Labor Shortage - Still with Us!

I wrote my first column on the construction industry's skilled labor shortage in August of 1999. Six years later, it's still a critical issue that will only get worse.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2012 the construction industry will create another million jobs. Although that sounds significant, the construction industry does not even make the list for the top 30 occupations with the largest job growth!

Thus, the construction industry can expect to see plenty of competition for new workers. Particularly since the numbers show that the building industry is not attracting enough young workers. A recent Gallup Youth Survey asked 12- to 17-year-olds, "What kind of work do you think you want to do for a career?" While architecture and engineering made the top 10 list, no construction trade did. This is particularly interesting given that in 1977, when Gallop first conducted the survey, the top career choice for boys was "skilled worker" such as carpenter, plumber or electrician.

The construction industry's labor shortage also comes about because of the lack of training available for new workers and training for existing workers. The industry's labor shortage increases as the decline in training contributes to the industry's overall loss of workers.

So, what's a contractor to do? First, accept that this is YOUR problem. Second, you will not solve this problem by yourself. It will take a group effort. For example, work with your local trade association to attract kids to this great industry and offer them the training they need now and in the future to be successful.

The Shasta Builders Exchange, in Redding, Calif., has taken on this task in a big way. Their program started in 1999 with a construction boot camp. It has evolved into the SBE Training Center, "a nonprofit corporation, created by the construction industry for the advancement of the existing workforce through continuous education, training and safety programs, and as a means to increase awareness of the career opportunities within the construction industry." They have over 35 different programs offered day and night and are building a 15,000-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art training center.

According to executive director Kent Dagg and training center manager Phil Quintana, in the first stages of the program they asked contractors what they needed, and then created programs based on those ideas. Initially, they collaborated with the local community college and the Private Industry Council. Now, they do their training with their in-house staff or professional trainers, and they collaborate with and are accredited by the National Center for Construction Education and Research ( for their journeyman training. They offer:

  • Four-year journeyman training programs in plumbing, electrical and HVAC
  • Construction boot camps, an 80-hour entry-level construction program designed for new workers
  • "Competent person" training in 11 areas
  • Seven safety management classes
  • Over 20 business management classes.

To date, the center has over 2,000 participants annually and has put 670 people through the program's boot camp. For a full list of programs, visit

Whatever you do, the key is to do something! As Margaret Mead said, "All significant social movements in the history of mankind started with one person and one person who believed in that person."

Be the one person in your community to address the construction labor shortage, and I'm sure the second, third and fourth person won't be far behind.

Linda francis, author of Run Your Business So It Doesn't Run You , trains and consults in the remodeling industry. She is based in Northern California; Phone: (707) 485-0162 or