Most construction firms report they are having trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots as the industry recovers from its years-long downturn, according to the results of a new industry-wide survey recently released by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials called for new career and technical school programs, as well as other workforce measures to offset labor shortages.

“As the survey results make clear, many construction firms across the country are having a hard time filling available positions,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors. “Considering how much the nation’s educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages.”

Eighty-three percent of responding firms nationwide are having a hard time filling craft worker positions—on-site construction jobs that include carpenters, equipment operators and laborers. Sixty-one percent are having a hard time filling professional positions, including project supervisors, estimators and engineers.

Simonson noted that worker shortages appear most severe in the Southeast, where 86% of contractors report having a hard time finding qualified workers. Eighty-four percent of contractors in the Midwest, 82% in the West and 67% in the Northeast also report difficulty finding workers.

The construction economist added that many firms are changing the way they operate to address worker shortages. Forty-eight percent of firms nationally report increasing their use of subcontractors and 37% increased their using of staffing agencies. In addition, 59% of firms nationally report they have increased wages to help retain construction craft workers and 56% have done so to retain construction professionals.

Construction firms seem particularly concerned with the quantity and quality of local construction education and training programs. Nationwide, 55% of firms say the local pipeline for preparing new craft workers is below average or poor. Meanwhile, 35% of firms have a low opinion of the local pipeline for construction professionals.

The association crafted “Preparing the Next Generation of Skilled Construction Workers: A Workforce Development Plan for the 21st Century” in response to the growing worker shortages, Simonson noted. The plan identifies steps like increasing funding for vocational education and making it easier to establish construction-focused schools, designed to reinvigorate the pipeline for new construction workers.

“Schools like this should be the norm, not the exception,” the economist said during a visit to Portland, Ore.’s ACE Academy, a construction-focused public high school.
Simonson noted that more than 1,000 construction firms participated in the survey, which was conducted during August and September of this year.