The real story

Departments - Editor's Focus

November 9, 2015


Kristin Smith


To hear that construction unemployment is at its lowest rate since September 2000, on the surface seems like good news, but a low unemployment rate for the construction industry tells a different story, one of fewer skilled workers available to employ.

In just the last three years, Recycling Today Editor Brian Taylor and I have penned at least half a dozen Editor’s Focuses in this magazine dedicated to the issue of the skilled labor shortage in the construction and the related industry of demolition.

There is a reason this topic has taken up so much ink. Covering this subject in the magazine is certainly helping to spread awareness about this issue, but more needs to be done.

The number of unemployed jobseekers in the construction industry is the lowest it has been in 15 years, or 5.5 percent, while at the same time, growth in construction spending was at a nine-year high in August, with a 13.7 percent growth over the same month in 2015.

Officials with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), Arlington, Virginia, cautioned that this most recent hiring slowdown most likely reflects a lack of available workers that could lead to project delays unless more students and workers join the construction sector.

Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist, says, “Growth in the construction workforce has been slowing throughout 2015, just at the time that construction spending has accelerated to a multiyear high. Contractors would love to hire more workers but there aren’t enough qualified craft workers or supervisors available.”

Simonson’s take is concerning. “The most likely explanation for these divergent trends is that the pool of unemployed workers with construction experience has evaporated. Overwhelmingly, contractors say they are having trouble finding workers to fill a variety of craft and supervisory positions.” (Eighty-six percent of firms polled by the AGC in September said they had difficulty filling hourly craft or salaried positions.)

This worker shortage is a problem that cannot be ignored with the hopes that the situation will get better. While the written word can be an effective motivator, the situation cannot improve without programs to encourage careers in construction and demolition fields. Those who own construction firms, those who develop curriculums and those who work in the industry all can encourage the pursuit of a career in the various construction trades.

I am certain this will not be the last time that this Editor’s Focus talks about the importance of attracting the younger generations and more women to the construction industry, but I hope it will cause those in the industry to ask how they can do a better job at promoting their industry to ensure the high-quality construction and demolition work that the U.S. is known for globally will continue in the future.