Legislative committee examines problems, solutions for construction labor shortage in Arizona
By Phil Riske | Senior Reporter/Writer
(STATE CAPITOL) – The lack of construction workers has and continues to pose serious problems in the building trades, costing the industry increased overhead, delays in completing projects and, in some cases, the inability to even bid on jobs.
“The labor shortage in Arizona is a growing crisis that not only threatens the construction economy but also impacts the Arizona economy overall,” Carol Floco, CEO, American Subcontractors Association of Arizona, told a state Senate panel in a recent hearing at the Capitol.
“We need to make construction sexy again,” she said.
Industry spokespersons told the Senate Commerce and Public Safety education programs and enabling more immigrants to cross the border and legally work in the trades are two important ways to alleviate the shortage.
The U.S, Arizona and Phoenix chambers of commerce have been tackling the labor shortage alongside builders. Todd Sanders, president, CEO, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce said it’s going to take a while to alleviate the shortages.
“What we found was there were approximately 10,000 open construction positions (in Arizona)(200,000 nationwide) that could pay $49,000 a year, Sanders testified, adding however, the shortage is “probably much higher” because of the methods job openings are posted.
Sanders said work is being done to promote the benefits of trade careers and to knock down “negatives images” of the trades. He did not elaborate on the statement.
Industry advocates call for increased educational programs about construction from high school through college, along with apprentice programs as proposed by the Trump Administration.
Toll Brothers Vice President Bob Flaherty spoke to troubling circumstances in the construction industry. He said worker poaching by in-and-out of state competitors contributes to labor shortages, along with poor morale among fatigued tradesmen, all of which add to the cost of homes and buildings.
Yet another problem is an aging workforce. Only seven percent of workers in construction are 25 years old or younger.
Flaherty said there is nothing to attract younger workers to the trades.
Floco said she learned of a contractor who has turned down $30M in jobs because he didn’t have the workforce to do the jobs.
“Can you imagine not bidding on a job because you don’t have the manpower? asked committee Chairman Steve Smith (R-Maricopa). “It’s insane.”
Calling it a “political football I don’t want to get involved in,” Flaherty nevertheless said, the government needs to want to make immigrant workers legal to work in construction.
“Arizona has been built with Hispanic population,” he said, adding jobs should be offered to prisoners who have served their time and to veterans.
“The trades do not discriminate,” Flaherty said.
“We need to change the conversation about careers . . . promote the trades [and] blast it from the rooftops.”