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89% of state construction firms say it's hard to find skilled workers

Some 89 percent of construction firms surveyed in California say they are having trouble finding qualified workers to meet the growing demand for construction services, according to a report released Wednesday by the Associated General Contractors of America.

“Considering how much the nation’s educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for AGC.

The survey reported that 61 percent of responders have trouble hiring project managers and supervisors; 41 percent said they have difficulty hiring engineers and estimators.

Sixty-seven percent said ironworkers and plumbers are the hardest craft worker positions to fill. Fifty-nine percent said it’s hard to find carpenters and 50 percent said electricians are difficult to find.

Twenty-five percent of respondents in California said filling positions for drywall installers is difficult and 30 percent said they have trouble finding pipefitters and welders.

The survey also showed that 55 percent of respondents hire union workers for all projects, while 26 percent said they hire only open-shop contractors.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said it will continue to be hard to find and hire qualified construction professionals over the next 12 months; only 5 percent said it would get easier to locate skilled contractors.

Forty-five percent said it will continue to be difficult to find skilled craft workers over the next year; 10 percent stated it would get easier.

Nationwide, 83 percent of responding firms said they are having a hard time filling craft worker positions. Sixty-one percent are having difficulty filling professional positions.

Simonson said many firms are changing the way they operate to address worker shortages. Forty-eight percent of responding firms nationally said they are increasing their use of subcontractors and 37 percent are increasing their use of staffing agencies.

In addition, 59 percent of firms nationally report they have increased wages to help retain construction craft workers and 56 percent have done so to retain construction professionals.

Construction firms seem particularly concerned with the quantity and quality of local construction education and training programs, Simonson added.

Nationwide, 55 percent of firms say the local pipeline for preparing new craft workers is below average or poor. Meanwhile, 35 percent of firms have a low opinion of the local pipeline for construction professionals.

More than 1,000 construction firms participated in the 17-question survey, which was conducted in August and September. Also included in the survey were questions about total revenue for 2013 and the types of projects performed.

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