Who Will Rebuild?


In my days as a news reporter, I had to learn how to deal with stories that involved the tragic loss of life. I didn’t ignore or refuse to feel or acknowledge what had happened. Quite the opposite: I chose to embrace my empathy and compassion, which helped me identify more closely with the story at hand. But there was also the aftermath—reporting that still needed to be done after the tragedy. It could be difficult, especially if emotions were still raw.

People lost their lives in hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. More have died recently in wildfires burning in California. The significance of the loss will remain.

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But the story of rebuilding also begins now. According to Moody’s Analytics, up to $200 billion in damage was done by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The damage in Puerto Rico could run up to $95 billion. It’s way too early to even guess the dollar amount of damage from the California wildfires. One big question is: will there be enough skilled workers to do the work needed?

A recent Washington Post report noted, “Employers nationwide are complaining about a labor shortage, especially in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as manufacturing and construction. Business owners say a lack of skilled workers who can pass a drug test has stalled their growth.

Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM, said post-hurricane reconstruction will prove especially challenging because of the tight labor market.

“There is not a significant surplus of labor ready to re-enter the workforce to take relatively higher paying construction jobs that will be available in Houston and across much of Florida,” he wrote in an analysis ahead of Friday’s job report.

“While it is understandable that the focus is still on the human costs to hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the U.S. Caribbean, the likely economic narrative going forward will be: Where are all the workers necessary to rebuild?”

As I write this piece, more than a dozen wildfires still rage across California, already having destroyed more than 2,000 homes and businesses—more rebuilding that will need workers.

Fortune.com had a recent article that stated, “Finding skilled workers remains a challenge for this industry, and it’s likely to remain a challenge in the areas affected by the recent hurricanes,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber. “Finding skilled construction workers will be essential to ensure the Gulf region is able to quickly and efficiently rebuild. Our nation must address our workforce challenges to enable the economy to grow.”

Along with the struggle to find qualified workers, 91% of contractors are at least moderately concerned about the skill level of their workforce.

“This quarter’s findings reveal strong optimism about future prospects for the industry,” said Jennifer Scanlon, president and chief executive officer of USG Corporation, “and also highlight a real need to address ongoing concerns about skilled labor shortages and the impact it has on building in the U.S.”

For all of the destruction that may fall upon us, the skilled labor gap is now one of our country’s biggest pre-existing conditions. GX_bug_web


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