Construction worker shortage called ‘acute’

From the Sun Sentinel

Carpenters, electricians and concrete installers are getting harder and harder to find in Florida and nationwide.

The labor shortage “is getting acute, especially in South Florida,” said Peter Dyga, chief executive of the Florida East Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, which can’t train skilled workers fast enough for the construction rebound.

Florida companies interviewed by the Associated General Contractors of America reported issues finding and keeping hourly construction workers. More than half also said they’re coming up short on project managers, engineers and estimating professionals.

Ken Simonson, economist for Associated General Contractors, said 2.3 million workers left the industry during the economic downturn — either retiring or moving to another industry. The latest survey is “more evidence the pool of labor has dried up,” he said. “Florida has had biggest bounce-back in jobs, but also had the steepest drop-off.”

Sixty-two percent of Florida construction companies interviewed said they expect the hiring crunch to continue over the next year.

Advanced Roofing in Fort Lauderdale is not only having trouble finding new roofers, but all other trades for its construction projects.

“Every single trade is busy in the construction industry, so it’s tying up resources,” said Kevin Kornahrens, vice president of Advanced Roofing.

The company has obtained 10 H2B visas to bring in workers from Mexico and is recuiting in Puerto Rico. Advanced Roofing is also sponsoring a local apprentice program to train workers, but “it’s hard to find young individuals who want to get into roofing. It’s a hard job,” he said.

Dyga said Associated Builder’s apprenticeship program in South Florida has 600 people training as pipefitters, plumbers, fire sprinkler specialists, roofers and three levels of electricians. Associated Builders also is working to get new programs in carpentry, painting and masonry accredited, but state approvals can take a year, he said.

The accredited programs take four years, so only about 100 graduate each year. Meanwhile, experienced workers are retiring while demand for workers, especially with advanced skills, continues to grow as construction rebounds.

“We need to get better as an industry investing in the training,” Dyga said. He said that training needs to continue, even when the industry slows to ensure a pipeline of skilled workers.

The high demand is resulting in higher wages for specialty construction workers. More than half of Florida construction firms surveyed said they’re offering higher wages to attract and retain workers.

The shortage of crafts workers is widespread, with 86 percent of construction firms nationwide reporting trouble filling all 21 specialty construction jobs. Hardest to find are carpenters, sheet metal installers and concrete workers, according to the survey.

Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen Sandherr called for new career and technical school programs to offset the labor shortages.

“The sad fact is too few students are being exposed to construction careers or provided with the basic skills needed to prepare for such a career path,” he said.

The survey included responses from 1,358 construction firms, including 26 in Florida. or 561-243-6650

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