Confronting worker shortages

01 November 2018

Joel dandrea

While SC&RA (like so many others) continues to work diligently to confront nationwide worker shortages, the battle resumes.

The Associated General Contractors recently reported that around 80 percent of its 2,500 surveyed construction firms (regardless of size) reported difficulty finding qualified hourly craft labor. With construction always expanding, it stands to reason that this equation will likely continue or become more problematic.

But some groups are taking noteworthy steps to educate students, teachers and parents about the value of construction careers, as well as working with legislators to get more funding to bring awareness and programs back in to schools.

One example involves Steve Malaney, president of P&C Construction in Portland, OR, who has been working with legislators to secure between $10-$20 million in state funds to allocate towards career and technical education programs. In a press release, Malaney indicated that these funds have allowed schools to re-introduce shop classes and vocational-technical programs.

Additionally, in 2016, the Oregon state legislature passed Measure 98, further supporting programs and providing a tenfold increase compared to just a few years prior. More recently, during the 2017-2018 school year, 255 school districts and charter schools throughout The Beaver State received the first allocation of the $170 million fund.

Workforce shortages being what they are, an equal examination is happening in the nation’s capital – involving the potential workforce that might help to diminish the shortage: immigrants. As reality sets in – and it becomes more apparent with each passing quarter that younger Americans simply don’t seem interested in careers in the trades – the numbers don’t lie.

Truths and trends

According to the National Association of Home Builders, foreign-born workers comprise close to 25 percent of the U.S. construction workforce. The number is nearly double in California, Texas and New York. While it’s relatively unknown how many of these workers are undocumented, an estimated 100,000 are able to work in the U.S. – albeit under policies that could be headed for an overhaul via the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the erosion of Temporary Protected Status rules.

While recognition of strong economic growth attributed to the current administration is merited, an immigration crackdown could have an impact on the construction industry as it looks to fill over 260,000 jobs, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.

With immigration remaining a steady piece of the skilled-trade conversation, another trend has emerged: employee leasing. Conducted through a professional employer organization (PEO), employee leasing is a contractual arrangement in which the PEO is the official employer. Employment responsibilities are shared between the PEO and the business owner. Owners retain essential management control over the work performed by the employees. The PEO, meanwhile, assumes responsibility for reporting wages and employment taxes. The owner’s main responsibility is writing a check to the leasing company to cover payroll, taxes, benefits and administrative fees. The PEO does the rest.

Regardless of trends, numbers or innovations, we still have to find the right people and keep them. Studies reveal that companies that focus solely on salary increases and bonuses to prevent turnover consistently come up short when it comes to keeping their talent. It’s no different in the skilled trades.

A good employee-retention strategy includes intangibles such as relationships, growth potential and overall corporate culture. As we’ve come to understand, this is especially true with younger workers. It’s ultimately on us to create careers versus jobs – so that when we’re able to attract the talent we need, they’re more than happy to pitch in for the long haul.


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