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Construction Picture
Results of one survey say 86% of construction companies are having a tough time finding qualified workers.

​Contact: Cesar Canizales
214-378-1859; ccanizales@dcccd.edu

For immediate release — Jan. 4, 2016

(DALLAS) — Students in North Lake College’s concrete-pouring class are very familiar with the nationwide shortage of skilled construction workers. They see it and live it every day because many of them already work in that industry. Most of the students welcome the news because it means they’ll have a chance to get a good job after they graduate, but others worry about how the scarcity of workers might affect their current employers.

Ireta Angley, one of those students and a project manager at a company that specializes in building multi-unit housing, said her company has experienced so many delays due to the labor shortage that it now is losing money. “The shortage of labor has caused cost overruns in the last three projects to the point where we’ve lost money because not having enough adequately trained workers delayed those projects,” she said. Angley, who is studying construction management at North Lake so that she can advance at the company, added that many workers left the industry during the recession, and it has been difficult to get that experience back.

Matt Mitchell, who has an associate degree in construction management from North Lake and who now owns a home building company, said the worker shortage is causing “massive delays” in his business. He said it normally takes about six months to build a house from start to finish; now, it takes about a year to deliver a new home. “One of my subcontractors asked my sales representative to stop selling houses. They are so far behind that they can’t catch up with demand, so they had no choice but to say, ‘Stop selling!’” Mitchell explained.

A recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America revealed that 86% of construction companies are having a tough time finding qualified workers nationwide. As a result, 56% of them say they will have to increase pay for specialty workers such as framers, carpenters and concrete pourers.

In an analysis of employment data, the association found that employment in the construction industry grew by 4.2% in the U.S. from November 2014 to November 2015, more than twice the rate for total nonfarm employment. In a statement, Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist, said employment “would be expanding even more rapidly if contractors could find enough qualified workers.”

Sheikh Njie, a student who expects to graduate with an associate degree next December, greets the worker scarcity as good news. “The shortage means that when I graduate, I’ll have a paycheck and a well-paying job. When demand is high and supply is low, they’ll pay us a good salary. It’s good news for us,” added Njie, who worked in the construction industry for 15 years before he decided to earn his degree.

Michael Cooley, dean of the construction management program at North Lake, said most students who take his classes already are working in the field, so they attend classes at night to specialize in specific areas of construction, whether it’s carpentry, framing, interior finish, electrical or other career pathways. “One of the advantages of this program is that it’s immediately applicable to the field work itself,” stated Cooley. He added that contractors hire his students because they can put them to work and they produce immediately. “They don’t need additional training, and if they do, it is minimal.”

Cooley said the labor market is so tight for every specialization that his students enjoy 100% employment after they graduate because of the wide variety of work available. “Most students don’t even have to look for a job. By the time they graduate, they’re already employed,” Cooley continued. “Because they already have experience, a good craftsman can make $40,000 to $50,000 in base salary, plus overtime. That’s the technical side, such as carpentry and electrical work. A good entry-level project manager will make $50,000 to $60,000; one with experience will make $60,000 to $70,000.”

Reta Angley
North Lake construction student Ireta Angley sees huge demand for qualified personnel in the industry. Already a project manager in the field, she is studying construction management so she can advance at her company.

​Students in the program learn more than the technical aspects of construction — those primary jobs such as framing, carpentry, concrete pouring or plumbing. They also learn how to read blueprints, how to schedule a project from start to finish and how to estimate the material needed for each new house, for example.

Cooley noted that for every worker doing the technical work, such as mixing the concrete and framing new buildings, “At least 10 other people are working in offices, in supplies, in engineering and in management. The demand for inside workers is higher than for those outside.”

Michael Hernandez, who at 19 is younger than the average student in the program, said before he became a full-time student, he was doing the job of three people at his previous company. “I was making $3,500 every two weeks, but I was working around the clock and taking my work home. I was exhausted,” he said.

Ed Weatherford, who works in real estate and who intends to get into residential construction after he finishes his degree at North Lake, echoed Hernandez’s experience. “They are putting two people on jobs where they normally would have five or six just to keep things moving. It’s slowing things down,” he said.

Angley said, “We lack qualified project superintendents. We don’t have enough project managers. All across the industry, we have a shortage of capable personnel, but framing is the worst. You can’t find framers. And if a job is not framed correctly, it all snowballs from there.”

While the recent drop in oil prices is causing an economic slowdown and a deceleration in construction in some oil-dependent areas of Texas, new home construction in the Dallas-Fort Worth area continues to grow at a healthy pace. According to data from the National Association of Home Builders, new building permits for single-family homes in Midland, for example, dropped by 15% from October 2014 to October 2015. In North Texas, new permits increased by 27% during that same period.

House Construction
The construction worker shortage is causing "massive delays" in the residential construction business, according to North Lake alum and home builder Matt Mitchell.

Employment in the industry mirrors the housing data. The figures from NAHB show that employment in residential construction in the Dallas area grew by 22% from 2013 to 2015.

“Lots of people are moving to North Texas, and they need housing. We also have to build office buildings, hospitals and other ancillary services. They’re moving here not for oil and gas but instead to work in banking, health care, education and industrial insurance,” Cooley said.

If demand for new construction slows down in North Texas, that news would be welcomed by some in the industry. “We have so much going on now, it’s just overwhelming. To have it slow down to some degree wouldn’t be bad because it will allow us to catch up,” Cooley explained.

Statewide employment figures for November so far show that the industry has not slowed down. In a statement, the Texas Workforce Commission (PDF - 296KB) recently said, “The construction industry accounted for more than half of November’s net job gains with the addition of 9,000 jobs, marking that industry’s fourth straight month of growth.”

A big area of concern for the industry is that many experienced workers are retiring. Lynne Smith-Brush, acting dean of technical occupational programs at North Lake, said the Texas Department of Transportation recently inquired about NLC’s surveyor training courses. “This is something our program has discussed recently. The loss of workers in this area due to retirements is about to hit pretty hard, and TxDOT needs to replace those who are about to walk out the door,” Smith-Brush explained.

For more information, please call Michael Cooley at 972-960-7839 or send an email to him at mcooley@dcccd.edu. To contact Lynne Smith-Brush, please call 972-273-3469 or send an email to ljbrush@dcccd.edu.

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