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Amid Construction Worker Shortage, Firms Take Action to Prevent Further Decline

AGC CEO Gordon Dixon
AGC CEO Gordon Dixon

VPM intern Malcolm Key reported this story.

According to a survey by software company Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America, 81% of Virginia contractors are having trouble hiring qualified workers. The survey counted 75 construction firms in Virginia. The shortage is prompting companies to take action to improve recruiting efforts.

The steps companies have taken so far include increasing base pay and benefits, introducing new training programs and adopting new technologies in the workplace, such as robots and 3-D printers. Firms said paying current workers overtime is another thing they’ve done to try to mitigate shortages.

Contractors are also seeking assistance from government leaders. In a statement, Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC America, said federal officials should invest more money into technical education, and make an effort to pass the Jobs Act, which would give Pell Grants to students enrolled in “construction-focused community and technical college programs.” Sandherr also said the Trump administration should invest in immigration reform that allows more foreigners to enter the country based on their construction skills.

According to AGC, the shortage is impacting the development of numerous construction projects. AGC also says one of the reasons for the shortage is the lack of recruitment opportunities for construction work. Bruce Tibbetts, President of EMC Mechanical Services, said part of this is because the line of work has been perceived negatively.

“In the construction field, we have sort of a bad reputation out there, I guess...I think people think of construction as being muddy boots in the ground,” said Tibbetts.

Tibbetts notes education as a key for getting more employees into the construction workforce.  He also said educators further students’ misconceptions about the industry, and that a more unified education system will do a better job at increasing student interest in construction work.

“I think the educators on the guidance counselor side, they were, kind of, trying to drive people towards a college education, not understanding some of the opportunities out here in the construction field,” said Tibbetts “..So we’re hoping to increase the level of interest and for people to realize they can get into a successful career without having the high cost of student debt.”

Firms have partnered with the National Center for Construction, Education, and Research to create Build Your Future Virginia. The program helps people find high-paying jobs in the construction industry. AGC CEO Gordon Dixon said one of the main goals of Build your Future Virginia is to change the public’s perception of the current-day construction industry, and to create more opportunities for people to learn about the construction industry.