Five years after the end of the Great Recession, contractors and construction professionals are facing the opposite labor pains of employers during the economic downturn: a shortage of skilled workers. But here’s a piece of good news. Trade industry journal Engineering News-Record (ENR) recently reported that although federal funding for career and technical education programs has decreased by more than 13 percent a year, construction firms are taking an active role in seeking new workers with the help of state funding.

Education opportunities have become the top priority for recruitment in the industry through increasing apprenticeship opportunities and career and technical education programs in high schools and community colleges. Additionally, the industry has hoped to spark interest in the construction field through the development of specialty schools to train young students in specific trades.  

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (ACGA), skilled workers have become an “endangered species” in a field where spending has increased by more than 8 percent in the past year. Construction professionals are considering solutions to a potential gap between the demand for labor on rapidly increasing construction jobs and the slower acquisition of additional workers.

While many agree that the recession played a major part in the employment decline in the construction industry, other factors have kept workers away even after the onset of economic recovery, including the loss of workers to other professions, the pursuit of higher education and the retirement of baby boomers.

Between 2006 and 2007, the construction industry employed more than 7.7 million workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). After the recession, around 2 million construction jobs were lost. While construction employment has steadily increased over time, and by more than 3 percent in the past year, the total approximated workforce in April 2014 is only 75 percent of what it was exactly eight years ago.

Of the skilled workers who lost their jobs in the recession, baby boomers with lifetime experience in the industry have since retired and others have found work elsewhere. In the pool of potential hires, young prospects have increasingly begun to seek out higher education, which accounts for a higher-educated workforce in America, but a lack of interest in traditional construction work opportunities.

As Jerry Nevlud, president and CEO of AGC Houston, tells ENR, “The challenge we have is not just meeting immediate labor needs, but developing a sustainable workforce for decades. We need to show young men and women that the industry is committed to providing not just a job, but a career.”

(Editor's Note: Andy Warren is president of Maracay Homes, the Arizona subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Real Estate Company.  He serves on the Board of Directors and as an Executive Committee member with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and is a past board member of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.  He is also a member of Greater Phoenix Leadership and an active member of the Urban Land Institute.)

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