September 22, 2017
By Nory Angel
The Houston construction industry is facing unprecedented challenges caused by a shortage of skilled craft workers, an aging workforce and the devastating impact of Tropical Storm Harvey on the Gulf Coast region. With the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey estimated to be in the tens of billions, the speed and effectiveness of recovery efforts will rely on a skilled workforce positioned to repair damaged infrastructure, buildings and homes.
According to the Association of General Contractors, 69 percent of Texas firms were experiencing labor shortage problems before Harvey. An immediate need beyond laborers are concrete workers and masons which 66 percent of firms were unable to find before the storm. Last month the NAHB, reported that 77 percent of builders reported a shortage of framing crews and 61 percent faced a shortage of drywall installation workers. The increase in labor needs will frustrate builders, employers and families.
For decades, we pushed students to pursue four-year college degrees. This approach diverted much needed talent away from solid, well paying, blue collar jobs in technical careers. The State Legislature took a right step in passing HB5 in 2013 giving students more pathways to careers beyond college. While it is a step in the right direction, results towards addressing the skilled labor shortage by these efforts will require time.
Houston’s low unemployment rate currently at 4.9 percent is further impacting our region’s ability to source and develop potential candidates for these jobs. While there may be a shortage of skilled workers, there’s no shortage of individuals wanting to access good paying jobs.
In my work at SER-Jobs for Progress, I see thousands of job seekers each year in search of a path to well-paying, middle-skill jobs that require education beyond high school but less than a college degree. Their challenges are large but not insurmountable. Every day I see survivors overcoming lack of family support, low-education levels, encounters with the judicial system and lack of funds to complete available training programs.
Our region will need to quickly and efficiently invest the resources it will need to upskill our local workforce. Investments in short-term occupational training programs that build both hard and soft skills, and award industry recognized certificates will be critical. Investments in community college and community-based programs like SER’s that can quickly respond to current labor market needs will go a long way to building a skilled, locally sourced pipeline of workers.
Employers in the construction industry will also need to be prepared to invest in developing these fast-tracked training programs in partnership with community colleges and local community agencies. This will also necessitate an employer commitment to hiring these graduates and to continuing to build their workers’ skills through “on the job” and in-house training programs.
Systemically, the construction industry will need to commit to not only partnering to develop targeted occupational training programs but to ensuring that these jobs offer good wages with benefits and upward mobility. These changes will go a long way in attracting our youth and adults to make the commitment to actively pursue career paths offered by the construction industry.
Nory Angel is the Executive Director & CEO of SER-Jobs for Progress, Inc., a community agency focused on building our local workforce. In April of 2018, SER will open the doors to its new Workforce Opportunity Center featuring Houston’s first Career Café.
Article originally published in Houston Business Journal, September 2017