I am an SOB, that is a son of a baker. When I was a kid, the workforce in our family bakery consisted of a deaf mute, an alcoholic, my grandfather, my uncle and my dad. Together they produced about 200 loaves of bread for the Amarillo market.
In the 1990s, I was talking with Arthur Baird, one of the family members of Mrs Baird’s bread and he showed me his bakery that was producing 8,000 loaves of bread an hour for the Houston region. He told me that he could not hire anyone who was not computer proficient on his bakery staff since all of the production line is now run by computers.
This was an enormous change in the workforce which has rippled throughout the manufacturing sector in this country, and it is beginning to happen in the construction industry. As we face an increased demand and the building materials become more sophisticated and “greener”, the skilled workforce to build those buildings will be more in demand and, if NCCER, AGC, ABC and the unions are correct, there will be a big shortage in the mid-level skilled workforce.
In a recent blog entry, Ted Garrison illustrates the issue by talking of finding ways of creating a sustainable workforce in our industry. Suggested ideas range from specialization in the trades so that the apprenticeships can be completed faster to creating an apprenticeship tied to an Associate Degree. These ideas are being put into place in many parts of the country today.
But will the necessary changes be made in time to meet the demand, or will the industry have to follow the European example of importing workers, both legal and illegal, to create the buildings of the next ten years?
There are two things that we can state with some degree of certainty. First, skilled labor shortages are showing up already in the industry, and we still have an unemployment rate over 12%. Second, when the “pent up” demand for space that we are witnessing in the market today materializes, we will need skilled workers from a number of sources, many of which do not exist today.
Thinking today about how to ensure a sustainable workforce for the future is a mind-set not shared by all. Many in our industry haven’t yet woken up to the reality of what the future will look like. What do you think?