Approximately 80 percent of demolition companies in Oregon continue to face skilled labor shortages. What caused this labor shortage in industrial demolition? How can the industry bounce back? What does this mean for the industrial demolition industry?
In this article we take a deep dive into the state of the industry and what the future may hold.
Origins of the Labor Shortage
Between 2006 and 2011 the construction industry lost approximately 2.3 million jobs due to the Great Recession. There are now about a million fewer residential-construction jobs than there were prior to 2006. This may lead you to think there’s a wealth of skilled labor and tradespeople eager for work; however, that’s not the case.
Oregon demolition contractors are having a hard time finding qualified skilled laborers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Association of Home Builders state that there are 143,000 vacant positions nationwide. To give you a sense of how that is affecting construction contractors, 69 percent of the NAHB’s members were “experiencing delays in completing projects on time due to a shortage of qualified workers, while other jobs were lost altogether.”
This state of affairs is a direct result to changes in the economy from the Great Recession. This caused many skilled workers to leave the construction and demolition industries – and they have not returned.
As to where all the labor has gone, “Unsure when, if ever, they’d be called back to work, skilled laborers were forced to seek opportunities elsewhere—many in oil, gas or trucking—and haven’t looked back. Some decided to hang up their hard hats and retire early. Many were immigrants who returned to their home countries once the work dried up.”
The issue of unavailable workers can “shut down job sites, forced firms to turn away top-dollar contracts and even slowed building to a crawl in some cases”. Many construction contractors are simply unable to take jobs simply because they do not have the labor to perform the work.
Another issue compounding this is that “as many as 60 percent of the construction workforce will retire in the next five years, which means builders will lose not only more bodies but all of the skills and experience the most seasoned workers have accumulated throughout their careers.”
There simply aren’t people to replace workers aging out of the workforce.
Millennials & the Construction & Demolition Industry
To further exacerbate the problem, young people rarely consider careers in the C&D industry. Millennials are more interested in careers that allow them to use their tech expertise.
In fact, an article by the Professional Warranty Service Corporation states that, “Three in four young adults say they already know what field they want to work in, and it’s not home building—just 3 percent name construction as their career of choice. Why? They’re digital natives who want jobs that make use of their technological prowess, and they don’t see construction as an innovative or cutting-edge field.”
C&D Industry Employment Growth
The number of people employed in Oregon’s construction industry hit a high of nearly 92,000 people in 2008. The Great Recession caused a two-year decline, but since 2010, there has been a 46 percent increase in the workforce. The industry has largely bounced back, reaching a new peak of 96,800 at the end of 2017.
The Oregon Employment Department expects the construction and demolition industry to grow the workforce by 17.5 percent over the next ten years, which is the second-highest rate of any industry in the state.
However, this growth is not a result of a new workforce. In order to boost interest nearly 70 percent of firms have increased their base pay rates and provided incentives and bonuses. The average wage for construction has increased by 19 percent from ten years ago and specialty trade wages have increased by 29 percent.
The best way forward is to have more students enroll in technical schools and career programs that attract young people to the construction and demolition industry. New marketing efforts may be needed and even immigration reform, as immigrants comprise 22 percent of the labor force in the industry.
The future of the construction and demolition industry is one of both growth and constraints. Whether or not labor can keep up with demand remains to be seen.