Construction workforce has more jobs available than it can fill

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. On Wednesday local civic leaders, government officials and contractors gathered at a local job site to talk about the employment outlook for Missouri's construction industry.

And it was a good news-bad news scenario.

The construction industry in Missouri contributes more than $11 billion into the state's economy annually, or 3.7% of the state's $305 billion GDP.

And here locally construction employment in Springfield has gone up from 9,100 jobs to 9.600 in less than a year, up five percent.

"In Springfield every time we see a major construction effort going on, that says it's a vibrant community," said Springfield mayor Ken McClure.

"The return on investment is amazing," added Matt Morrow, the president of Springfield's Chamber of Commerce." If you build a $15 million office building in Springfield, the construction faze alone is going to generate about $35 million alone in economic activity."

Those comments about the importance of the construction industry came during a press conference held at the downtown site of the expansion at the Hotel Vandivort, the 2016 National Boutique Hotel of the Year that's been so successful that it's adding more rooms and a rooftop bar next door.

It's part of a rebirth of downtown that's seen a lot of new construction. But the good news of needing more workers is offset by the bad news of there not being enough workers to fill the jobs.

"It's borderline critical right now to be honest with you,," said Sean Thouvenot, vice-president of Branco Enterprises and representative of the Associated General Contractors of Missouri.

"Every construction company in town would hire somebody today," added Bill Smillie, the business services specialist with the Missouri Job Center.

The Associated General Contractors released a work study that showed that 80% of the contractors in Missouri have had problems finding workers to fill their jobs. That despite the fact that the median salary for a construction worker in the state is over $57,000, which is 21% higher than the state average for all private sector employees.

"Around 2008-2009 when the economy faltered and the recession hit, skilled tradesmen left the industry and went to other jobs like warehousing and manufacturing and transportation," Smillie said when asked what contributed to the downturn in the construction workforce. "And those people haven't come back."

"You used to have generations of families that had carpenter, carpenter, carpenter or plumber, plumber, plumber," Thouvenot added. "They don't do that anymore. Little Johnny needed to go to school."

And as more young people gravitated towards white collar jobs, the manual labor industry suffered.

And that's why in the last two years the local Missouri Job Center has started "Build My Future", a construction career day and industry showcase where high school students can get hands-on experience in the trades to see if they're interested.

"In the early '90s schools quit training in shop," Smillie explained. "Education decided that everybody should go to college. Well, we all know that not everybody should go to college. We need to get back to working with your hands. The carpenter, the plumber, the electrician, the heating and air conditioning guy, those are the really high-paying jobs."

And while there's still that part about doing physically-taxing work outdoor in the elements, Thouvenot points out, "we would hope that the earnings difference would make this more attractive."