There is a "perfect storm" brewing in the booming construction market, Elizabeth Sanborn, North American director of consulting firm Independent Project Analysis Inc., told owners and contractors at the Construction Users Roundtable's first labor shortage risk mitigation conference in Houston on Nov. 11-12.

Sanborn pointed to a steady increase in the cost of projects—with the typical process plant up 70% since 2003—as well as a decline in engineering quality "and a period of increased capital activity in the U.S. where labor demand may outstrip labor supply.”

Daniel Groves, CURT operations director, noted that Texas will see $380.3 billion in commercial construction put in place from 2013-2018, and Louisiana will have a total of $244.8 billion. On the industrial side, Texas will see $164.3 billion in projects, and Louisiana more than $206.5 billion.

"We believe there’s a shortage of as many as 2 million skilled workers. Even though there are people returning to the marketplace post recession, they’re not returning at the rate to match demand,” said Groves. “The question is, if we know now, what are we going to do about it? Will there be a sufficient amount of workers at the right place and right time for projects they’re building?”

A study by CURT and the Construction Industry Institute, to be released next summer already shows a direct correlation between project labor shortages and cost escalation, lengthening of schedules and recordable incidents, Groves said.

CURT will release an updated version of its labor supply tracking tool in December, which will enable users to see supply and demand trends for both craft and professional employees in specific locations.

Summit attendees also debated labor risk mitigation tools, including moving work offsite. Some noted transportation planning challenges, as well as issues in the quality of engineering and staff expertise,

Owners and contractors also suggested more regional collaboration with local construction user councils and education providers, and stronger links to veterans, agricultural and correctional populations.

CURT will publish an updated version of a labor risk mitigation strategy white paper in February.