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‘America, We’ve Got A Problem’ – CNN Reports The U.S. ‘Desperately Needs’ One Million ‘More’ Construction Workers

Published Monday, July 12, 2021
by Vanessa Yurkevich/CNN Business
‘America, We’ve Got A Problem’ – CNN Reports The U.S. ‘Desperately Needs’ One Million ‘More’ Construction Workers

(LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK) - Matthew Messer hauls solar panels on the roof of a home in Long Island, New York, hoisting them one by one in the 100-degree June heat.  Messer is the owner of New York Solar Maintenance, but these days he's working right alongside his lead Technician seven days a week as business booms.  "This is not the perfect way to be spending my time right now," Messer says of his days spent up on roofs. "But it's what needs to happen."

That's because Messer says he can't find anyone to hire.

His small business has three open roles, ranging from Entry Level to Lead Technician - one example of an industry-wide problem as a labor shortage meets increased demand.

New home construction and improvement are surging, thanks to the lack of inventory in a red-hot housing market and more people working from home.

In an industry already short on Workers before the pandemic, construction businesses will need to hire 430,000 workers this year and one million more over the next two years in order to keep up, according to Industry Experts.

"The phone is ringing off the hook," Messer said. "I am expanding as quickly as I can, but right now that's governed by the amount of skilled Technicians I can bring on."

The construction industry shut down for a few months last year during the Coronavirus Pandemic - but was quickly deemed essential, allowing paused projects to continue.

But in that short time, the sector lost more than one million Workers.

The industry has recouped nearly 80% of its workforce since then, but is still down 238,000 Workers from pre-pandemic levels as of June, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

"We're losing more people than we're bringing into the industry," said Matthew Schimenti, owner of Schimenti Construction Company. "People made decisions in their lives to leave the region and the industry (during the pandemic).  It was like putting a puzzle back together to restart where we literally called a timeout."

Schimenti Construction - which primarily works on commercial projects - has 20 open positions across all skill levels.

They've even hired two internal recruiters just to look for talent.

Commercial construction remained largely flat during the pandemic, but it's expected to pick up as the U.S. economy returns to pre-pandemic norms.

"If we wished it was just a bad dream and it would go away and everybody would just come back - that's not going to happen," Schimenti said.

When Matthew Messer started noticing a shortage of Workers, he realized he quickly had to raise wages to remain competitive.

His remaining Employees were being poached by other companies.

In the last four months, he's raised entry level wages by 40%.

That's on top of rising costs of materials, including steel and wood - which he says get passed down to the customer.

"I was offering ($18-to-$22) an hour and I got no applications.  I increased it to ($23) and I got none.  I increased it to ($25) and they're starting to trickle in right now," Messer said. "It was a dramatic increase, but in order to grow the business, I need Technicians."

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