As construction worker shortage worsens, industry asks government for help

A worker shortage in the construction industry is worsening, and now the sector is hoping the government will get involved.

According to a new survey from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Autodesk, 80 percent of construction firms say they are having a hard time filling hourly and craft positions – which represent the bulk of the industry’s workforce.

“Workforce shortages remain one of the single most significant threats to the construction industry,” Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC’s CEO, said in a statement.

The group is asking federal officials to both increase funding for career and technical education programs – and to allow more immigration to fill vacancies.

Shortages were reported at nearly equal rates in regions across the entire U.S.

Nearly three-in-four of the 2,000 survey respondents expect it will either be as difficult or potentially even more challenging to fill these positions over the coming year. Concerns stem from both a lack of well-trained candidates and difficulty finding applicants that can pass a drug test.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were about 300,000 vacancies in the construction industry as of June. It's expected to need 747,000 more employees by 2026.

Efforts to find and retain qualified candidates have included raising pay: About two-thirds of firms said they have raised the base pay for craft workers, while nearly 30 percent are offering bonuses and incentives.

As a result of those increased labor costs, however, some firms are investing in technology to take over some workers’ duties.

A construction worker shortage has contributed to challenges in the housing market, too. It is one reason there has been a lack of inventory – specifically in the entry-level home segment – which has meant demand is high, supply is low and therefore prices are rising. This pattern has presented difficulties for first-time buyers, specifically, even as mortgage rates have remained low and the U.S. economy has grown.

About 44 percent of construction firms report raising prices, while nearly three-in-10 are reporting longer completion times on projects.

At the beginning of the year, nearly 80 percent of construction firms said they wanted to expand headcount this year.