Construction worker shortage could slow hurricane rebuilding efforts

Construction worker shortage could slow hurricane rebuilding efforts

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Slade Eiland has been looking to hire two technicians for the past month, but so far he hasn’t had any luck.

“That’s the thing is that I can’t find anybody,” He admitted. "I wish I could. Laborers are a very high demand and I think a lot of people are just going off to college and getting a desk job.”

“You just need a high school diploma and I’ll put you to work.”
Slade Eiland, Lab Manager for Quality Assurance Testing Laboratories, Inc.

Eiland’s struggles are playing out across the country. Nationally, there’s a shortage of construction workers. Almost 65 percent of small contractors have difficulty finding skilled workers, according to the U.S. Chamber Commercial Construction Index.

Pete Taylor with Montgomery-based Standard Roofing Company is in a similar situation.

“They don’t have to be experienced at all. They just have to be of good character, parallel to our core values and seek to improve their situation in life for them and their families," Taylor explained.

During the recession that started in 2008, many construction workers left the industry after markets froze and people couldn’t borrow money to build. Since the recovery, there has been a need for plumbers, carpenters and technicians.

“A lot of people didn’t come back,” Alabama Home Builders Foundation Director. Kory Boling lamented.

The problem is compounded by an aging workforce. Real Estate Alabama said the median age for construction workers in the U.S. is 41.

“We have trouble recruiting young people into the workforce," Taylor said, "especially when you’re competing with people like Amazon where they can go to work for $15 an hour in a warehouse or whatever versus making $15 dollars working outside in the summer heat or winter cold.”

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When there’s a lack of workers, that puts a business in danger of having to potentially turn down jobs.

“The fact is there’s a limited pool and it limits growth,” Taylor went on. “You can’t provide opportunities for young people that might want to come to work for you.”

“They just don’t have all the employees to take on all these jobs that people want to do so they’re having to turn jobs away.”
Kory Boling, the Alabama Home Builders Foundation Director

Thousands of houses and buildings were destroyed after Hurricane Michael. The shortage could affect efforts to restore those devastated communities.

“That’s going to affect the rebuild efforts with the labor shortage and everything," Boling cautioned. “It’s going to slow the rebuilding efforts.”

Organizations across Alabama are finding ways to encourage people to join the trades. The Alabama Home Builders Foundation reaches out to high school students and people interested in construction. For example, the New Home Builders Foundation has free carpentry classes that are offered statewide. They teach skills including framing, insulation and roofing.

“Whenever they go on a job site they’re productive,” Boling added. “So they can immediately help these builders out.”

Eldon Prince took advantage of a recent class held in Montgomery. He wants to earn a certificate with the Home Builders Association.

“The class is great. I’m learning a lot,” Prince stated.

He hopes to work with the HBA to help build homes.

The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) is another group that has more than 800 apprenticeship, craft training and safety programs across the United States. ABC has set a goal of developing 500,000 construction workers over the next five years.

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