Brian Taylor


More work, fewer workers?

Editor's Focus

September 9, 2014

Brian Taylor


Construction and demolition contractors are by no means saying they are in the midst of a building boom, but activity has been picking up in most regions of the country. It has taken several years for the building sector to rebound from its 2008 and 2009 doldrums, but now there is a new question emerging: Can the industry bring back or recruit trained workers?

At its 2014 convention, the National Demolition Association (NDA), Doylestown, Pennsylvania, included a leadership development program, the first time the association had done so, according to its press release announcing the session.

“Statistics show that 76 percent of construction company owners over the age of 50 are planning to retire in the next 10 years,” commented the program’s presenter, training consultant Dr. Shirley T. Ramos. “We need to get the next tier of managers ready to lead.”

An August 2014 news report from National Public Radio (NPR) cites a lack of skilled construction workers in Wyoming as the reason the budget for a school construction project in that state has soared beyond expectations. Sources for the NPR report say that in the case of Wyoming and other states in the West, Midwest and Gulf Coast regions, skilled workers have deserted the construction sector for the energy exploration and extraction industries.

Mike Glavin of the Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), tells NPR the skilled trades in the construction industry face a double whammy: younger workers left during the downturn (many fleeing to the energy sector) while older workers are preparing for retirement within the next 10 years.

ABC estimates the construction industry is facing a shortage of almost 2 million skilled workers by the end of the decade, a shortfall that will certainly affect the demolition and recycling sectors as well.

It is not ideal to go directly from one problem to another. However, contractors and business owners in the construction and demolition sectors would almost certainly prefer the problem of a labor shortage compared to the problem of no work to do—if only because solutions generally can be found for a labor shortage.

In its “Workforce development plan for the 21st century,” another trade association, the Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors (AGC), puts it this way: “The AGC has identified an array of measures that federal, state and local officials should adopt to expand secondary school career and technical education and post-secondary training opportunities so more people can enter into a growing number of high-paying construction jobs.”

While still a challenge, carrying out a plan to add trained workers sounds preferable to the prior circumstance of companies shutting down for a lack of business.


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