Workforce challenge could be nearing a crisis level
San Antonio Business Journal
May 13, 2016
In the fall of 2013, the workforce shortage in San Antonio’s construction industry was described by one industry leader as having gone from “a low-grade headache to a full-blown migraine.”
The Great Recession was a leading factor behind the labor shortage. As work dried up, firms had to learn to run leaner and meaner. By the time construction activity picked back up, many of the personnel who had been let go from their jobs had moved on to other industries.
Nearly three years later, worker shortages continue to plague the sector. The biggest challenge now, however, is one of demographics, according to Kirk Kistner, vice president of marketing and business development for Bartlett Cocke General Contractors.
“We have more skilled craftsmen retiring than we have entry level apprentices entering the industry,” said Kistner, who took a few minutes recently to help me better understand the current state of the local construction industry.
Where are the shortages being felt the worst — management/executive positions or skilled labor? While this issue does affect some of the management/executive type positions, the greatest problem, and what may be a crisis in the not too distant future, is with skilled labor and craftsmen. The shortages are getting worse and will continue to until we have more workers entering the construction industry than we have baby boomers retiring.
Is this worker shortage representative of how San Antonio is still recovering from the Great Recession, or is there something else at work here? While we do have some lingering effects from workforce leaving the construction industry during the Great Recession, this problem is more about demographics and the average age of the construction worker being greater than 50 years old. Unfortunately, we have more skilled craftsmen retiring than we have entry level apprentices entering the industry.
What are some ways the industry can reverse the tide? The industry is working on several fronts to help alleviate the problem, including: helping at the high school level to create construction industry career and technical education opportunities, increasing the amount of technology and mobile technology that is utilized on the construction sites, increasing the use of prefabrication processes to construct buildings, and utilizing robotic technology to lessen the amount of labor required at the construction site.
How are general contractors fighting this problem? To fight the labor gap, general contractors and subcontractors are very focused on their most important assets, their people. In the past in the construction industry, contractors did not put as great an emphasis on their people. But in today’s market, general contractors and subcontractors are providing higher wages, better benefits packages, great training opportunities, and significant emphasis on worker safety.
Tricia Lynn Silva is assistant managing editor of the newspaper. She assists in the management of the newsroom and plans and coordinates special publications.