U.S. construction companies are grappling with a widespread labor shortage that is exacerbating the cost of housing and other buildings, according to a new survey.
Eighty percent of the 2,552 U.S. construction companies surveyed said they are having difficulty hiring construction workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk, an engineering software maker in San Rafael, Calif. That’s up from 70% a year ago. Eighty percent of the 127 California companies in the survey also reported having a hard time finding construction workers, up from 62% a year ago.
“What was striking was how universal the difficulty was filling craft positions,” Ken Simonson, chief economist of the Associated General Contractors of America, said in a call with reporters.
Last year, the Northeast had more available workers, he said.
“Now they’re saying no, our bench is empty,” Simonson said.
Rising construction costs have stalled housing projects in San Francisco, and some developers are now selling land rather than building. Fewer new homes will worsen the housing crisis and reduce the city’s fees for affordable housing, real estate developers previously told The Chronicle.
In California, 38% of the companies said the labor shortage has led to project cost overruns.
The construction industry is investing in more advertising and workforce training and seeking more government funding as it tries to attract more workers. It’s also pushing for immigration reform that encourages skilled workers to be allowed legally to enter the U.S., Simonson said.
But the robust economy, with a U.S. unemployment rate of 3.9 in July, is making it harder to attract young people and retain existing workers.
“You can’t just call back someone who was laid off a few years ago,” Simonson said. A challenge is educating prospective workers that construction isn’t a “dirty, dead-end career,” he added. Some construction workers can earn six figures a year without a college degree, based on federal average wage data.
Companies are seeking to bring down costs and labor needs by using new technologies such as modular construction, where building parts are pre-assembled off-site and shipped in. However, the practice has led to backlash from unions who say modular construction cuts local jobs.
One strategy for recruiting young workers is highlighting the similarities between construction and Silicon Valley, Sarah Hodges, Autodesk senior director for the construction business line, said on the conference call.
For instance, builders already use cutting edge technology including 3-D printing, drones and virtual reality.
“Students light up” when you talk about technology, she said.
Tribune Content Agency