The key for construction companies is being able to train workers who may not be experienced, but have a strong desire to learn.
(Nevada Builders Alliance photo)
Nevada Builders Alliance presented its newest program to assist construction and construction-related companies in relieving some of the pressure felt by the shortage of skilled construction workers in Nevada at a recent luncheon in Reno.
The H-2B Visa program is the country's only legal seasonal foreign worker visa program for non-agricultural employers. It allows U.S. employers or agents to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs.
“We're missing an entire generation of construction workers,” Aaron West, CEO of Nevada Builders said. “With 22 percent of the construction labor force over the age of 55, and only 7 percent age 25 or less, we are nearing critical mass in replacing workers who are aging out of the industry.”
West also said Nevada alone will need to hire 10,000 skilled trade professionals to meet the need for workforce housing, incoming industry and the supporting infrastructure.
Reed Graham, chief operating officer of Erickson Companies, a construction, pre-fabricated building components and framing services contractor with locations in Arizona, Sacramento and Reno, spoke to the assembled group of contractors, tradesmen, government officials and economic development representatives on Erikson's 3-year odyssey into hiring H-2B Visa labor.
“We spent a lot of time and energy on Craigslist, in churches, newspapers and supermarkets to recruit for our workforce needs,” Graham said. “We just weren't getting enough people, and the turnover was tremendous. Guys would work three or four days and quit.”
Graham said Erikson petitioned for six workers in 2015 through the U.S. Department of Labor. It went so well, the company petitioned for 40 workers. In 2016, the company's request grew to 170. This year, they are looking to bring in 337 workers.
“It hasn't been an easy process,” he said. “We stubbed our toe a few times during the process. Having the right agent to help see you through is critical.”
Graham said he has hired an employee to oversee the petition and logistics processes for the company's H-2B Visa program to help with the myriad details, and uses MAS Labor, an H2 visa specialist located in Lovingston, Va.
Kerry Scott, program manager of MAS Labor, said the United States is limited to 66,000 H-2B visa workers per year, as written by Congress, half of which are allowed in April 1, the other half on Oct. 1.
Scott said landscaping is the largest industry using H-2B workers, followed by construction. The key for construction companies, he said, is being able to train workers who may not be experienced, but have a strong desire to learn.
“These guys want to work, they want to learn, and made a conscious decision to do this job, with this company, in this city,” he said. “Once they've been trained, they want to come back year after year. It's how you can build a skilled workforce.”
Nevada Builders Alliance is working with Graham and Scott to provide assistance to companies who wish to petition for H-2B workers in the future by providing the correct language to use in forms and paperwork.
“This is a great program and we are happy to help our member companies and others who wish to invest in skilled workers,” West said. “Through our efforts with our local educational partners and employers, and now with the H-2B visa program, we are committed to workforce development for Nevada.”