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AGC: Immigration, education reform can counter growing craft-labor shortages

Nearly three-fourths of construction firms across the country report trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots amid concerns that labor shortages will only get worse, according to the results of an industry-wide, Associated General Contractors of America survey.

“Many construction firms are already having a hard time finding qualified workers and expect construction labor shortages will only get worse,” says AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr, noting that the July-August survey spanned nearly 700 participants. “We need to take short- and long-term steps to make sure there are enough workers to meet future demand and avoid the costly construction delays that would come with labor shortages.”

Of the 74 percent of responding firms that are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers, the most frequently reported difficulties are in filling such onsite construction jobs as carpenters, equipment operators and laborers, he adds. Fifty-three percent are having a hard time filling professional positions—especially project supervisors, estimators and engineers. Most firms expect labor shortages will continue and get worse for the next year. Eighty-six percent of respondents said they expect it will remain difficult or get harder to find qualified craft workers while 72 percent say the market for professional positions will remain hard or get worse. Seventy-four percent of respondents report there are not enough qualified craft workers available to meet future demand, while 49 percent said there weren’t enough construction professionals available.

Many firms report they are taking steps to prepare future construction workers, Sandherr notes, as 48 percent of responding firms are mentoring future craft workers, 38 percent are participating in career fairs, and 33 percent are supporting high school-level construction skills academies. In addition, 47 percent of firms are offering internships for construction professionals.

More needs to be done to address labor shortages, Sandherr cautions, noting that Congress could jettison arbitrary caps on construction workers that were included in immigration reform the Senate passed earlier this year. “Lifting those restrictions will go a long way to ensuring construction jobs left vacant by domestic labor shortages go to workers who are in the country legally.”

He urged elected and appointed officials to do more to ensure public school students have an opportunity to participate in programs that teach skills like construction. He added that skills-based programs offer students a more hands-on way to learn vital 21st century skills such as math and science. Such programs also have been proven to reduce dropout rates and give students an opportunity to earn the higher pay and benefits that come with construction jobs.