Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Building Skills

There is no question that the construction industry is once again growing. In one year’s time — July 2014 to July 2015 — we saw a 12.7 percent increase in non-residential construction. The change in educational facility construction was not nearly as dramatic, but more money is definitely being spent. In the education segment, we saw a 3.6 percent increase in the value of total construction being put in place (a 7.6 percent increase in private construction and a 2.6 percent increase in public construction). The increase in construction activity is good news. The bad news is that now we are facing a shortage of skilled workers to do the job.

According to an analysis done by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, “Construction employment in July climbed to the highest level since February 2009, while the number of unemployed workers with construction experience shrank to a 14-year low.” Association officials cautioned, “the diminishing pool of available qualified labor may be having an impact on the industry’s ability to meet growing demand.”

Many in the construction industry left during the downturn. Others, members of the baby-boomer generation, are now retiring. In a July survey, the AGC reported that 86 percent of commercial builders said they’re having trouble filling hourly or salaried positions, up from 83 percent last year.

One effect of this labor shortage is likely to be an increase in the price we pay. Other effects we are likely to see include a decrease in quality and an increase in construction delays. It is a given that job experience and production quality go hand in hand when it comes to skilled workers.

As educators we are in a unique position to help ourselves… by providing adequate training for the next generation of skilled workers. Trade schools provide the basics of the construction profession, with instruction that offers a mixture of hands-on and classroom experiences. Experienced construction workers who want to manage construction sites can continue their education in a college or university offering a degree in construction engineering technology.

This is a challenge, for our institutions and the industry at large, that we are uniquely prepared to meet. Let’s work together to make it happen.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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