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No Surprise Here: Construction Projects Suffer From A Shortage Of Skilled Trades - ‘Baby Boomers’ Are Retiring & Millennials Aren’t Interested In ‘Picking Up The Slack’

Published Wednesday, February 24, 2016
by Jerome R. Stockfisch/

(TAMPA, FLORIDA) - There are more than a dozen high-rise or mid-rise residential projects on drawing boards in the downtown Tampa area and at least three more are in the works in downtown St. Petersburg.  Tampa International Airport is in the second year of a $1 billion overhaul.  National Hockey League (NHL) Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s project calls for $2 billion in mixed-use construction over a decade.  And - Port Tampa Bay last year unveiled plans for a $1.7 billion mixed-use project at Channelside.

But a big question is beginning to haunt those in the real estate development and construction industries: Who’s going to build all those residential towers, office buildings and retail sites?

With construction activity rejuvenated after the crippling recession, an acute shortage of Skilled Workers is plaguing the industry, and is only expected to get worse.

“I’ve been ‘preaching this’ for four years,” said Jack Jarrell, who serves as Business Manager for Ironworkers Local 397 in Tampa. “The ‘numbers are phenomenal,’ the ‘shortage’ of Skilled Trades is ‘across the board,’ from Carpenters to Ironworkers to Electricians to Welders.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that Florida added 28,600 construction jobs to grow that labor force to 441,700 in 2015, second only to California. Florida is the third most-populous state, behind California and Texas.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area added 5,100 construction jobs last year, ranking it 51st in job growth among the nation’s 358 metropolitan statistical areas.

But the National Center for Construction Education and Research’s Construction Labor Market Analyzer estimates the state will need to bring the total state number up to 500,000 by October 2018.

A poll late last year by a national contractors’ group indicated that 70% of construction companies are having a hard time finding qualified workers, with 69% saying labor conditions will remain as tight or get worse in 2016.

With the collapse of the housing market in 2006 and the ensuing recession, the construction industry nationwide laid off 2.3 million Workers.

Many of those gave up and went into other fields and aren’t returning.

Meantime, a generation of Baby Boomers is retiring and millennials haven’t been interested in picking up the slack.

“I can take you way back, twenty years,” said one construction industry expert. “Parents and guidance counselors started telling ‘every’ kid ‘they had to go to college,’ and the vocational programs at high schools ‘atrophied.’  Fewer people went in, the programs didn’t get funding, equipment was obsolete and the people that were in them ‘didn’t have’ the ‘right’ skills.”

In response, the industry is focusing on reinvigorating the pipeline for recruiting and preparing new Workers with a three-pronged strategy: to make career and technical education a priority in high schools; to shift the public’s negative perception about careers in the construction industry; and to provide a path from ambition to training to job placement.

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