Construction Jobs Are There . . . But Where Are The Workers?

Mon December 30, 2013 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson


Giles Lamberston.
Giles Lamberston.

This hardly qualifies as news, but a survey by Associated General Contractors shows construction firms are struggling to fill their work crews with qualified people. While the problem pre-dated the economic collapse of 2008, it clearly was worsened by the downturn.

When the layoffs hit, construction workers who had entered the workforce confident that the housing boom and infrastructure repair work would go on forever suddenly got an education about job security. Contractors had no alternative but to trim their payrolls and, just like that, jobs went away.

Now that jobs are returning—though not in volumes experienced in a typical recovery period—the numbers of qualified people applying for vacancies are too low. Some construction workers, particularly younger ones wanting career security, simply left the industry. They either went to school to prepare for a new career or took their skills to related fields like maintenance.

“We need to take short- and long-term steps to make sure there are enough workers to meet future demand…,” AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr said in releasing the results of the survey. His suggested remedies include opening the door for more legal immigrant employees and adding skilled trade classes to school curriculums.

I’m sure those would help. However, the larger truth is that until blue-collar labor is accorded the same respect given software work and other white-collar employment, young people will opt for college degrees of increasingly shrinking career value.

There was a time when skilled construction trade men and women were honored for their labor. Now such positions are considered a last resort or an interim job. Consequently, many of the “best and brightest” drift into careers and professions that are trendier but, ultimately, less personally rewarding.

It is a national mindset. Until a U.S. president or some other high-profile persona pushes construction work as a field of opportunity and professional satisfaction, you can look for there to be more construction jobs open than there are qualified people to fill them.