Stay Ahead of the Skills Shortage

Joe Weinlick
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The construction industry is a veritable economic barometer. Because the number of building projects and related construction jobs rise and fall in relation to economic trends, they provide a useful forecasting tool. Indeed, as the recession of the last few years swept around the world, various nations used their own construction industry data to plan ahead for economic dips. In the United States, the building sector is on the rebound and with it, industry employment potential. Now, however, there's a different problem: a lack of suitable applicants for construction jobs.

Recently, economists in England used data from the British construction industry to determine the likelihood of a triple-dip recession. While the country as a whole narrowly avoided another dip, many of its established companies did not: Marks and Spencer, for example, entered a triple-dip value recession in summer 2013.

When the number of building projects and construction jobs falls over time, it can be taken as a sign of big businesses' lack of faith in the economy. When corporations are cautious and don't allocate funds to expansion or the rejuvenation of existing premises, they're clearly preparing for tough times. That fact is most apparent in the construction sector as new building and renovation orders decrease. When orders decrease, construction companies often stop hiring or—in extreme situations—resort to layoffs as they enter the quiet period.

Here in the US, the economy is rebounding. Like the downswing in Britain, the upswing in America is clear because of the number of new US building projects and construction jobs. Once again, the industry is playing the role of a barometer. Unfortunately, there's a snag: because of the crushing, five-year-long recession, a number of skilled industry workers left the trade. Simultaneously, fewer individuals entered the construction sector to develop the job skills needed to work on site. Now, there are fewer skilled workers available than there are jobs to fill.

It's ironic, really: construction jobs change frequently in relation to industry trends. Sometimes there are too many carpenters; other times, the industry has a dire shortage of individuals with carpentry job skills and cannot find people to fill the jobs. It's particularly difficult for young people interested in the industry to gauge what type of construction trade to train for.

There is one certainty, however: the number of available construction jobs will increase over the next decade. In Louisiana alone, 86,300 construction jobs are expected to pile onto the market by 2016. Expansive projects in Illinois, Mississippi, and the rest of the US will add many more employment opportunities over the next few years.

Going forward, many experts agree that construction is likely to be one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. When it is combined with the forthcoming employment opportunities, the current skills shortage demands one thing: an action plan. Without an influx of skilled workers, some specific construction jobs may go unfilled in the future, causing significant project delays within the industry as well as tangible negative economic effects.

(Photo courtesy of stockimages /


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