Skilled Labor Shortage Creating Challenges for Contractors

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( — November 12, 2018) — A shortage of skilled labor in the United States is creating challenges for general contractors. Finding a qualified contractor to perform home repairs is becoming increasingly difficult, and when one is found, projects can take longer and cost more, according to the Washington Post.

The significant shortage of labor is due to a combination of factors, including industry veterans retiring from their careers, record-level unemployment and lack of interest in blue-collar jobs.

Electrical repair companies are particularly feeling the pinch, as many homeowners are looking for qualified electricians to repair their homes after major storms. Qualified, experienced electricians are hard to come by, and when companies do find them, they’re hard to retain. The market is highly competitive.

In a 2016-2017 U.S. talent shortage survey, Manpower group, a global staffing company, reported that skilled trade jobs are the hardest to fill. Skilled trades – which includes carpenters, electricians, plasterers, bricklayers, masons and plumbers – have held the number one position in vacancies since 2010. During and just after the housing downturn, the construction industry lost more than 1 million workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Negative perceptions about skilled trades is a big part of the problem. Young adults just entering the workforce often view vocational jobs as a difficult line of work that offers no career advancement or job security.

But many in the skilled trades earn average or above-average wages. The median annual salary for an electrician is $52,720. The top 10% of electricians earn more than $90,000 per year. The median annual salary for carpenters is $43,600, and the top 10% earn nearly $80,000 per year.

The elimination of vocational training in high schools is also partly to blame, as this cuts off the pipeline for blue-collar workers. Schools are now focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and college readiness, which has adversely affected the trades.

This Old House Ventures is helping to close the gap in skilled trades by launching This Old House Generation Next. The initiative will raise funds and awareness of the issue, and encourage young adults to enter the skilled trades industry. 

The weakest month for the construction industry was January 2011, with just over 5.4 million workers on the payroll across the country. The workforce has regained some ground, reaching 7.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Today’s construction workforce is as strong as it was in 2005, but demand is much stronger than it was that year.