With new commercial construction projects popping up all across Central Pennsylvania, it may appear as though it’s a great time to be in the industry. A demand for more commercial construction usually means businesses are growing or moving into the area, bringing with them jobs and economic growth. But there’s one looming challenge that stands in the way of this growth having only upside, and that’s the lack of commercial construction workers to take on this work.
According to Commercial Observer, this workforce challenge is not limited to the Central Pennsylvania region. Rather it’s a nationwide issue that could have wide-spread impact. A serious gap exists between the upcoming demand for labor and the number of available workers with the skills needed to fill those positions.
How does this gap in skilled laborers stand to impact the commercial real estate construction industry? And what, if any, solutions exist? For further input on this issue, Omni Realty Group turned to Dave Sload, President and CEO of ABC Keystone.
ABC Keystone was established in 1959 with the mission of advancing and defending the principles of free enterprise in the construction industry. Today, the organization is a powerhouse with 69 chapters and over 21,000 members. It is one of the leading organizations representing America’s business community and the construction industry.
“The construction industry is already in a critical state when it comes to finding skilled workers. They simply are not out there and it is forcing companies to pass on some projects,” says Sload.
Commercial construction companies being stretched so thin on labor that they decline work illustrates the severity of the labor shortage and the ominous threat it poses on the industry. The real struggle is construction spending is not predicted to subside. In fact, growth over the next two years is substantial.
According to FMI’s 2019 Industry Outlook, total construction spending in the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, should increase 5 percent year over year, from $153.6 billion to $161.3 billion. It is predicted that this trend will hold in coming years, with anticipated spending increasing at a rate of 4.5 percent between now and 2022.
Combine this with the fact that the construction industry unemployment has dropped to an 18-year low, and you have the recipe for a sustained labor shortage that will lead to higher labor costs, longer project schedules, and inevitably quality and safety issues that will result from understaffed crew and under-qualified workers.
Sload adds, “Things will only get worse in the future. 40% of the construction workforce will retire over the next ten years. It will not be just the skilled workers we lose but also decades of institutional knowledge.”
Construction jobs are a cornerstone of our local economy, with thousands of well-paying jobs created every year. The latest job openings data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that since 2014, while the number of jobs openings has almost doubled, the number of hires has increased by just 14 percent. This underlines the fact that it is not a lack of jobs, but a lack of laborers to hire for such jobs.
Sload continues, “If that is not enough, this country is in desperate need of infrastructure legislation to update our highways, airports, wastewater treatment plants and water systems. Should an infrastructure bill pass in the range of what has been proposed, we would immediately be another 500,000 skilled workers short.”
All of this begs the question, “What is the solution?” Construction business owners and other hiring entities have started exploring all viable options for employing and retaining qualified workers. Possibilities include increasing and improving recruiting efforts; retaining qualified workers during periods of slow work so they are more readily available; investing in skills training and continued education programs; and working harder to nurture internal talent, especially to retain institutional knowledge.
While none of these solutions may be the “silver bullet” the industry needs right now, it’s evidence that the issue is not being ignored, and companies are willing to get creative and collaborative with whatever combination of solutions prove to move the needle.
Have you felt the impact of workforce challenges, either personally or within your business? Or do you have a different opinion as to how the commercial construction industry may address this issue?
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