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Workforce Shortage Threatens Rebuilding Effort After California Wildfires

Wildfires this year in California burned through hundreds of thousands of acres of land and left dozens dead or missing. The deadly Tubbs fire, for example, is estimated to have burned roughly 5,300 buildings across 36,807 acres and killed at least 22 people. 

Of the many challenges following the fires, one question looms large: Who will do the work to rebuild? Media outlets in the area have previously highlighted the fact that, just like in other parts of the country, young people have not been interested in entering the skilled trades.

For example, the Press Democrat Newspaper reported in September

Homebuilding in Sonoma County may be on the rebound thanks to near-record housing prices, but a shortage of construction workers is making it hard for builders to bang out new homes quickly enough to meet demand.

Many carpenters, electricians and other tradesmen found other employment after the housing market tanked in the recession. Now that the market has awoken, builders are having a tough time convincing such skilled workers to put their tool belts back on and rejoin a boom-bust industry.

“Before they had workers but no work,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer at North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group. “Now they’ve got work but no workers.”

Earlier in the year, the National Association of Home Builders released a survey that examined the attitudes of young people when it comes to the kind of careers they seek. In that survey, 74 percent of young people said they were certain about the kind of job they want but of those, only 3 percent said construction is the career for them. Also:

The 63% of undecided young adults who indicated there was no or little chance they would consider a career in the trades no matter the pay were prodded about the reasons for their resoluteness. 

The two most common reasons are wanting a less physically-demanding job (48%) and the belief that construction work is difficult (32%). They were then asked if there was any compensation level that might entice them to reconsider a career in the trades.

For slightly more than 20%, that number is either $75,000 or $100,000, but for the plurality (43%), there is no amount of money that could make them give the trades a second thought.

The full results of that survey are here