Bold cooperative action to alleviate the industry’s shortfall in craft workers “must begin today because tomorrow will be too late,” said veteran labor relations analyst Peter A. Cockshaw in a fire and brimstone message to owners at the Construction Users Roundtable national conference in Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 13-15.

 “The time for talking these issues to death is over,” Cockshaw said. Unions must be able to deliver a “coordinated work force to do productive tasks for a full shift,” he added. And confronting the nonunion sector, he quoted leader Ted Kennedy, one of the founders of Birmingham, Ala.-based BE&K, who says the sector may have “killed the golden goose” by not raising wages when it should have—driving qualified people away from construction.


CURT President Ricardo Aparicio, contracts manager, General Electric Co., Birmingham, Ala., disagreed with Cockshaw, noting that “a lot has been done on a problem that’s not easy to solve.” He said CURT has established an “open dialogue” with both union and open shop sectors, which “is an accomplishment in itself.” And he pointed to progress in encouraging training by contractors and in closing the wage gap between construction and other industries.

Aparicio, who was born in Cuba, also is committed to applying CURT’s strength to the problem of recruiting women and minorities to construction—what he calls “the untapped source of people for this industry.”

Economist John Mitchell of U.S. Bank, showed demographics demonstrating that the answer is not coming from young people traditionally entering the work force. “The age wave is upon us,” he said. “Participation of people over 55 is rising, not declining.”

Labor Force Growth Patterns
Are Shifting Dramatically
Age  1984-1994 1994-2004 2004-2014
16 Plus 1.4% 1.2% 1%
16-24 -1.0  0.3  0.0
25-54 2.3   0.8  0.3
55 plus 0.4  4.0  4.1

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Average Annual labor force growth rates; courtesy of U.S. Bank.

Edwin D. Hill, general president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, pointed to his union’s efforts to tap a wider talent pool by creating new classes called construction wiremen and construction electricians—a level below journeymen “but with the skills to work” while they are continuing training.

CURT leaders envision solutions coming from “process transformation” in the industry. Its strategy group called 3xPT, a collaboration with the American Institute of Architects and the Associated General Contractors of America, reported that it will involve every sector from engineers and subcontractors to suppliers and attorneys in the drive toward collaboration. AGC’s John Tocci called on owners to share the cost of adoption of new technology tools that will reduce the cost of design and construction and create a “litigation-free zone” around building information modeling.

 Read opening session speech delivered by CURT President, Ricardo Aparicio, AIA, ESQ  (36.8Kb )