Skilled construction worker shortage already stifling economic recovery

Updated May 23, 2013

shutterstock_65375929It looks like Executive Editor Tom Jackson’s fear of construction’s current labor shortage stifling the economic recovery is already coming true.

According to a recent report from the Associated Press, construction companies across the country say they feel the economy could be doing even better if they could find enough workers.

They say they have the demand—and therefore the potential to do more work —but cannot find enough skilled workers to do so.

After the housing bust, hundreds of thousands of construction workers across the country left the industry for good, retiring or finding more stable —and in many cases better-paying—work in another industry.

There is much excitement over the rebound of the housing market right now, and for good reason. It’s propelling construction spending and employment back toward more healthy levels. Home starts were down 16.5 percent in April but a surge in building permits suggests that the recovery should be sustained. All of this despite some fears that we are in the midst of an “inferior housing recovery.”

The only problem is that construction employment is still lagging far behind the housing recovery and demand, severely negating the boost it could be providing.

“I can’t find qualified people to fill the positions that I have open,” Vishaal Gupta, the president of Park Square Homes in Orlando, Florida, told the AP. “I would be able to build more homes this year and meet more demand than I can handle today.”

Compounding the problem? The workers who are qualified are asking for higher pay.

The AP reports that the shortages being seen by contractors across the country range across all positions, “from construction superintendents and purchasing agents to painters, cabinet makers and drywall installers.” In home construction specifically, the National Association of Home Builders told the AP that its members are not able to find enough “framers, roofers, plumbers and carpenters.”

One more interesting note? Even if there weren’t a labor shortage, a tighter supply of building materials—whose prices continue to increase—and a lack of ready-to-build land would still likely limit the ability to meet growing demand.