I was recently at a press event in the Midwest for heavy equipment. It was cold. The temperatures were in the 30s during the day and in the teens and 20s at night. But there was something else that I understood to be even more chilling, so to speak.
The event included a number of contractors who came to speak about the virtues of the equipment being introduced. When the conversation turned to how easily new operators could learn to use the iron, I asked if the skilled workforce is as anemic to them as the national numbers say. Their response was an emphatic, “Yes!”
According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 80% of construction firms in the US have reported having a difficult time finding qualified workers and skilled workers in particular.
An article in timesunion.com says the numbers in the State of New York are very similar.
“79 percent of New York firms reported having difficulty finding hourly workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America’s 2018 Workforce Survey.
‘We don’t have the bodies. We’re aging out, I’m a baby boomer…we’re trying to replace us, and we’re having trouble doing that,’ said James Haas, a learning coordinator with Capital Region BOCES. ‘We want (students) to get the connections from the classroom to the world of work.’
The Capital Region CTE program has campuses in Schoharie, Albany and Schenectady counties, and provides tandem classwork and workforce skills training. The program is meant to train and connect students to employers.
Construction industry recruiters tout the availability of jobs and relatively high pay for workers entering the industry.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly earnings in construction exceed the average in all nonfarm private sector jobs by over 10 percent.
And since most construction careers do not require a college degree, entrants to the industry typically owe less in student debt than those who attend college.
‘We’ve got to get mom and dad, we’ve got to get the guidance counselors, we’ve got to get the kids to understand that it’s not always a baccalaureate degree (that’s necessary),’ Haas said. ‘Laborers are making real, living wages, that have good benefits, that have a Monday through Friday work schedule. And they’re probably making $1500 a week.’”
Now, I know that it’s a hot button topic, but the article also brought up the issue of immigration and the need for migrant labor.
“With millions of undocumented, able-bodied immigrants who can’t legally work, the AGC says a visa program would alleviate the labor shortage.
The AGC recommended expanding seasonal worker visas, as well as market-based visas to mitigate the current and future worker shortages.
‘True reform must include a mechanism for construction industry employers to hire the temporary foreign-born workers they need when American workers are unavailable and economic demand merits.’ the report reads.
Jesse Champagne, a bond representative from Reagan Companies, said construction often is not ‘appreciated’ enough, but hopes programs to engage with young, potential workers can lead to a solution.
‘For us to live our lives, these things need to be done. Things need to be fixed. Things need to be built. Roadways, bridges, maintenance,’ Champagne said. ‘For years, it’s always been the construction industry and what the jobs provide are really underestimated. There are so many opportunities there.’”
Back to the press event in the Midwest where the mood was typically warm, upbeat, and vibrant, I don’t think there are long johns capable of shutting out the chill I saw on the faces of the hard-working contractors as they contemplated how they would ever find the workers they need to keep doing the work they do.