October is Construction Careers Month to encourage workforce growth

Published: Oct. 1, 2021 at 6:41 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Friday, October 1 marked the start of Construction Careers Month across Missouri and civic leaders and the Associated General Contractors of America gathered at one of Springfield’s biggest job sites to talk about the current state of the industry.

Springfield Mayor Ken McClure read a proclamation recognizing the designation where the construction industry’s goal is to highlight the current construction climate in Missouri, point out the current worker shortage in the industry and look ahead to 2022.

The Associated General Contractors of Missouri represents over 500 commercial, industrial, heavy and highway contractors in 110 counties throughout Missouri.

The proclamation was made at the new Jarrett Middle School that’s under construction in south Springfield where around 120 workers will be employed to build the $41 million, 132,000 square-foot three story building that’s only about 12 percent complete right now.

Among those on hand was Sally Payne, Springfield’s Director of Workforce Development, who talked about the current climate in the field.

“We are still in the middle of a recovery and still working through this pandemic,” she pointed out. “We have seen a few more job seekers out but we encourage more people to consider construction as a really good, viable long-term career.”

This emphasis on finding more construction workers comes at a time when 80 percent of contractors in the Midwest are having problems finding hourly craft workers and 49 percent are having problems filling salaried positions.

It’s a major headache for contractors.

“Actually, Alka-Seltzer Plus covers the whole gamut of upset stomach and headaches,” laughed Sean Thouvenot, the Vice-President of Branco Enterprises and the President-Elect of the AGCMO. “But the problem in the construction industry is that we rely on so many other industries to get product to us it makes our problems compounded. They are 60,000 truck drivers short in the United States and you’ve got containers floating around in the harbor waiting to be unloaded. On that is our stuff.”

And of course as we’ve all heard by now the end of the pandemic-related unemployment benefits did not bring people back to the workforce as expected. There is wide speculation as to when...or if... they’ll ever come back.

“To pin it down on one thing is just impossible right now,” Payne said. “We have people looking for more work-from-home options but in construction it’s a little bit of an aging sector.”

“I’m in the baby boomer generation,” McClure said. “We are retiring and we’re not being replaced.”

“The average age of a construction worker is the late 40′s,” Thouvenot added. “We’ve had several say, ‘I’m tired, it’s hot, it’s gonna be cold this winter, my shoulder hurts, I’m right at retirement age, I’m done.’ A lot of people say it’s more beneficial to stay at home and if we’re paying $16 an hour we are the problem. But that’s not the case. We’re paying more than that and we’re also offering insurance, vacations, retirement plans and all these other things that didn’t used to be offered in the trades.”

The good news is there are a lot of construction projects going on in Springfield right now.

But that’s also the reason for the bad news.

“It means economic vitality is here and we are vibrant,” McClure pointed out. “But it also highlights the need for (more) good workers that we don’t have right now.”

“There are so many projects out there because COVID made a bunch of money available that wasn’t available before,” Thouvenot said. “But it’s the same amount of contractors around and there’s a whole lot more projects being done at a whole lot faster pace.”

But by devoting October to educating the public on what’s offered in the construction world, there’s hope that more people will be willing to try the field instead of more traditional jobs that require four years of college.

“I hope the Construction Careers Month sheds some light on the fact that there are some good jobs in construction,” Thouvenot said. “It’s not a dirty job with guys going into construction because they couldn’t do anything else. The average wage of a construction worker is way above the median wage in the United States. And we’re willing to train those people.”

“That’s one thing the pandemic has taught us,” Payne said. “Years ago there was a great emphasis on going to college. But there’s a lot of technology that’s come into play in the construction industry. Gone are the days of just hammering a nail. You can make well over six figures with a trades job. So it’s an incredible opportunity. One thing I do know is we have to encourage more women to come back in the workforce. It’s a very disproportionate number of woman that have not come back and part of that is because of childcare.”

As someone who runs a construction business, Thouvenot was asked what his prediction was on the future of the workforce shortage and how it will affect the construction business.

“I think it will get worse before it gets better,” he said. “And as an industry we’re going to have to say we just can’t make these completion dates. You always find somebody who says ‘Oh yeah, I can do that’ but you can’t and as an industry you shouldn’t do that to yourself. We have to be realistic.”

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