Shortage of qualified construction workers creating challenge for local companies

By Kristina Orrega

Recently, someone ran a car through a brick wall at the Pizza Hut on Archer Road and Charles Goodman was left to fix the problem all on his own.

He didn’t have any help to replace the door of the bathroom that was knocked over in the accident. He also didn’t have anyone to help him clean up.

Goodman, who’s been the president of Goodman Construction Company in Gainesville for 14 years, isn’t unfamiliar with this situation.  He said he’s gone through three employees just this year.

“I have had to put in the extra hours myself,” he said. “I’ve had to leave my office and actually go on the job to perform work because I cannot get people to do that work… I’m very pessimistic.”

He said the employees he has hired have been under qualified or unwilling to put in the effort that manual labor requires. He said one didn’t even have transportation to come to work every day.

The last time he had solid help was seven years ago, and he’s lost them since then too.

Goodman is not alone.

According to a report released by the Wall Street Journal last October, the construction industry suffered a dip of nearly 2.3 million jobs between 2006 and 2011. The article also indicates that 60 percent of displaced construction workers have left the labor market or moved into other industries.

Another factor likely contributing to a shortage of experienced workers is a downturn in hiring young workers, while the share of older workers grew faster than in comparison to other industries, the article notes.  

But Goodman said he believes there’s more to the problem than the industry managers simply not hiring enough workers in their 20’s or 30’s.  

“It is a major problem to get people that are interested in actually working for a living instead of working on computers sitting in an office all day,” he said.  

He’s felt so strongly about this problem that he said he’s considering using a local temp agency to recruit new workers.

This decision comes after the agency reached out to him in previous years to negotiate, but he always declined.  Now, he’s resorting to measures he never thought he’d have to use.

Ed Huene, the senior project manager at Parrish-McCall Constructors, Inc., said a severe shortage of masons has been the most noticeable decrease he’s heard about. This was evident during the construction of the Stephen O’Connell Center last September.

“They couldn’t come up with enough masons build all the masonry walls,” he said. “So, at one point I heard that they were redesigning it to put more metal-studded drywall because they physically could not find enough workers to build it the way it was originally designed.”

He also mentioned that local construction companies had to import help from places like Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando during the construction of the new health tower at Shands Hospital.

Goodman said he feels that the root of the problem boils down to the lack of instruction in blue-collar trades that school systems just aren’t offering the way they did decades ago.  

“The entire school system, the entire governmental structure, the educational system — all they talk about is information technology,” he said. “I think that needs to change drastically and quickly.”

There are some silver linings, though. Huene, who is an active member of the Builder’s Association of North Central Florida, said that their apprenticeship program saw an increase in participation – going from 50-60 apprentices in 2012-2013 year to about a 100 in 2015.  That number has most recently jumped to 160.

Still, he said that number of workers is not enough to supplement the on-going local construction projects that are always happening.

“Getting involved in the construction trades has been kind of frowned upon, whether it be on a high school level or the fact that [our] local Santa Fe college is successful,” Huene said. “Construction workers haven’t done the greatest job in saying we need help [and] we pay well too.  It’s a great industry that can support your family.”

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