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Construction hiring soars, but ongoing worker shortage still a major issue

Construction hiring soars, but ongoing worker shortage still a major issue

The Rochester metropolitan area experienced greater job growth in construction than all but two cities in the country in 2019, yet the industry still can’t entice enough young people to choose the field as a career.

Workers from Manning Squires Hennig Co., Inc., continue their overhaul of the Congress Avenue school building in Rochester's 19th Ward.
Workers from Manning Squires Hennig Co., Inc., continue their overhaul of the Congress Avenue school building in Rochester’s 19th Ward.

Total employment grew by 15 percent, with 3,000 new jobs added. The 2019 Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Top 100 fastest growing companies list including 24 construction firms, including five of the top six.

Nationwide, only Kansas City, Mo., (17 percent growth with 4,800 new jobs) and Omaha, Neb./Council Bluffs, Iowa (16 percent, 4,500) had larger percentage gains among 358 metro areas in the analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

But there remains a shortage of skilled workers, locally and nationally, and it’s only going to get worse when a larger percentage of older craftsmen retire in the next five to seven years, construction executives say.

That’s not good for growing schools, hospitals and businesses, because too few workers means too much more time to complete construction, industry leaders say. Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester and Rochester General Hospital have a total of $2 billion in projects scheduled, said Matt Squires, CEO at Manning Squires Hennig Co., Inc.

“Our market’s absolutely booming,” Squires said, “but while we celebrate that success about our economy doing so well, I and all of my peers are worried. Short-term, the market will get strained and projects might not all land on schedule.”

That includes infrastructure projects, which are becoming more commonplace across the country as aging bridges deteriorate, highways can’t accommodate urban growth and schools and public works facilities require upgrades.

“The consequences of inaction for both our construction industry and the broader economy are simply too severe to ignore,” said Brian Turmail, national spokesman for the AGC.

Turmail brought the collective voice of the construction association to Rochester on Wednesday to trumpet local jobs gains, but to also spread the worker-shortage message.

The AGC is urging federal officials to invest more heavily in construction training programs, with a doubling of funding for career and technical education programs over the next five years.

The organization also wants schools to be graded on a different scale, with evaluations taking into account students that graduate and then go into construction, not just graduates who move on to college. And there are construction-focused programs at Alfred State, RIT and Monroe Community College.

“Unless there is action soon, the construction industry in New York and across the country will continue to face significant workforce shortages. These shortages have the potential to undermine broader economic growth by needlessly delaying, and inflating the cost of, construction.”

The issues affect local firms, too. Fewer workers means project schedules become challenging, productivity declines and the likelihood of employee burnout rises, according to Anthony DiTucci, president and CEO of Livingston Associates Inc. and chair of the Builders Exchange of Rochester’s workforce development committee.

Construction career day on April 28 at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center is for students, parents, guidance counselors, teachers and job seekers. Industry leaders will emphasize the pluses of a construction career, such as job stability, solid pay, working with technology and the teamwork and collaboration that exists on the job site. It’s essentially a combination recruiting and re-branding effort.

And it’s an effort contractors say must be successful.

“It’s not a matter of where do I find the work,” DiTucci said. “It’s more, I can’t get the work done because I can’t find the workers.”

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