Of 41 Missouri firms that responded, 71 percent said they are experiencing a shortage of hourly craft workers. That was almost identical to the 70 percent of 1,600 firms nationally that participated in the survey.
Association officials said many firms are changing the way they operate, recruit and compensate to help in the short term. In the longer term, they cautioned, chronic labor shortages could have significant economic impacts absent greater investments in career and technical education.
“In the short term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” Stephen Sandherr, CEO for Associated General Contractors, said in a release. “Over the long term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers, or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”
The labor shortages come as demand for construction continues to grow. Sandherr noted in the release that between July 2016 and July 2017, construction employment expanded in 258 of 358 metro areas that the association tracks.
Growing demand for construction workers helps explain why 67 percent of firms nationally report that it will continue to be hard, or get harder, to find hourly craft workers during the coming 12 months. Among Missouri firms, the figure was 63 percent.
Tight labor market conditions are prompting firms to change the way they operate, recruit and compensate workers, the survey revealed. Most firms report that they are making a special effort to recruit and retain veterans (79 percent), women (70 percent) and African-Americans (64 percent). Meanwhile, half of construction firms nationally and 14 percent of Missouri firms surveyed report increasing base pay rates for craft workers because of the difficulty in filling positions.
A larger percentage of Missouri firms — 19 percent — have improved employee benefits for hourly craft workers (compared with 20 percent nationally), and 19 percent report that they are providing incentives and bonuses to attract workers (compared with 24 percent nationally).
Large percentages of construction firms, in Missouri and nationally, also report that they are coping with workforce shortages by doing more in-house training, increasing overtime and increasing their use of subcontractors. In addition, lesser numbers of firms are increasing their use of labor-saving equipment, using offsite prefabrication and using virtual construction methods such as Building Information Modeling, or BIM.
In the release, Sandherr called on federal, state and local officials to act on measures in the association’s Workforce Development Plan to address the growing shortages. In particular, he urged the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to reform and increase funding for the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.