A new report issued by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk revealed 85 percent of 53 participating construction firms in Colorado find it difficult to hire hourly craft positions such as carpenters, concrete workers and electricians.
It’s become a national issue — but is affecting local construction companies as well.
The report said 77 percent of construction companies nationwide have a hard time filling hourly craft positions.
If Colorado’s economic growth continues over the next six years, the state will need an additional 30,000 construction workers by 2023, according to Bryan Cook, chapter operations director for the Associated General Contractors of Colorado. A total of 190,000 workers will be needed during that timeframe.
“We have to be one of the [most impacted states], as far as how crucial this issue is, and everyone kind of has to come together as an industry to recruit our future,” Cook said.
Colorado’s need is greater than in the rest of the nation because of the influx of people moving to the state, he said.
“In the last couple years we’ve averaged a little over 80,000 people moving into the state where other parts of the country are seeing an outflux of folks,” Cook said.
According to Chuck Murphy, owner of Murphy Constructors of Colorado Springs, some types of qualified workers — such as carpenters — are difficult to find. Most of his employees have been working for the company for more than 20 years, and are nearing retirement.
The ones who are younger tend to leave for college or other higher-paying positions, he said.
The lack of labor adds up — it takes 20 percent longer to finish a job, Murphy said.
“We can’t be as demanding on subcontractors because it’s harder for the subcontractors to perform because they’re in such demand,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to meet the timeline. We were able to do things more timely in the past because there was an abundant supply of material. There was also an abundant supply of workers and now we don’t have that. It’s frustrating for us as contractors and also frustrating for the clients.”
Although the number of projects has slowed, Murphy said his company is still able to consistently bring in $10 million in projects each year.
Howie Schommer, owner of Schommer Construction, a drywall subcontractor for commercial projects, said he limits the projects he works on because labor is hard to find — and that limits the company’s growth.
“We end up having to not bid larger projects,” Schommer said. “We would like to see a little more growth in the company, but that’s not going to happen due to the fact that we don’t have enough qualified people to pull in here.”
Schommer currently employs 100 workers, but would like to be at 150.
“Fifty percent [of our employees] are well versed in the trades — the rest we’re pulling along with us and using as more of labor force rather than someone that’s a qualified carpenter or journeyman in the trade,” Schommer said.
In the past two years, Schommer said his company secured about $11 million per year in construction contracts, a decrease from about $14 million per year in previous years.
In-house training and overtime
There’s another issue stemming from the labor shortage: overtime hours and more on-the-job training.
Flexible work hours has been one remedy to the workforce issue, Murphy said.
“We do a bunch of work in-house, so we can maintain the schedule,” he said. “So we do a lot of our own carpentry and we do our own painting and we do our own demolition — we do a lot of stuff internally. You have to have people who are flexible. … We just want to get [the job] done so we can go on to the next job and keep people happy.”
Schommer’s workforce gap means some workers take on two shifts in a single day.
“What we have done to mitigate that is we are working a lot of overtime, which the guys seem to enjoy — but it also creates a certain amount of burnout,” Schommer said. “When you ask them to work evenings and weekends all the time, we try to limit that the best we can but still try to keep customers’ best interests in mind.”