According to the Associated General Contractors of America, the future of the construction industry looks very bright. The AGCA surveyed over 1,300 contractors around the country and 91 percent indicated that they expect more work in 2018, or they expect their work level to remain the same. In an era where unemployment is a big issue, this should be great news for the economy, but it is not.
Of those 1,300 contractors, approximately 73 percent said that they will need to hire more workers in 2018 to meet rising demand. The problem is that those same contractors also stated that finding qualified workers is going to be extremely difficult. President Trump’s immigration wall has taken a backseat to other political issues, but contractors fear that the construction labor situation in the United States will get much worse if the wall project is actually put into effect.
Where Have All Of The Workers Gone?
The 2008 recession caused one of the biggest slumps in the history of the construction industry. During that time, two million construction workers were put out of work and many moved on to different careers. When the industry rebounded in 2016, only one million of those lost workers came back. The construction industry started its recovery with a restricted workforce, and it did nothing to make up for the shortage.
One construction company owner made two observations in a recent article in Curbed that outlines exactly what is happening to the construction industry and why that bright future might turn bleak. According to the owner, many of his workers are age 42 or older. The workforce the industry has in place now is aging and prone to injuries. Days lost due to injuries are taking their toll on the industry.
The other issue that he discussed is the obvious lack of people in the younger generations who want to be carpenters, electricians, and plumbers. Vocational schools have seen a significant drop in attendance, and union training programs are having problems attracting young recruits. The younger generations seem to not like working with their hands, and that is only going to widen the construction employment gap as time goes on.
Relieving Labor Shortage Pressure With Modular Construction
One of the ways that residential and commercial construction companies can relieve some of the pressure is to use prefabricated or modular construction methods. Prefabricated construction means having certain parts of a structure built offsite and installed into the final project. Plumbing systems and other parts of a building can be built offsite and easily put in place by onsite workers. Modular construction uses complete parts of a building built offsite to put the final structure together like a puzzle. Complete rooms and areas of the building can be built offsite and save the contractor time and money.
Contractors who utilize prefabricated or modular construction need fewer workers on site to build structures, and they can also save money on materials. Because portions of the structure are built elsewhere, that means that site prep work can be done at the same time the portions of the building are being constructed. This speeds up the process for contractors and makes construction easier.
Vocational Training Needs To Be Increased
While modular construction can help relieve some of the pressure, the real solution to the construction labor problem is an increase in vocational training. The construction industry needs to address its labor shortage by highlighting construction demand as a way for steady employment, and enticing younger people to become construction workers.
The construction industry is also in the process of opening up to recruiting more minorities into vocational training programs, especially women. Construction used to be a male dominated field, but it will need to become more welcoming to female workers if it wants to survive.
The increased construction demand for residential housing alone is putting a strain on the availability of construction workers in the United States. President Trump’s wall project would pull workers from an already depleted pool and put, even more, stress on the labor market. With construction unemployment at an all-time low, the industry is going to need to develop plans now that will fill a labor gap that is only going to get worse.