By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
As the construction industry hits a 20-year high in the number of job openings, the St. Louis region faces a shortage of available workers in dredging and blasting due to excessive 2019 flooding.
The workforce shortage, according to Associated General Contractors of Missouri President Leonard Toenjes, is attributable to an unusually greater demand for those who are equipped to dredge sand from the Mississippi River and transport it to other locations. Worker shortages are also evident, he says, in quarry blasting as more raw materials are in demand to accomplish road and rail work as a result of flooding.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a shortage of sand dredgers exists nationwide. Above-average water levels and repeated flooding of commercial channels such as the Mississippi River have heightened demand for workers experienced and available to help clear the river channels of excess sediment that washes into the river when the flood waters retreat. Removing excess sediment is essential, says the Corps, in ensuring that commercial barge traffic can continue through St. Louis and further south to the Gulf. The dredged sand is frequently utilized to build and maintain habitat. Excess sand is also moved and stored in gravel pits with available capacity.
“Flood reclamation is definitely a factor in construction-related job demand both in St. Louis and beyond,” Toenjes said. “Certain water conditions are required for the dredging work to occur, and for workers to be able to get into the quarries to sandblast rock as well. Just the ability to obtain sand and rock has also been significantly negatively impacted by all this high water. Demand is way up for materials and for those who can access them. I’ve spoken with people who have had to pull their people from other jobs to dredge and blast when the conditions are right to get it done,” he added.
Added to the workforce demand for those who can dredge sand from the rivers and blast the quarries is the spike in demand for raw materials, according to Toenjes. “There continues to be great demand for rock and other material needed to fill where railroads and roadways have been scoured out because of high water,” he said. “Landscape workers and other construction activity that involves moving dirt has and is being impacted by the rains and the resulting flooding. Companies whose work is central to these functions are still way behind.”