Florida construction labor shortage looms


There’s a shortage of candidates for Florida construction jobs — and the people who are working are aging, so the problem will likely become more serious.

Published reports give some perspective of the problem’s scope. There are several reasons, including the job losses in the recent recession and, now that conditions have improved, they have other career options.  “Others are turned off by low pay or don’t want to work outside in the Florida heat,” the Tampa Bay Times reported in an extensive article on the topic.

Many older workers are retiring but millennials don’t see construction work as a career path, and young people are not encouraged to start apprenticeships after high school

“It’s our biggest challenge facing the entire industry right now,” Steve Cona III, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast chapter, told the Times. “It’s going to have a major effect on these big projects happening in Tampa Bay. They’re going to take longer to complete if we can’t find enough skilled workers.”

Larger, unionized contractors have less of a problem in recruiting, in part because of the higher pay and ability to attract workers from other centers.  Chad Morrow of Morrow Steel in Zepher-Hills, with 40 iron workers working on a $4 million contract at Tampa International Airport, says recruiting is a challenge and his workforce’s age is climbing.

“We work with the unions to bring in qualified people and hadn’t had a problem finding interest since this is a big job. But the average age of an iron worker is 41, and we’re actively trying to lower that,” Morrow was quoted as saying. “Finding good help is tough. The culture of our society has changed so much because of technology and the millennials have found easier ways to make a living.”

The federal Department of Labor Statistics reports that florida added 4,800 more construction jobs in July, more than any other state. Over the last year, there were 26,500 additional construction jobs, second in the country only to California.

Trade groups say the demand for qualified workers is greater than the supply.

“The construction industry is the first to let people go and the last to rebound and hire again,” said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America. “So a lot of people who were let go during the recession went back to school and found other jobs or left the state, and we’ve since lost the pipeline in the American school system to train new workers.”

The average age for new construction workers in Florida is around 28 years old, Cona said, more than a decade older than the crop of workers who used to start apprenticeships right out of high school. But fewer high schools teach shop class these days and funding for vocational programs at technical colleges has dried up, Turmail said.

“There’s been a philosophical shift in the approach to education. Every student is put on a college track, even those that may not be meant for it,” he said. So it takes several years for young workers to find the construction industry, usually after they’ve left college or tried work in another industry. “We can’t even get into schools to let students know there are other options.”

The majority of these younger workers don’t join unions either, which has squashed another recruiting source, Turmail said.

Some numbers 

425,700: Construction  workers in Florida.

26,500: New construction jobs in the last year in Florida.

4,800: New construction  jobs in July.

$17.79: Average starting hourly wage in the construction industry. ($37,000 salary)

$36.78: Average hourly wage of construction manager. ($88,330 salary)

$16.36: Average hourly wage of a carpenter: ($35,480 salary)

$13.04: Average hourly wage of a carpet installer. ($27,960 salary)

$23.59: Average hourly wage of a boilermaker. ($52,630 salary)

$18.70: Average hourly wage of an electrician. ($41,970 salary)

$17.83: Average hourly wage for a plumber or pipe fitter. ($38,660 salary)

$14.99: Average hourly wage for a roofer. ($31,590 salary)

$17.40: Average hourly wage for structural iron and steel workers. ($39,840 salary)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported in The Tampa Bay Times.


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