By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
More than one-half of all Associated General Contractors of America firms surveyed say they are having trouble finding enough craft workers for two reasons: the unemployment supplement and worker fears of COVID.
According to the results of the August 2020 AGC survey, which included more than 2,000 responses nationwide, 52 percent of construction industry respondents report having a tough time filling some or all hourly craft positions – especially openings for laborers, carpenters and equipment operators. In addition, 28 percent of those responding said they’ve experienced difficulty filling salaried positions, especially project manager and supervisor roles.
“The coronavirus is delivering a one punch to the construction industry in 2020,” said Stephen Sandherr, AGC CEO. “The challenge is that the coronavirus has put many contractors in the position of looking for work and workers at the same time.”
With regard to looking for work – for projects – 60 percent of survey respondents said their firm has experienced the postponement of at least one future project, while 33 percent reported having projects that were already underway halted because of the pandemic. AGC Chief Economist Ken Simonson said the share of firms reporting canceled projects has nearly doubled since the survey the organization conducted 60 days earlier.
“Few firms have survived unscathed from the pandemic amid widespread project delays and cancellations,” Simonson said. “Ironically, even as the pandemic undermines demand for construction services, it is reinforcing conditions that have historically made it hard for many firms to find qualified craft workers to hire.”
As for bringing existing (furloughed or laid off) workers back, the March-July federal unemployment relief supplement of $600 per week (now $300 weekly) under the CARES Act has been a serious detriment, survey respondents indicated. Of the nearly 25 percent of respondents whose firms tried to recall furloughed employees, 44 percent said some of their employees have refused to work, 36 percent reported that some of their people cited a preference for unemployment benefits and 35 percent said some of their employees cited virus concerns or family responsibilities as the reason for not yet returning to work.
For full results of the AGC’s latest workforce survey, see https://www.agc.org/sites/default/files/Files/Communications/2020_Workforce_Survey_National.pdf.