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The Second Disaster: Rebuilding and the Labor Shortage

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Rebuilding in the Labor Shortage Crisis

Despite sustained demand and job growth in the construction industry, many employers have continued to struggle filling key skills-jobs. After the catastrophic storms that hit Texas and Florida in late September, many experts are forecasting a rough road to recovery ahead and a major blow to an industry faced with an already stifling labor shortage.

Rebuilding after Harvey

In the months before Hurricane Harvey hit, the Houston-area was already facing an environment where building demand far exceeded the number of available laborers. The lack of local journeymen had already affected 10 out of 12 crafts including the need for scaffold builders, pipefitters, boilermakers, and carpenters; after the storm, conservative estimates place the need of additional workers between 10k-20k just to meet repair demands in the area. It’s an environment that’s ripe for delays, material shortages, and an exacerbated strain on labor as contractors will have to fight for workers for both capital works and residential projects.

Competing for a smaller pool of laborers

The situation in Florida after Hurricane Irma isn’t very different. Though spared much of the calamitous flooding and destruction in Houston, Florida residents and business are also competing for materials and workers. In efforts to speed up the recovery process, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations to suspend licensing requirements for roofers in 37 counties listed in FEMA’s Disaster Declaration. The Emergency Order allows licensed general, building, and residential contractors to perform roofing repair and installation – a move that may provide some short-term assistance to residents and businesses that need immediate repairs.

Combatting the Labor Shortage Crisis – short-term and long-term needs

That said, the road to recovery will not be an easy one and will need lots more hands to do the long-term heavy lifting needed. In an article in The Patriot Post, the recent hurricanes were just another factor in the perfect storm which is the current labor crisis. Since the last recession, the construction industry lost an entire generation of workers in their prime (aged 25-35) – the majority of which never returned to the industry. The crisis is further aggravated by the industry’s inability to reach out to younger men and women and the current political climate with respect to immigration. In the immediate aftermath of these storms, many industry groups, like the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), are calling for the implementation of guest-worker programs similar to those adopted after Hurricane Katrina.

Related Course: 10-Hour OSHA Construction Safety and Health Program

Despite the challenges faced in the wake of these disasters, it’s important to remember the resilience of spirit that tradesmen have. It’s going to take input from all parties – contractors, workers, communities, and the government – for the necessary work to be completed. As the U.S. Southeast continues to recover, we hope to see the application of these lessons learned to be applied to the industry as a whole.