Construction 2019: A New Opportunity Awaits

A Labor Shortage Translates to Big Opportunities for Students
by Nancy Erdmann

While the tech industry has thrived since the mid-90s, with an abundance of college graduates available for hire, the construction industry has experienced a long, but slow downturn in its workforce. For years now, companies have been dealing with a shortage of heavy-equipment operators, masons, electricians, carpenters and plumbers, but even more so recently since construction rates in both residential and commercial building have begun to pick up.

“The U.S. Economy has changed,” says Forbes contributing writer Nicholas Wyman. “The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them.

Last November, Arizona’s construction industry gained 1,100 jobs, according to the Arizona Builder’s Exchange. “A year ago, we had two builders,” says Casa Grande Mayor Craig H. McFarland. “Today we have 350 new home permits.” Upcoming projects, such as Attesa, LKQ Corporation, Lucid Motors and Nikola Motors are making big headway, but all need qualified trade workers to bring the projects to fruition.

Why the Shortage?

One of the reasons for the shortage is the aging tradesman who is either preparing to retire or has turned to a different profession after the economic downturn, with no one to replace them. Changes in attitude across the generations have prompted parents to encourage their children to focus on four-year colleges, rather than considering trade-related careers.

In addition, because many junior high and high school industrial arts programs have been cut from curriculums, classes once offered in shop, such as woodworking, welding, drafting and electronics are no longer available to pique students’ interests, and builders and their trades are having a tough time getting competent employees.

“We have to make the trades acceptable again to the parents and the public,” says Jacquelyn Elliott, Ed. D., Central Arizona College President and CEO. “This generation wants hands-on technology-infused learning opportunities. I would put more money into education and trade programs and getting those back into schools and colleges.”

Trade Schools are Gaining Popularity

Not everyone goes to college or gets a four-year degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 69.7 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college in 2016, which means more than 30 percent did not even try for a degree. Of those that went, almost 40 percent did not complete their college program, with computing having the highest dropout rate. And 37 percent of employed college grads are doing work for which only a high school degree is required.

That being said, there are many jobs in manufacturing that can be obtained after completing vocational programs at community colleges, and they often take two years or less. Industrial arts educators are not only teaching students how to work with standard saws and drills, but also everything from soldering irons and water jet cutters to 3D printers and robots. In Arizona, there are several campuses that offer career and technical education programs, including Central Arizona College, Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology (CAVIT), or in the Phoenix-metro area Western Maricopa Education Center and Valley Institute of Technology.

Casa Grande Businesses Taking the Lead

Those in building and construction are realizing the need to do everything they can to get the word out about job opportunities and support the industry overall. Many are adjusting their recruiting strategies by offering apprenticeships, internships, on-the-job training, signing bonuses and tuition reimbursements.

It also helps to be involved in the community, as name recognition sparks familiarity. Custom homebuilder Absolute Homes, for instance, sponsors a variety of local events and donates to several charities and programs. Capital R Construction prides itself on the timeliness of its completion of a job and its quality of work, all which leads to a good reputation in the community and drawing the attention of potential students to the trade industry. Many local companies benefit from proximity to home to compete with companies in Phoenix or Tucson. Saving time for family instead of a two-hour commute is important to many.

According to Shaun Cardenas, owner of Power Bound Electric, an experienced journeyman electrician can make $40-60K per year depending on skills and experience.

Paula Leslie, co-owner of Mankel Mechanical said the salary range is similar for experienced plumbers, with helpers and trainees earning $22-25K per year. 

Several companies report turning down additional work due to the lack of skilled staff. This is an excellent time to train for a career with a bright future!

With Casa Grande growing at a strong pace and myriad job opportunities in the building industry, hopefully, the current labor shortage will fuel a whole new crop of students looking to make a different mark on their community and their lives with a career in the construction trade.