INSIGHT ON: Commercial Construction – Construction firms struggle to find workers

Posted on Nov 1, 2014 :: Commercial Construction , Insight On
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Menasha-based Faith Technologies Inc. is in a position many businesses couldn’t imagine: They are looking to hire between 100 and 200 workers nationwide at all levels from entry-level laborers to journeymen.

It’s a position that many construction companies find themselves in: They need workers and they need them now.

“There’s a lot of construction going on and we need additional help to keep up with the demand,” says Stephanie Guin, executive vice president-human resources at Faith Technologies, a specialty and electrical contractor with operations in six states. “I’ve been in the industry nine years and I can say it’s always been a struggle to find workers. We can’t find enough qualified people.”

Faith Technologies is not alone in struggling to find skilled construction workers. Steve Schmitz, vice president of field operations for CD Smith in Fond du Lac, says it is an industrywide problem.

“There has been a tremendous increase in large commercial projects across the country, so the demand for skilled workers has skyrocketed. Companies have been fortunate to keep all of their trades on the jobsite and union halls can barely keep up with the demand,” he says.

At Keller Inc. in Kaukauna, the company is not only looking for skilled laborers in building and concrete, but also office positions, including project managers and an architectural and engineering manager, says Tami Bloedorn, the company’s human resources and benefits manager.

“During this year of growth, we have added a position to almost every department in the office and also 30 field positions,” she says.

As for why it’s so hard to find workers, Schmitz says that when the economy slowed in the late 2000s some tradesmen left the industry or retired. The focus is now on attracting new people to the industry, he says.

“It is our job to get that word out there at the junior high and high school level to let the students know about the rewarding careers in the construction industry,” Schmitz says. “We have relationships with several area high schools and talk to the shop and agriculture classes about the careers that are available. There always appears to be interest, so that is positive. I also know that union representatives are doing the same, so hopefully down the road we get the workforce back to meet the demand.”

All four technical colleges in the New North – Fox Valley Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College – offer construction training programs.

Keller’s Bloedorn says a lot of young professionals show interest in the construction industry, whether it’s construction management, sales, drafting or architecture. The challenge is finding employees to work in the field, she adds.

“It seems as though most young adults are going on for continued education, leaving less to start their career in the trades immediately after high school,” Bloedorn says. “Keller has begun to increase focus in the neighboring high schools. We want students to not only gain knowledge about a career path that could provide greatly for their family but also one that could be started immediately upon graduation.”

Guin says Faith strives to be proactive by reaching out to guidance counselors at high schools with information about career opportunities in the construction industry and Faith’s own in-house training program that takes an entry-level employee to a journeyman.

“There’s just not many people coming out of high school looking to the trades as a possible career, so we talk about our program where they get paid throughout their education process and come away with no student debt,” she says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for those who are interested in the trades as a career option. The sky is the limit.”

The availability of qualified workers concerns Kevin Hildebrandt, director of risk control for Miron Construction Co. in the Town of Menasha.

“Workers who are not up-to-date on the latest safety practices are more likely to become injured, which of course even further depletes the number of men and women available to work,” he says. “To combat the shortage and safety learning gap, Miron has emphasized teaching onsite safety to those who are new or returning to the field. The benefit of safety training for new and returning workers, aside from the growth of qualified tradespeople, is that these lessons are reiterated for the entire crew.”

With skilled, qualified workers at a premium, Guin says Faith is doing what it can to keep the workers it already has.

“Within the past year, all workers have received a 10 percent raise. We know it’s competitive out there for workers,” she says.