The Journal Record August 30, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY – The need for construction workers hasn’t waned and isn’t likely to anytime soon, industry representatives said.

In Oklahoma, 85 percent of construction firms said they will have a hard time filling some or all of their positions, according to the latest workforce survey released by Associated General Contractors of America.

Firms responded to the survey in June, July and August. In the Sooner State, 27 companies supplied answers.

In the U.S., 80 percent of construction firms said they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions.

“Labor shortages in the construction industry are significant and widespread,” said Ken Simonson, AGC of America’s chief economist.

The trade group hosted a media call on Wednesday before releasing the survey results.

On the U.S. survey, more than 2,500 firms replied, which was a 40 percent increase in participants from the last survey, Simonson said.

“Job openings in construction have soared to record levels,” he said. “Unemployed construction workers have been at a series low recently. Contractors are spending longer (trying to fill) jobs and have fewer experienced workers to choose from.”

In Oklahoma, 73 percent of survey respondents said the local pipeline for craft personnel is well-trained and skilled.

Smith + Pickel Construction co-owner Collins Peck said the company is starting to work with high schools and technology centers to start the employee pipeline.

He said the company is also starting to see employees bring their own family members into the industry.

Peck said he started working at Smith + Pickel when the company was building the Chesapeake Energy campus. He said that, at that time, it was more of a buyer’s market in terms of finding employees. But construction jobs decreased when oil and gas prices dropped, so there wasn’t as much of a need for employees.

“There’s always a concern that the problem will get worse,” Peck said. “It’s hard to imagine it getting worse, but it could.”

In Oklahoma, a lot of construction workers left the industry when oil prices were high. The drilling industry offers a quick, high salary.

AGC of Oklahoma Executive Director Doug Tapp said the chapter is partnering with Junior Achievement of Oklahoma in the JA Job Shadowing program to expose more students to the industry’s numerous career opportunities.

Also, several AGC members set up booths at Oklahoma CareerTech’s SkillsUSA competition in Tulsa so students could see the available careers in the industry.

He said he wasn’t surprised to hear that so many firms expect to have trouble finding employees. During the AGC of America call, Simonson said the industry is seeing prices increase because of the labor shortage, and projects are not getting done on time or are having to be bid out with a longer completion date.

Tapp said he hasn’t seen that happen here. He said there is a concern about price increases because of the steel tariffs.

AGC of America worked with AutoDesk on the report. The company makes drafting software. Senior Director of the Construction Line Sarah Hodges said this week’s report should be a call to action for the industry.

“Clearly there’s a need,” she said. “Clearly there are jobs. Clearly the time is now.”.