St. Louis Trades Say They’re Robust Compared to Shortage Pockets Nationwide



Some 80 percent of construction firms across the U.S. report they are having a difficult time filling hourly craft positions across construction trade categories, but St. Louis construction industry execs say the region’s labor supply is adequate to meet the demands of current and near-future building projects here.

“That said, I don’t think we can ever have enough or too many people in the pipeline,” said Len Toenjes, president of the Associated General Contractors of Missouri.

The nationwide 80 percent statistic hails from August 2019 findings of a National Worker Shortage Survey Analysis conducted by Autodesk and the AGC of America. Nearly 2,000 survey respondents included those representing union and open-shop companies ranging from $50 million and under to more than $500 million in annual revenues.

Labor shortages are prompting many firms to boost pay and compensation, according to the survey, with 29 percent reporting they’re using incentives and sign-on bonuses to attract craft workers. Also, 46 percent of respondents said their organizations have launched or enhanced in-house training programs. One-half of all those surveyed said they’ve become active in career-building programs.

On the regional level, organizations including the St. Louis – Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, the AGC of Missouri and the Mason Contractors Association of St. Louis are continually reaching out to articulate the message of what a career in the trades can mean to individuals and families.

“In the last three years, we’ve brought in more than 400 new members,” said John O’Mara, business manager and secretary-treasurer for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562. “There are certainly pockets of the country that are struggling, but here in St. Louis we’re not having problems (recruiting). Our active membership is in the 2,900 range. We’ve been intentional about it over the past several years. We went from a one-man recruiting team to a team of six that is constantly recruiting, with individuals applying online year-round.” Local 562’s recruitment strategy includes a VIP program that courts individuals retiring from military service, he said.

David Gillick, executive director of the Mason Contractors Association of St. Louis, agreed that St. Louis’ construction workforce scenario, from his vantage point, compares favorably to the national shortages because of a key ingredient: retention of existing members. The MCA of St. Louis’ membership includes Bricklayers Local 1 and Tilesetters Local 18.

“Our average age of (MCA of St. Louis) member is 44,” Gillick said, “which is relatively young. In the past, that age was more like 50. What makes our program a bit unique is that we have a high percentage of retainage…90 percent of those who start their careers with us remain with us. I think that’s because there’s a commitment in both directions (from the employer and from the worker).”

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