An overwhelming majority of construction firms report trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots, as demand for construction continues to rebound in many parts of the country, according to the results of an industry-wide survey released Sept. 10 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 that are forcing firms to change how they operate. They say the shortages also pose risks to workplace safety.

“Few firms across the country have been immune from growing labor shortages in the construction industry,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors. “The sad fact is that too few students are being exposed to construction careers or provided with the basic skills needed to prepare for such a career path.”

Of the 1,358 survey respondents, 86% said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft or salaried professional positions. Seventy-nine percent of responding firms nationwide are having a hard time filling one or more of the 21 hourly craft professional positions, particularly carpenters (73% of firms that employ carpenters report difficulty), sheet metal installers (65%) and concrete workers (63%).

In addition, 52% of firms are having a hard time filling salaried professional positions, especially project managers/supervisors (listed by 55% of firms that employ them), estimators (43%) and engineers (34%), said AGC’s chief economist, Ken Simonson.

As labor shortages grow more severe, competition for workers is heating up, Simonson added. He noted that 36% of firms report losing hourly craft professionals to other local construction firms, and 21% to other industries locally. Thirteen percent of responding firms report losing workers to construction firms in other locations.

Growing competition for workers is prompting 56% of firms to increase base pay rates for hourly craft professionals. Moreover, 43% of firms have increased their reliance on subcontractors because of tight labor conditions. And worker shortages also appear to be affecting safety, with 15% of firms reporting an increase in injuries and illnesses because of worker shortages, Simonson added.

The survey was conducted in July and August.