Across the country, construction firms are having difficulty finding and keeping skilled workers, according to a new study from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Out of 1,000 firms surveyed, 83 percent claimed they struggled to find quality craft workers, up 9 percent from last year's survey. The positions most cited were carpenters, roofers, equipment operators and plumbers. The shortage impacted the professional side of construction as well, with 61 percent of companies finding it difficult to hire project supervisors and engineers, up 8 percent from 2013. Only 9 percent said the were having no trouble filling positions.
The survey also looked to the future. In the next 12 months, 70 percent of the firms surveyed said they would have continued difficulty finding qualified workers or that it would get even harder. A mere 6 percent believed it would continue to be easy or become easier to hire the necessary construction workers and professionals. Perhaps most tellingly, the survey found 55 percent of construction firms ranked the quality of the pipeline of new workers as "below average" or "poor."
"As the survey results make clear, many construction firms across the country are having a hard time filling available positions," Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors, said in a statement. "Considering how much the nation's educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages."
States under pressure for more construction workers
One state that feels the heat of the recent shortage is Louisiana. Even though only 15 respondents in the AGC survey hailed from Louisiana, local contractors said the results echoed what the state is experiencing.
"It's pretty daunting," Simonson told the Times-Picayune. "Louisiana's going to have the biggest jump as any state in the amount of work that'll be done if they can find the qualified workers with those skills."
Louisiana has $103 billions projects that are either set to begin, underway or completed, and could surpass the 2 million job mark in 2015. As many of the jobs will be in the construction industry, the lack of workers could pose a serious issue as the projects mount.
In Texas, 90 percent of construction firms reported difficulty finding new workers, according to the Dallas Morning News. Forty-eight percent of Texan construction firms claimed to be losing workers to other industries in the same region. Demand for oil field workers has siphoned many qualified construction laborers away with the promise of higher wages. As a result, in Dallas-Fort Worth, building costs and construction times are rising.
A possible solution
AGC recommends a return to the focus on vocational education in secondary schools, according to Equipment World. Government funding for these programs has declined, leaving schools with little choice but to develop other fields of study instead. As a result, workers interested in construction jobs often lack the skills using construction tools or electrical supplies required to ensure safe, efficient work. Contractors are having to educate their workers on the fly, which creates workflow, quality and construction safety issues.
"Considering how much the nation's educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages," Simonson said.
There are also several Federal plans that could use reinvigorating. The Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act and Workforce Investment Act both benefit the pipeline of vocational workers from their education to their hiring.