CNN

America desperately needs 1 million more construction workers

Jul 8, 2021, 7:19 AM
Construction workers pour concrete into a median along Larimer County Road 5 near Windsor, Colo. on...
Construction workers pour concrete into a median along Larimer County Road 5 near Windsor, Colo. on Friday, July 2, 2021. 070221 Construction 04 Bb

    (CNN) — Matthew Messer hauls solar panels on the roof of a home in Long Island, New York, hoisting them one by one in the 100-degree June heat. Messer is the owner of New York Solar Maintenance, but these days he’s working right alongside his lead technician seven days a week as business booms.

“This is not the perfect way to be spending my time right now,” Messer says of his days spent up on roofs. “But it’s what needs to happen.”

That’s because Messer says he can’t find anyone to hire. His small business has three open roles, ranging from entry level to lead technician — one example of an industry-wide problem as a labor shortage meets increased demand.

New home construction and improvement are surging, thanks to the lack of inventory in a red-hot housing market and more people working from home. In an industry already short on workers before the pandemic, construction businesses will need to hire 430,000 workers this year and 1 million more over the next two years in order to keep up, according to Associated Builders and Contractors.

“The phone is ringing off the hook,” Messer said. “I am expanding as quickly as I can, but right now that’s governed by the amount of skilled technicians I can bring on.”

The construction industry shut down for a few months last year during the pandemic — but was quickly deemed essential, allowing paused projects to continue. But in that short time, the sector lost more than 1 million workers. The industry has recouped nearly 80% of its workforce since then, but is still down 238,000 workers from pre-pandemic levels as of June, according to the Labor Department.

“We’re losing more people than we’re bringing into the industry,” said Matthew Schimenti, owner of Schimenti Construction Company. “People made decisions in their lives to leave the region and the industry [during the pandemic]. It was like putting a puzzle back together to restart where we literally called a timeout.”

Schimenti Construction — which primarily works on commercial projects — has 20 open positions across all skill levels. They’ve even hired two internal recruiters just to look for talent. Commercial construction remained largely flat during the pandemic, but it’s expected to pick up as the US economy returns to pre-pandemic norms.

“If we wished it was just a bad dream and it would go away and everybody would just come back— that’s not going to happen,” Schimenti said.

Pay is not the issue

When Matthew Messer started noticing a shortage of workers, he realized he quickly had to raise wages to remain competitive. His remaining employees were being poached by other companies. In the last four months, he’s raised entry level wages by 40%. That’s on top of rising costs of materials including steel and wood which he says get passed down to the customer.

“I was offering $18-$22 an hour and I got no applications. I increased it to $23 and I got none. I increased it to $25 and they’re starting to trickle in right now,” said Messer. “It was a dramatic increase, but in order to grow the business, I need technicians.”

But unlike other industries facing labor shortages, such as restaurants and hospitality, construction pays nearly double the average hourly rate. A restaurant or hotel worker can make $18.23 per hour on average, compared to $32.86 an hour for a construction worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“You can earn a great living while you learn. If you have the desire to learn multiple crafts, we’ll teach you multiple crafts,” said Michael Bellman, President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors. “Our members invested $1.3 billion last year in upskilling their existing workforce.”

Lack of shop classes and an aging population

Shop classes — once embedded in the curriculum at schools across the country — are now few and far between. Those classes had often been a student’s first introduction to a power tool or tape measure, and an important feeder into construction work. The lack of shop classes has made it harder for the industry to attract and recruit young talent, according to Bellman. That, plus an aging construction workforce — the average age is 43 — has created a hole in employment.

“We want to go out to every area where we can attract top talent. Once we get them into the industry, we’re educating and upskilling,” Bellman said.

Teaching new skills at no additional cost to workers is geared toward retention. In the last decade, the average monthly turnover rate in construction has been 5.2%, compared to 3.6% for all industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And until workforce numbers meet demand companies will increasingly look to technology to replace open positions.

“The industry is using technology and innovation to basically handle this disruption with regards to the labor shortage. A lot of use of drones, robotics, and additive manufacturing,” Bellman said. “That though, creates new career opportunities in those innovation and technology spaces. And that’s very attractive to the younger generation.”

— Kate Trafecante contributed to this report

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

CNN

...
Jeff Zeleny, Eva McKend and Gregory Krieg, CNN

Georgia voters once again have the last word during election season

During a campaign rally for Warnock in Atlanta last week, former President Barack Obama stressed the immediate impact of Democrats potentially winning a 51st Senate seat.
1 day ago
This photos shows the gate to the Duke Energy West End substation in Moore County, N.C. on Sunday, ...
Nouran Salahieh and Hannah Sarisohn, CNN

Tens of thousands still in the dark after ‘targeted’ attacks on North Carolina power substations

With no suspects or motive announced, the FBI joins the investigation into power outages in a North Carolina county.
1 day ago
Man who shot Lady Gaga's dog walker...
Taylor Romine and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN

Man involved in shooting Lady Gaga’s dog walker sentenced to prison

The dog walker, Ryan Fischer, was walking Lady Gaga's three French bulldogs on February 24, 2021 when he was accosted and shot.
1 day ago
goblin mode...
Christian Edwards, CNN

‘Goblin mode’ chosen as Oxford word of the year for 2022

According to OUP, the term refers to a behavior which is "self-indulgent, lazy, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations."
2 days ago
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19:  The U.S. Capitol is shown as a looming government shutdown threatens ...
Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

Defense bill likely to include end to military Covid vaccine mandate, source says

A massive bill setting defense policy is likely to end the military Covid vaccine mandate, a source familiar with the negotiations tells CNN.
2 days ago
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 03:  Actress Kirstie Alley attends the "Kirstie" premiere party at Harlow o...
Dan Heching, Amy Simonson and Taylor Romine, CNN

Kirstie Alley, ‘Cheers’ and ‘Veronica’s Closet’ star, dead at 71

Actress Kirstie Alley has died after a brief battle with cancer, her children announced on social media.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
America desperately needs 1 million more construction workers