The booming construction industry could be bursting through the roof if we had enough skilled laborers to fill all the positions available. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there's a chronic shortage of skilled laborers in this sector in the U.S. made acute by the need to rebuild or build new homes due to natural disasters over the past few years.
The Home Depot Foundation recently committed to increase their 2018 natural disaster relief aid for hurricane, flood and wildfire recovery to $4.8 million, with up to $500,000 going towards California wildfire relief, and $50 million towards training 20,000 tradespeople over the next 10 years to relieve the chronic shortage of skilled laborers in the construction sector.
Thousands of skilled laborers are still needed in Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and as the smoke settles, the need will be great in California and Arizona as well.
The chronic shortage is not only due to natural disasters. Fewer and fewer young people have been choosing to go into traditional construction industry and skilled labor positions or into new technological versions of them. According to the BLS, as of March 2018, 158,000 jobs were unfilled in the sector. They project the total employment number of construction laborers will increase 10.5% by 2026.
The problem is not just a shortage, but that workers don’t live in the areas where the jobs are, and many can’t afford to travel back and forth or relocate to fill the jobs available.
Right now, by some estimations, the U.S. is losing billions of dollars-worth of revenue opportunities a year in this sector due to the lack of skilled workers, according to a Fox News report.
The Home Depot Foundation, has already begun training newly released members of the military, veterans, at-risk youth and residents of the Atlanta Westside community through programs with the Home Builders Institute.
Shannon Gerber, executive director of The Home Depot Foundation said in a statement, "We're thrilled to train 20,000 next-generation plumbers, electricians, carpenters and beyond. It's a true honor to welcome our first classes of separating soldiers as they transition to civilian life and into successful careers in the trades."
“The Home Depot Foundation has been supporting veteran causes since 2011 and recently completed its commitment to invest $250 million, but we’re not stopping there,” said Home Depot chairman, CEO and president Craig Menear. “We’re committing another $250 million by 2025 bringing our total investment to half a billion.”
Through partnerships with national and local nonprofits, the foundation completed its quarter billion- dollar commitment two years early, resulting in improvements to more than 40,000 veterans’ homes and facilities since the original pledge was made. The organization will continue to work with nonprofits including Volunteers of America, Semper Fi Fund and Gary Sinise Foundation and many others, to end veteran homelessness, perform critical home repairs for senior veterans and serve critically wounded veterans.
“Giving back to our nation’s heroes is a part of our DNA at The Home Depot,” said Gerber. “We’re proud to partner with the best nonprofits in the nation to solve veteran issues and serve our servicemen and women who dedicated their lives to our country and sacrificed so much.”
The foundation has expanded on a pilot trades program successfully launched in Ft. Stewart, Georgia and Ft. Bragg, North Carolina in 2017, for newly released military personnel in partnership with HBI – a nonprofit dedicated to providing education, career development, and training which also offers job placement services for the building industry.
Their free 12-week pre-apprenticeship certification program, recognized by the Labor Department, has a job placement rate of more than 90% and is expanding to more military bases nationwide, according to Home Depot.
"HBI has a 50-year history of training individuals with the skills they need to succeed in the building industry. Our program prepares men and women for high-growth careers in the industry after leaving military service," HBI CEO John Courson said in a statement. "With 200,000 service members separating from the military every year, our partnership with The Home Depot Foundation enables us to serve more veterans across the country."
Home Depot also said the foundation is establishing an advanced level trades training program in partnership with the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia for residents of Atlanta’s Westside, which will expand training support to the broader veteran community and underserved high schools across America.
Fox Business reported, even many six figure jobs in the construction sector are going unfilled. However, 50% of companies reported having a difficult time filling both craft and salaried worker positions. Over the coming year, 53% of companies told the AGC that they expect to continue struggling to find qualified applicants. These challenges come despite the fact that 60% of firms reported increasing base pay to retain or recruit professionals and 36% provided incentives and bonuses toward the same end.
“The general population doesn’t know how rewarding and profitable [construction jobs can be],” Stephen Mulva, director of the Construction Industry Institute (CII), told Fox Business.
Some of the positions that can lead to six figure salaries include welders, foremen and even some craft professionals, like instrument techs and crane operators, Mulva said.
Steve Green, vice president of the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER), agreed that craft professionals are earning six-figure incomes once you add in per diem, overtime, bonuses and incentives.
Another one of the big problems, Mulva pointed out, is the nature of construction jobs, which often require regular travel. “The workers are almost like nomads right now … that’s a real deterrent to people getting into it,” he said.
Mulva also feels that the need for frequent travel could be changing in the near future. The sector will be undergoing a “revolution” in order to overcome industry-wide challenges. This could involve shifting more work to prefabricated parts, with more sections of projects built in advance in one location and then shipped to the final destination, eliminating the need for workers to travel or live for long period far from home. Mulva predicts only one-sixth of workers will eventually work on the actual job site.
"We want to bring shop class back, from coast-to-coast,” said Gerber, and train students in elementary school through high school.
The new era of training will focus on more technologically based construction and skilled labor jobs in automation, logistics, and digitizing the construction industry.
Veterans, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and community-based groups frustrated by the often-overwhelming process involved with searching for vocational training and workforce development grants in all sectors can identify funding opportunities that are easy to read and simple to comprehend at GrantWatch.com. Sign-up to receive the weekly GrantWatch newsletter which features geographic-specific funding opportunities.
About the Author: The author is a staff writer for GrantNews.