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Alabama Seeking Answers for Facing the Construction Trade Worker Shortage

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According to the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), for every person who becomes a trade worker, three or four are retiring. It won’t take long for that statistic to affect the cost of construction, and maybe even the capability of contractors to complete projects when owners need them to sustain business growth in the state. This is not good news for Alabama, the state that Area Development Magazine ranked fifth in its annual “Top States for Doing Business” survey this year.

A new report published by the Associated General Contractors of America shows great growth in Alabama’s construction industry. The state counted 81,900 construction jobs during the month of August, marking a 2.8% increase over the number of jobs reported in July. These numbers rank Alabama as number five in the country in construction job growth from July to August.

But Alabama, like the nation, is lagging in the development of tradesmen. More than half of the country’s tradesmen are aged over 45. According to the Department of Labor, America will need 41,700 more cement masons, 114,700 more electricians and 218,200 more carpenters by 2022. The U.S. government is spending around $17 billion a year trying to close what the president calls the “skills gap” with programs like “Go Build Alabama” which educates young people on the value of learning a trade.  Alabama is the first state to aggressively recruit trade workers in this way. But efforts to train young people as plumbers or carpenters often run up against concern from parents. According to a recent article in The Economist Magazine, instead of being proud to raise a future welder, “everyone wants to believe that their child will go to Harvard”.

One thing that may help is the new Alabama Workforce Training Center in Birmingham, which is focused on meeting the high level of demand from construction and manufacturing employers from around the state. At the facility, manufacturers, contractors, and other industries will work alongside AIDT and K-12 public educators, as well as two-year and even four-year colleges, to train students with industry-specific skills needed to fill jobs. Initial training programs at the Center will include a number dedicated to the construction industry, including safety training, carpentry and precision measurement, sheet metal fabrication, iron working, and electrical.  The Center employs approximately 10 to 15 people with onsite Alabama Community College System representatives to further help connect two-year colleges to the training center. Participants at the Center will receive certificate training and graduates will be ready to immediately enter the workforce.

In a June 2014 survey of Associated General Contractors of America firms, 25 percent reported labor shortages were forcing them to turn down work. The survey confirmed that labor shortages appear more widespread in the South and Midwest than in other parts of the country, and 70 percent of firms reported paying more for skilled labor than they did last year. Thirteen percent of respondents described those wage increases as “significant.” Responding firms noted that carpenters, project managers and supervisors are the hardest positions to fill right now. They are also having difficulty finding qualified laborers, estimators, electricians, plumbers, and ironworkers.

Expanding labor shortages threaten to impact construction schedules and costs as firms struggle to find enough qualified workers. RA-LIN is a great supporter of trade educational programs, and is fortunate to have a staff of seasoned project managers and a self-perform crew that provides our customers with outstanding schedule and quality performance.

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