Worker Shortage Plagues the Nation and Seattle’s Ability to Keep Pace With Growth-Fueled Construction Demands

Three out of four contractors plan to add workers next year, but worries swell over the labor supply and quality, national survey finds
Updated: Thu, 12/19/2019 - 11:35
 
 
  • Three out of four contractors plan to add workers next year, but worries swell over the labor supply and quality, national survey finds

Seattle’s booming economy and expanding skyline are creating demand for more construction workers at a time when the building-trades industry is suffering from a severe shortage of workers, and that point is driven home by a construction-hiring outlook study just released by the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate.

The report, which surveyed construction contractors nationally, including in Washington, found that despite an overall slowing economy, most construction companies are expect hiring will expand in the year ahead but are worried about their ability to find qualified workers.

In Washington, based on responses from 53 of a total 956 construction contractor’s surveyed, 68% of companies anticipate hiring more employees in 2020 ― ranging from one to 25 more workers ― while only 6% anticipate decreasing their workforce and 26% expect no change. In the face of that growing demand for construction workers, 85% of the Washington contractors surveyed said they are having a hard time filling some or all of their open positions and the same percentage said concerns over worker quality ranked as their biggest concern for 2020 ― with 81% indicating that worker shortages also ranked among their biggest concerns.

In addition, 79% of Washington contractors polled indicated they had increased pay or benefits for workers in 2019, compared with the prior year.

“Contractors are very optimistic about demand for construction in 2020,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, AGC’s chief executive officer. “At the same time, many construction executives are troubled by labor shortages and the impacts those shortages are having on operations, training and safety programs, and bottom lines.”

Local real estate industry experts who participated in a recent breakfast panel produced and hosted by the Downtown Seattle Association and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt echoed the concerns over construction-labor shortages. They said Seattle’s real estate market is experiencing unprecedented growth driven by an explosive tech sector, but the city also confronts significant challenges from that growth ― including construction-labor shortages. 

“We need more [construction] workers if we are to continue this growth,” said panelist Kris Beason, vice president of construction-services firm HITT Seattle. “We need to support organizations doing outreach to bring people into the [construction] trades. We are competing for talent and need to look outside the normal boxes to fill the gap. 

On a national level, AGC’s Sandherr says Washington officials also “must take steps to prepare and place more people into high-paying construction careers.”

“They also need to recognize the need to allow more people to lawfully enter the country to address workforce shortages,” he adds, “while the domestic pipeline for preparing and recruiting workers is being restored.”

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