Construction Worker Shortage

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As the housing market heats up, Arizona is facing a shortage of construction workers. David Jones, president of the Arizona Construction Association, will talk about the shortage.

Ted Simons: Arizona's housing market is heating up, but the state is now facing a shortage of construction workers. For more we welcome David Jones, president of the Arizona Construction Association. Thank you for being here.

David Jones: Thank you for the invitation.

Ted Simons: What is the state of the construction industry right now, here in Arizona?

David Jones: We suffered greatly. We along with the tourism industry in this state, suffered greatly during the recession. We're now starting to see signs coming back that there's vitality, individuals are going to work, we're starting to see houses being built, lots being purchased for future building. And what we're finding is that we don't have adequate skilled labor work force for construction. Not only here in Arizona, but throughout the country. So it's not a case of going elsewhere in the country to bring people in.

David Jones: Define a skilled construction -- What kind of jobs are we talking about?

David Jones: Individuals that require a specific skill such as plumbers, electricians, brick Mason, carpenters, roofers.

Ted Simons: And we used to have enough of these folks to go around in the salad days, correct?

David Jones: We had enough at the time, but even during the peak there was still a demand because our market was white hot. Arizona led the country as one of the most rapid growing states, so the appetite for construction was huge.

Ted Simons: What happened to those that were here back then? Where did they go?

David Jones: We don't know. We actually don't know. We've lost around 208,000 jobs. And during that period of time, a lot of people have left, where they have gone, we don't know, whether it was neighboring states. But the fact of the matter is, we're finding that they're just not there.

Ted Simons: Career changes for some you think?

David Jones: Very possibly what we're suspecting is that individuals that have been in construction because it does modulate with opportunities of going up and down, that they've decided to retrain themselves and find other areas to work.

Ted Simons: Impact of SB1070 keeping some away as well I imagine?

David Jones: I've probably been asked that question about 50 times. I don't think it really, Ted, would be fair to say 1070 was exactly the silver bullet. But I think it hit at the same time went into effect at the same time as the recession. And I think the challenge will be for Arizona as we lead the recovery is, how welcome will individuals feel coming back here if they are a Hispanic or Latino?

Ted Simons: With that in mind, how much would immigration reform as we know it help?

David Jones: Well, we think it would help greatly. We're disappointed that we're seeing Congress address the agriculture areas, but the fact is, in this country the average construction worker is 47 years old. 51% of our infrastructure is in need of repair, or replacement. The youth of America is not as interested as previous generations in working with their hands and minds.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, I know some would say the solution if you don't have enough jobs, is to pay a higher wage for those jobs and the people will come. Valid?

David Jones: Not necessarily. We took a survey not too long ago within our association, and I'm going back just prior to the recession, and our average annual was between $42,000 and $52,000 a year for some of the skilled crafts. Today, with demand that will be coming up, there will be a lot of overtime, opportunities, operating engineers, heavy equipment operators would probably up in the 60s, $65,000.

Ted Simons: And I don't want to get too far into the immigration argument, but there was always this argument Americans don't want to do certain jobs, or increasingly hesitant or reluctant to do certain jobs. Is that what we're talking about here?

David Jones: I think what we're talking about, we have to go all the way back to World War II, when soldiers returned, they got the GI bill, they started to get some education, some left the family farms, and they went to work at factories. And then Americans came up with this paradigm that you're going to go to college and you're going to get an education. You're not going to work on the farm, you're not going to work in the factory. And consequently, we end up with a highly educated society but we've lost the worker bees.

Ted Simons: Yeah, it's interesting. But you've got to wonder if the worker bees, if you make it more attractive do they start buzzing around?

David Jones: I think it would require training. And I think that what we find in a personality profile of individuals working construction, they'd like to work outdoors, they're task oriented, they like to see things completed that they built, and so we need to, as an industry, enhance our image and create some incentives.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, education and training has to be a factor.

David Jones: It is.

Ted Simons: What do you want to see done?

David Jones: I think we need to look at a realistic guest worker program. We're not going to be able to meet the needs, I don't think we can train quick enough. If we would go on a national program of infrastructure repair, that's going to serve out and sap out the individuals that would -- May work on residential construction. We looked at -- There are two projects coming up in the valley, if we look at west valley resort and casino, we look at the project over in Tempe, $600 million dollars apiece projected on those, that's a roughly around 6,000 construction related jobs per project. So consequently, when those projects break, it's going to be a greater demand.

Ted Simons: Last question -- Is there any sign that supply is getting closer to demand when it comes to construction workers as we stand now?

David Jones: No.

Ted Simons: So it's not a good situation, it's getting worse.

David Jones: It's getting worse. We look at Canada, they're in Ireland right now recruiting to get Irish workers. And the U.K. and the eastern European country trying to get workers.

Ted Simons: Are you trying to get the attention of lawmakers?

David Jones: We are.

Ted Simons: Any response?

David Jones: No.

Ted Simons: It's good we had on you. Thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon," world renowned physicist Lawrence Krauss joins us for his monthly discussion of science issues. And we'll hear from an ASU student who used his disability to help develop a program for helicopter pilots. That's at and on the next "Arizona Horizon." That many is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

David Jones:President, Arizona Construction Association;

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