Tips for avoiding the fallout from a potential labor shortage in the construction industry.

By Dustin Rohrbach

As the economy continues to grow in the Columbus region, there are signs that a skilled labor shortage in the construction industry may threaten projected growth and the ongoing recovery. TheAssociated General Contractors of America(AGC of America) reports that 83 percent of contractors are having difficulty finding qualified skilled labor to meet the demand.The shortage is already affecting some operations around the country and could impact projects in central Ohio as soon as this summer.

In recent months, many reports have shown that construction hiring is up, but the majority of those jobs are for general laborers. Construction has changed in that it requires more skilled workers than in the past. The toughest sector of the workforce for construction and developer employers to staff is the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, etc. The main reason for this lack of skilled workers is the gap between the skills that employers need and available workers possess. It also touches on the fact that American high schools have moved their emphasis to prepping young people for universities rather than vocational schools.

For the past couple of generations, the focus has been to go to college to obtain a degree to guarantee a brighter future with a better, non-blue collar job. We started focusing on academic instruction, but left behind the notion of work-force education. However, in a two-year school that costs less, the average work-force student can graduate with skills to gain direct employment. The need is great and will have a direct effect on construction plans here in the coming years.

The Effects for Columbus

A number of large projects are in the works around the Columbus region and most will require a number of skilled workers to bring them to completion. Without accomplished personnel, construction firms will be forced to offer slower schedules for vital projects, slowing the speed of economic development. As these new commercial projects slow down, the jobs that follow will also be delayed. Furthermore, shorthanded firms may be hesitant to bid on new projects understanding they lack the manpower to complete the work on schedule. With fewer bidders competing for work, owners are likely to spend more for the projects. As construction projects become more expensive, additional financing or a reduced scope will play into the final outcome.

The Solution?

New career and technical school programs are critical to solving the shortages. This would come in the form of increased support of career education as well as modifications to legislation regarding vocational education program funding, among other actions.

But more immediately:

Seek out construction partners that employ skilled workers year round. Some firms hire for need and don't always have access to skilled workers. Select general contractors that employ regular training for their workforce to keep skills up-to-date and cross train workers. Support the efforts to increase career and technical education. This could mean getting involved with national organizations or even reaching out to a local vocational school.

Don't get bogged down by the challenges presented with the labor shortage. The construction industry has always weathered labor issues and this one will be no different. These jobs pay well, will be available for years to come and will draw a new generation of talented employees to our profession.

Dustin Rohrbach is vice president in charge of the Columbus office of Danis Building Construction.