Contractors optimistic about growth, but still face labor woes
Construction firms in Florida expect to keep growing in 2018, but they will continue to struggle to find workers.
A survey of state contractors found that 85 percent anticipate increasing their payrolls by up to 10 percent this year, the Associated General Contractors of America reported Wednesday.
And nearly 70 percent said they are having a “hard time” filling both salaried and craft workers positions right now.
That’s no surprise in the Sarasota-Manatee region, where residential and commercial builders have lamented for several years that they can’t find enough labor for their projects.
“My members are still finding it difficult to fill jobs, not just skilled jobs,” said Jon Mast, CEO at the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association. “This is a continuing saga.
“Larger builders are finding relief by hiring ‘shell contractors’ that can build their product through the framing stage. This helps them keep up with closing schedules. Smaller builders and those that build custom homes still enjoy having consistent labor as they pay more for the service,” he said.
Mary Dougherty, executive director at the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, said the labor shortage is a constant refrain among those in the local construction trades.
“It is causing prices to increase and jobs to be delayed,” she said. “A lot of folks, with the labor shortage, aren’t bidding on certain jobs. They just don’t have the manpower to bid on them.”
In Florida, nearly half of the companies surveyed by AGC said they had increased base pay to retain or recruit workers, while 62 percent said they provided new incentives or bonuses. Nearly a third said they paid more overtime.
Mast said the labor squeeze also has impacted builders at the government level.
“What has gotten worse is the shortage being felt by our local building departments,” he said. “They are short staff due to retirements and the additional workload due to the increased economy. Permits are increasing, which causes more inspections. Some of my members are months behind on getting closings completed due to the lack of building inspectors.”
The regional construction workforce has been growing. In November, 24,600 workers were counted in the Sarasota-Manatee construction sector, a gain of 2,000, or nearly 9 percent, over the year, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
But that remains well off the peak of 31,800 in April 2006, which then plunged to 14,900 in 2011 during the economic downturn, when projects stalled and building all but ceased, forcing workers to find other ways to earn a living.
Nationwide, 75 percent of construction firms plan to expand their payrolls in 2018 as contractors are optimistic that economic conditions will remain strong amid declining tax rates and regulatory burdens, according to the survey from AGC and Sage Construction and Real Estate. Despite that general optimism, many firms report they remain worried about workforce shortages and infrastructure funding.
Locally, the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange plans to hold its second “Construction Rodeo” this spring to teach the 25 percent of graduating seniors who are not college bound about construction-related career opportunities.
“We’re trying to introduce them to what a career in the trades can mean for them now and to later become a business owner,” Dougherty said.
The BIA is working with the Future Builders of America and the National Association of Home Builders’ Student Chapters to get local coursework designed for construction in local secondary and post-secondary schools, Mast said.