companies must try harder than ever to recruit skilled workers.
recently stationed an employee holding a “now hiring” sign on a busy street in
“I’ve run radio ads,
placed ads on Craigslist in three cities, done the signage, done logos, I’ve
Facebook advertised, and I still can’t find enough employees,” said company
owner Steve Amos.
Take a drive anywhere
around the region and it’s apparent: new homes and businesses going up.
Though business is
booming, constructions companies say job openings are hard to fill.
“Some companies have
to pass on bids because they don’t have enough people,” said Joel Bouchey,
regional coordinator for Inland Northwest Associated General Contractors. “The
other part is the workforce in construction is aging.”
And those older
workers are not being replaced with a younger workforce.
there is a lack of desire,” said George Booth of Booth and Sons Construction
Inc. of Kennewick. “In (young people’s) minds, it’s no longer respectable to do
this. Some of the guys I have, at the end of the day, they go home and clean up
before they go to the grocery store because they’re afraid of being looked down
So where are the
Many have gone to
college. “A large point is the fact public education has told everyone you need
to go to college after high school,” said Booth, 36, who has been helping with
the family business since age 5. “There is a push to value the white-collar
worker over the blue-collar worker. So it’s looked down on. There are a few of
us who are college educated and we’re happy to get our hands dirty or sweaty.”
Booth went to college
after high school.
“I did the whole
college thing. My parents bought into it. ‘You need to get an engineering
degree,’ they told me,” he said.
But Booth also liked
the family business, and he decided to stick with that after school.
respectable work. And it keeps me humble,” he said.
Brad Boler, a senior
project manager for G2 Construction of Kennewick, said he has the same problem
finding younger workers.
“It’s a combination of
things,” Boler said. “Since it’s kind of hard to find good help, you have to
hold on hard to them, so they don’t leave.”
That means paying a
few dollars more an hour, he said. Or promoting them up the company ladder.
But Boler says that
still might not be enough.
“Younger people find
construction to be such a boring industry,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘It’s not
for me.’ I find I have to go through 10 applicants to find two good workers.
Young guys who know what they’re doing can shoot up the charts in the company.”
Booth agreed. “If guys
are skilled enough, we’ll move them up the ladder,” he said. “I’m trying to
find the guys who couldn’t afford college, that are young, maybe trying to
settle down, build a family.”
Boler looks for the
same demographic: the 26- to 28-year-old looking to settle down and establish a
Boler said he recently
was talking to a longtime contractor about the problem.
“When I was younger,
about 15 years ago, in the labor forces there were so many badasses,” he said.
“Guys who could do everything. Now, there are just a few guys who are jacks of
The labor shortage
isn’t just a Tri-City problem. It’s statewide and nationwide.
According to a 2018
Associated General Contractors of America survey, 80 percent of contractors
nationwide report difficulty finding qualified craft workers.
Washington state contractors took the survey, and 83 percent said they expected
to hire additional or replacement hourly craft personnel in the next 12 months;
89 percent said they were having a hard time filling salaried and hourly craft
positions; and 51 percent said they’re having a difficult time hiring project
managers and supervisors compared to the previous year.
Many of those surveyed
said they’ve had difficulty finding electricians, carpenters and installers.
percent said they believe it will become harder to hire qualified personnel in
the next year, with half of those surveyed saying the current crop of craft
personnel are poorly trained or skilled.
said they’re losing people to other construction firms.
To that end, 58
percent said they’ve increased the base pay rate to try to fill those spots.
Here are some other
state survey highlights:
percent have engaged with career-building programs through high schools,
colleges or other career and technical education programs.
percent worked with unions.
percent initiated or increased in-house training.
percent said they offered overtime.
percent said projects have taken longer than anticipated and 48 percent said
they have had to put higher prices into their bids or contracts because of the
Boler said there are
so many avenues to advertise for openings, his company uses just a few.
“You can’t get to them
all,” he said.
Amos said he recently
spent $3,500 a month in advertising.
