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Construction employment grows, but skilled workers become scarce

Construction jobs are increasing in many states, but skilled workers are still hard to come by.

Construction jobs are increasing in many states, but skilled workers are still hard to come by.

According to an analysis of Labor Department data by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 39 states witnessed an increase in construction jobs in July from last year to this year. Additionally, 34 states saw growth from June to July this year. Nevada added the largest percentage of construction jobs, growing by 13.4 percent, and Florida added the most jobs overall, 40,600. New Jersey fell off the most, losing 6.5 percent and 8,900 jobs.

While the gains are good news for the industry, contractors have complained about the lack of skilled employees.

"We are at real risk of going from a situation where firms couldn't hire because there wasn't enough demand to firms not being able to hire because there aren't enough qualified workers," said Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC's chief executive officer.

To combat this lack of skilled labor, the AGC has published its Workforce Development Plan for the 21st Century. The document lays out various reasons for the skilled labor shortage:

A lack of education
The biggest issue, as the AGC sees it, lies in the neglect of necessary vocational and trade-based education at the secondary level and beyond. Federal funding has changed its focus to college preparatory programs, which presumes that every high school graduate can and should attend college. Accounting for inflation, the monetary support for technical schools has dropped by 29 percent over the past eight years. Without adequate funding, the programs are unable to support operations costs, nor obtain the construction tools and safety equipment necessary for skills training.

Laid-off workers alter their paths
In some cases, if a construction worker is laid off, he or she will seek employment in a different sector. These skilled workers take jobs as truck drivers or machinists, or flee to the greener pastures of the energy industry. Others will choose to retire altogether – as of 2012, "roughly 44 percent of the construction workforce is 45 years of age or older and nearly one out of every five construction workers is 55 or older." That's a large percentage of the industry approaching retirement.

Immigrants are dissuaded from construction jobs
Current immigration legislation limits the number of foreigners who seek temporary construction jobs. The AGC views this as an arbitrary measure that is crippling the sector and preventing it from attracting sufficient numbers in the near future.

As contractors demand a higher-quality laborer, The Workforce Development Plan may be a guide worth implementing across the nation.