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Industry Urges Congress to Tackle Worker Shortage

Construction employment slipped from July to August for the fourth time in five months. Year-over-year job gains and recently released spending data suggest the recent weakness is due to firms having a hard time finding workers rather than lack of demand, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials said its recent survey that found two-thirds of contractors are having a hard time finding qualified craft workers underscores the need for measures to boost recruitment and training on new workers.

“A variety of indicators suggest contractors would be adding to headcount if they could find qualified workers,” said Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist. He noted that compared to a year ago, employment has risen nearly twice as fast in construction as in the overall economy. Meanwhile, average hourly earnings are rising faster than in the private sector as a whole, suggesting contractors are paying more to attract workers.

In a letter to House leadership coordinated by Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) and delivered on Sept. 8, 25 leading construction industry organizations told Congress to swiftly pass and enact the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 5587), bipartisan legislation that reforms, modernizes and reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Act.

The groups told lawmakers that, “By making technical education a priority, Congress can help better prepare workers for well-paying careers, ensure that U.S. companies are able to seize new business opportunities and make the United States more competitive in the global economy. Businesses, schools and government officials must collectively commit to tackling the technical education crisis at all levels, and you can take a great step towards enabling that commitment by passing H.R. 5587.”

The letter from construction, contractor and supplier organizations highlighted the stark findings of a study sponsored by the AED Foundation and released in January. That report, prepared by researchers at the College of William and Mary, found the equipment technician shortage is costing dealers approximately $2.4 billion per year in lost revenue and economic activity. Citing a lack of “hard skills” as the top reason technician positions are going unfilled, the study noted that vacancies at construction equipment dealerships remain open for longer than three times the national average.

“Workforce challenges are impacting the construction industry and every other economic sector in the United States,” AED President and CEO Brian McGuire said. “While the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act won’t completely solve the issue, it makes significant improvements to current law and enhances aspects of the long-overdue-for-reauthorization Carl D. Perkins Act in order to better serve both workers and employers. The House should immediately approve H.R. 5587 and put pressure on the Senate to address the skilled worker shortage a top congressional priority before the end of 2016.”

The following organizations signed the letter:

Air Conditioning Contractors of America
American Coal Ash Association
American Concrete Pavement Association
American Concrete Pipe Association
American Concrete Pressure Pipe Association
American Institute of Steel Construction
American Rental Association
American Road & Transportation Builders Association
American Supply Association
American Traffic Safety Services Association
Associated Equipment Distributors
Association of Equipment Manufacturers
Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute
Distribution Contractors Association
Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International
Mason Contractors Association of America
National Asphalt Pavement Association
National Association of Manufacturers
National Ground Water Association
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association
National Roofing Contractors Association
National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association
National Utility Contractors Association
Portland Cement Association
Power and Communication Contractors Association
Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute