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Union Labor Shortages Projected for Skilled Construction Crafts
Bloomberg BNA By Elliott T. Dube Construction unions should take note that skilled labor shortages are becoming as much of a problem for them as for contractors, the head of The Association of Union Constructors told Bloomberg BNA. Leaving aside the political motivations of unions, they are business entities focused on jobs and training, TAUC Chief Executive Officer Steve Lindauer said May 19. They represent people, but they are there to provide our contractors with the most important resources they need, which are human resources: skilled craft workers that are safe. If that is not being done, contractors are going to look somewhere else, he said. Management representatives focused on completing projects on time and at cost see shortages in union craft labor as more of a problem than do unions, which have a separate priority of obtaining work for their members, Lindauer said. He pointed to recently released results of a TAUC study on union labor supply in the U.S. construction and maintenance industry. The study covers perceived labor supply shortages and surpluses for union craft workers overall, as well as for 14 specific unions. Seventy percent of contractor and construction manager respondents to the study reported a union craft labor shortage in 2016, compared to 48 percent of union and labor representative respondents. At the same time, union-side pessimism has increased from the 41 percent of union and labor respondents who reported a 2015 labor shortage in last years version of the TAUC report. This is the third year we have done this study, and to me, each year is a snapshot, said Lindauer, whose organization includes more than 2,000 union contractors. I think we are starting to see somewhat of a trend that there is something to be concerned about here at our end of the pipeline. Carpenters, millwrights top the shortage findings. TAUC commissioned the Construction Labor Research Council to conduct the study, which got responses from contractors, labor representatives, owner-clients, and construction association representatives. The authors of the study in their executive summary called it the only national, union-specific labor supply study focusing on construction and maintenance. About two-thirds of respondents in the TAUC study reported a shortage of carpenters and millwrights in 2016, up from 55 percent in 2015. An even larger percentage projected a shortage of carpenters and millwrights in 2017. Part of the reason for these results involves the large variety of tasks covered by carpenters, who might be responsible for almost half of the work on large projects such as high-rises, hospitals, and universities, Bill Sproule, president of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, told Bloomberg BNA May 23. Our jurisdiction and our trade autonomy goes on and on in these buildings, from a hole in the ground to the guys putting the carpets down and the VCT and putting the lock cylinders into the doors, Sproule said. I think that is a big, big contributor to the shortage that is happening. After carpenters, the next-highest percentages of study respondents projected 2017 shortages of electricians; iron workers; and plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. At the other end of the scale, the smallest percentages of respondents pointed to a shortage of teamsters. The Construction Labor Research Council conducted the study on behalf of TAUC. Welders Wanted. Study participants listed the skills that were the most difficult for their organization to find and thus in highest demand. Thirty-six percent of respondents identified welding, while only 9 percent identified the next most in-demand skill of equipment operating. Frankly, that is something that is almost a given, particularly in the industrial arena, Lindauer said. If a young person leaving high school and not aiming to go to college asked him for advice, Lindauer said he would tell them, learn how to weld. Baby boomers continue to retire from the construction industry in large numbers, and U.S. high schools are doing little to emphasize skilled trades apprenticeship programs as an alternative to the typical college career path, Lindauer said. Industry representatives are not laying all our cards on the table and should be more proactive in highlighting such an alternative for young people, he said. Young peoples generally limited exposure to information about the skilled trades means they might overlook how expansive a carpenters job can be, as well as the highly specialized and technical work of millwrights, Sproule said. With carpentry, a lot of people think it is just wood, and they do not understand the materials and the methods that are utilized with all the different types of commercial construction. To contact the reporter on this story: Elliott T. Dube in Washington at edube@bna.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com
May 26, 2017

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