Skilled Labor Shortage in New Home Construction

“Hi Scott! Hey, I’d like to hire you to do a few improvements on my home.” … “Well, to start with, I need a new rear entry door installed.” … “What? You’re kidding? At least a year out from now?” This was a conversation I had over a year ago with a local contractor. He literally had so much business lined up that he was scheduling a year in advance. Why the backlog? In part, this typical remodeling/home improvement wait time is due to the skilled labor shortage hitting our nation.

Skilled Labor Shortage in New Home Construction

Home sales are booming under the current economy. Builders face an opportunity to increase business and profits. Yet many, perhaps even you, struggle from a dearth of skilled labor to assist in construction. This scarcity is evidenced in both new construction and in remodeling and home improvements. What has caused this problem, and what can be done to solve it?

A number of factors have placed us in the place we currently are. The first factor that started the trend was the recession circa 2008. When the economy tanked, many construction professionals chose to find new jobs in order to survive. Labor statistics indicate that over 1.5 million residential construction workers have exited that profession since then. Now that home starts have improved, they aren’t all coming back.

Another aspect that has damaged the construction labor force has been the push of schools to insist students follow a college-bound path instead of steering gifted students into the trades. Students are pushed to follow STEM as a career instead of trades such as construction, plumbing, HVAC and the like. Consequently, the age of the current residential construction labor force is quite high, with an average age of 50.

A final factor in the scarcity of skilled labor has been a number of hurricanes and tornadoes in the recent past. All of these natural disasters, from Irma, to Harvey, to Sandy, have necessitated extra construction services in the affected areas. This draw from the normal residential construction and renovation professionals has reduced the labor force further.

Now that we understand why the labor shortage is occurring, what can we do about it? Obviously the effects of natural disasters cannot be changed. Similarly, the builders who left during the housing crisis probably will not return 10 years later, so that cannot be changed.

A young skilled labor apprentice

However, we can and should make a change in how students are encouraged to follow a particular career path. While a college education is great for some, not every student benefits from book learning. This Old House has the right idea: they searched the nation for young people interested in the trades to come on the job and learn as apprentices to the master craftsmen. As builders, why not approach your local school and see if any students would like to study construction as your apprentice? It would mean a little more time spent on the job, but you would end up with a skilled worker trained to your satisfaction after the apprenticeship was completed. That is a win-win scenario!

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