After years of tight supply, there are signs that the building industry’s systemic labor shortage is stabilizing.
But that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a shortfall of thousands of workers in various markets across the country.
“Any given month, we are short anywhere between 300,000 to 400,000 construction workers,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders. “It got worse in 2018 and worse in 2019.”
Since the Great Recession, homebuilders across the U.S. have struggled to come up with enough skilled workers to meet a growing demand for housing.
The labor shortage is one of the key factors the industry says has kept home starts below needed levels.
“I think 2020 will be the year where the construction labor shortage doesn’t necessarily get better but stops getting worse,” Dietz said. “There are a huge number of efforts being undertaken by local home building associations, and some of those have started to pay off.”
At the homebuilders’ annual meeting last month in Las Vegas, a new effort was announced to bring in thousands of new workers.
The Home Builders Institute is teaming up with the Home Depot Foundation and the National Housing Endowment to provide an additional $700,000 for nationwide skilled construction trades education programs in high schools.
“The homebuilding industry faces a skilled trades gap,” said Home Building Institute president Ed Brady. “Yet the opportunity for rewarding careers in residential construction is limitless.
“Through this initiative, the homebuilding industry continues to come together to create a skilled workforce for a new decade and beyond.”
The money for construction training programs will be distributed through hundreds of state and local homebuilders’ associations across the country, said John Ellington, director of the Home Depot Foundation charitable organization.
The Home Depot Foundation and the builders’ groups hope to train 20,000 tradespeople over 10 years.
“We are well on our way to executing that,” Ellington said. “Residential construction has entered a whole new era, an era that presents challenges and opportunities for this industry and the skilled trades workforce.”
Builders and construction companies say they still have trouble reaching young people while many school systems focus on college prep training and high-tech jobs.
Tighter immigration controls have also kept many potential workers out of the market.
“There is a negative perception that too many people still harbor against careers in our industry and the trades,” Brady said. “We must portray a skilled trade career path in residential construction as attractive to more young people throughout this county.
“We have a long way to go, but I do think we are starting to move the needle.”
Builders groups and the construction industry have been working with high schools, transitioning military, at-risk youth groups and juvenile justice centers to attract more people into building jobs.
“We are not making a huge impact because we are losing a lot of skilled labor in this country,” Brady said.