A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

NPR Reports on the Skills Gap

The phenomenon of a high unemployment rate coupled with a skilled labor shortage continues to baffle many people.  Construction executives know exactly why people looking for jobs in the trades cannot find work – it is the skills gap, which is not just confined to America.  Construction Citizen has also told you many times about the shifting attitudes on whether college should be for everyone. More and more experts say “no”.

Now, NPR has taken notice of the problem.  NPR National Desk Correspondent Yuki Noguchi reported on the issue on the news program All Things Considered.  Here is the audio of her report, Homebuilding Is Booming, But Skilled Workers Are Scarce.  Noguchi spoke with a couple of construction executives in the Houston area: Jan Maly, the President and CEO of J.M. Maly Inc., and Mike Holland, Division President of Marek Brothers Systems.

From Noguchi's report:

Maly pins much of the blame on the fact that young workers aren't coming into the field to replace all the boomers who are retiring.  He says that's due to a cultural and political bias in favor of sending all kids to college, and that there's a stigma against blue-collar work.

“My father used to tell me, ‘You gotta go to school [or] you'll be a ditch digger’,” says Maly.  “Well, right now we need ditch diggers.”

Maly says many people don't make even the first-round cut of passing drug and criminal checks, let alone bring the skills necessary to do the job.

“We have to do background and drug checks on just about everybody,” Maly says.  “You'd be quite amazed if you knew how many people were disqualified.  Sixty percent fail.”

Mike Holland, Marek Brothers Division President, told Noguchi that there is simply a lack of training that was once done mainly by unions:

“People have completely abandoned any notion of true workforce development, “ Holland says.  “On the professional level, people are thinking about their team, and recruiting and hiring practices and all things that any good businesses have to hold very dear to their heart.  [But] those things just don't exist in the craft world.”

And the whole industry, and eventually consumers, may pay the price for that, Holland says.

“If all of [a builder's] subcontractors go up 10 percent, then the cost of the house has to go up,” Holland says.  “It's not because of higher quality; it's purely because of supply and demand.  So we'll have less good workers, less quality – but higher prices because of it,” he says.

What do you think needs to be done to address this growing problem?  Let us know in the comments section below.

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