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Concrete trades near tops in AGC survey tracking widespread labor shortages

Sources: Associated General Contractors of America, Washington, D.C.; CP staff

Nearly 90 percent of 1,350-plus respondents to an industry-wide AGC survey—conducted in July and August—report trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots as demand for construction continues to rebound in many markets. Seventy-nine percent of responding firms nationwide cite difficulty filling one or more of 21 hourly craft professional positions, particularly carpenters (73 percent of firms that employ carpenters report difficulty), followed by sheet metal installers (65 percent) and concrete workers (63 percent).

Association officials call for new career and technical school programs, as well as other workforce measures to offset the labor shortages that are forcing firms to change how they operate and pose risks to workplace safety. “Few firms across the country have been immune from growing labor shortages in the construction industry,” says AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr. “The sad fact is 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 percent said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft or salaried professional positions. In addition, 52 percent are having a hard time filling salaried professional positions, especially project managers/supervisors (listed by 55 percent of firms that employ them), estimators (43 percent) and engineers (34 percent), notes AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson. As labor shortages grow more severe, competition for workers is heating up, he adds, noting that 36 percent of survey respondents report losing hourly craft professionals to other local construction firms, and 21 percent to other industries locally.

Growing competition for workers is prompting 56 percent of firms to increase base pay rates for hourly craft professionals, while 43 percent of respondents have increased their reliance on subcontractors because of tight labor conditions. The qualified trades pool also appears to be impacting safety, Simonson observes, with 15 percent of firms reporting an increase in injuries and illnesses because of worker shortages.

AGC has updated its Preparing the Next Generation of Skilled Construction Workers: A Workforce Development Plan to address the growing worker shortages. The plan outlines steps, such as increasing funding for vocational education and making it easier to establish construction-focused schools, to reinvigorate the pipeline for new construction workers. It also calls for comprehensive immigration reform and measures to make it easier to hire veterans.

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