right policies, programs and initiatives.
We all must have a goal to ensure the industry has a sustainable skilled workforce with the ability and flexibility to meet changing demands now and into the future. Working together will ensure that the construction industry is well positioned to continue driving job and economic growth in our area.
It is important to remember that as demand continues to pick up our construction industry will continue to face worker shortages with increasing frequency. Construction will account for one-third of all new jobs through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These are unprecedented times we are facing, and the traditional labor pool of young, men who are the children of construction workers does not exist anymore. There is a pool of workers that needs good jobs, and maybe the future is female! Let’s have a pink hard hat revolution. We have several females in our local industry that handle enormous belly dump-trucks, excavators and trenchers, and we have female welders and general contractors. Our City of Prescott has females driving huge waste trucks, and we have females installing pavers for landscapers. The list goes on, and the possibilities are endless.