“My staff spends time
daily on this, about 30 hours a week,” he said.
In comparison, he said
five years ago it may have been just two to three hours a week.
And even if you hire
someone, that doesn’t mean they’ll show up, he said.
“I spend two hours
interviewing them, paying them $20 to $25 an hour, go over the employee
handbook,” said Amos, who said he has seen it all in his 20 years as an owner.
“I have them sign the paperwork. And then they never show up the next morning.”
They’re money chasers,
who flit from job to job to make a few bucks more an hour, he said. He’s also
familiar with the baby dodgers, who owe back child support.
required paperwork, which includes the worker’s Social Security number. A few
weeks later, he might get a letter about the back child support, but that
worker has already left.
Amos also has seen a
tactic called tailgating.
“Some contractors will
pay these guys in cash,” Amos said. “They’ll say, ‘You’ve worked 60 hours this
week. Put down 30 hours on your time card and I’ll pay you 30 hours in cash.’
It’s not legal. I play by the books. I pay all of my taxes. These LLCs get away
with murder. They need to change the laws.”
And then there are the
“There are contractors
who go to jobs to steal people,” he said. “I’ve seen it. It’s not moral. There
is no integrity there. But I do believe in karma.”
also affect construction project timelines and their crews’ stability.
“A company might have
five projects you’re working on at the same time,” Boler said. “Those are
supposed to start at a certain time. Maybe you don’t have enough jobs right now,
so you don’t need as many people. But maybe you land a job, and you’re going
through permit hell. Some of the permits don’t come through in a timely matter,
and that’s no one’s fault.”
Boler’s company is
going through that right now. G2 Construction won the bid to build three STCU
credit unions in the Tri-Cities.
“They were supposed to
go six months, six months and six months,” he said. “We finished one in
November, but we’re having permit issues. Now instead of 18 months to get all
three done, it’s more like three in three years. All of these different factors
come into place, and you have to be flexible.”
Young workers, he
said, get impatient and move on.
Bouchey said there are
many public works jobs to improve aging facilities, and the Tri-City construction
industry is healthy.
economy has looked excellent for a decade and it’s not slowing down,” he said.
“This is not a bubble. It’s not going away. And we want them (the young
construction industry is growing.
From March 2018 to
March 2019, there has been a gain of 10,000 construction workers throughout
this state; this ranks No. 15 in the nation.
At the same time, the
state Department of Labor and Industries reports injuries are up.
There were 175 cases
of cuts or lacerations among teen workers in 2018. There were another 150 cases
of sprains and strains, and 85 more reported cases of bruises and contusions.
“All of our members
are truly dedicated to safety,” Bouchey said.
Amos said he takes
training seriously in his shop.
“We started an
in-house apprenticeship program,” he said. “We’ve picked up some good guys
doing this. There are some young guys who want to learn.”
Amos will put them
into the field to work, then maybe the next week they’re in the office for
training. The following week they’re back out on a project, returning the
following week for more training. That goes on for a while.
“A lot of contractors
won’t take the risk,” Amos said. “It’s really hard for a young person to get
into a trade. And we focus hard on the safety factor (in the program).”
Bouchey said Inland
Northwest Associated General Contractors also has apprenticeship programs. The
organization also has started a website, whatwillyoubuild.org, which helps
young people understand the construction industry and its benefits.
“And we’re getting
into the school districts,” he said. “We’ve done safety training with the Pasco
kids, juniors and seniors, to get them workforce ready. We’d like to see them
put wood shop back into school.”
Bouchey’s group is
talking to the Pasco School District to create a math course dedicated to
applied mathematics for engineering.
“So we’re starting to
move the needle,” he said. “We want to see a willingness to work hard, work a
full day and put the cellphone away.”
And Amos, as
frustrated as he is with the lack of candidates, believes things will come
around again where people will want to work in the business.
“The skilled trades are an awesome place to be,” he said. “You can
make $80,000 a year, get retirement, health insurance, dental benefits. All of
that. Anybody who says there isn’t money in this industry doesn’t know the
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