Facing an acute labor shortage, big firms are lobbying to lift caps on foreign construction workers.
A national survey of construction firms found 74 percent were having problems finding qualified workers amid growing labor shortages in the industry.
The survey by Associated General Contractors of America comes as similar concerns have been raised among builders in Southwest Florida, with the new homes market ramping up and a tight inventory of existing homes.
- Seventy-four percent of the 700 responding firms nationwide said the jobs that were most difficult to fill were carpenters, equipment operators and laborers.
- Fifty-three percent said they were also having a difficult time finding project supervisors, estimators and engineers.
- Eighty-six percent of respondents said they expect it will remain difficult or get harder to find qualified craft workers while 72 percent say the market for professional positions will remain difficult or get worse.
To deal with the situation, 48 percent of responding firms said they are mentoring future craft workers while 38 percent are participating in career fairs and 33 percent are supporting high school-level construction skills academies.
Forty-seven percent said they are offering internships for construction professionals.
Looking to veterans
There was a 70 percent uptick in new home construction activity in Sarasota and Manatee counties this summer, but the industry is now running 50 percent below its employment peak in 2006, state records show.
As of July, construction accounted for 15,100 jobs in the two counties.
Area home builders have found at least one potential answer to the shortage: Military veterans.
The Home Builders Association Manatee-Sarasota and Suncoast Workforce, an entity that operates three Jobs Etc. employment center in the region, have crafted a pilot program aimed at alleviating the problem and providing jobs for vets, who sometimes struggle with unemployment.
Florida has an estimated 744,000 veterans in its labor force. Suncoast Workforce, meanwhile, has seen the number of veterans seeking help in Sarasota and Manatee counties rise 40 percent over the last two years, with about 1,900 now in the system looking for work.
New incentives provided by Congress in late 2011 could help homebuilders hire more vets. The IRS-guided VOW Hire Heroes Act extends tax breaks of $2,400 to employers who hire a veteran who has been jobless for a month, $5,600 for those unemployed at least six months and $9,600 for veterans who have been out of work six months or more and have a service-related disability.
The incentives can increase if the vet is also receiving some type of government assistance.
If builders have to train the new hires, the federal government also will help pick up the tab, paying half of the trainees’ paycheck for up to six months.
To deal with the issue at a national level, Sandherr, the AGC chief executive, is urging Congress to “jettison arbitrary caps” on construction workers that were included in immigration reform the U.S. Senate passed this year.
“Lifting those restrictions will go a long way to ensuring construction jobs left vacant by domestic labor shortages go to workers who are in the country legally,” he said.
The CEO also is urging local officials to “do more to ensure public school students have an opportunity to participate in programs that teach skills like construction.”
His organization’s survey, conducted in July and August, included nearly 700 construction firms, including Florida.