Is there a shortage of craft labor in construction or not? The Association of Union Constructors (TUAC) recently commissioned the Construction Labor Research Council (CLRC) to try and answer the question.
Nearly 800 contractors, labor representatives, owner-clients, and construction association representatives answered the CLRC’s survey.
Management (association representatives, construction managers, contractors/subcontractors, owner/clients) were much less positive or optimistic than union/labor representatives about the prospects for construction growth, the adequacy of the union craft labor supply, and the amount of time it takes to fill union craft jobs.
To put it another way, the union/labor contingent was the most positive about growth prospects, the least concerned about union craft labor shortages, and rated the time lapse in filling union craft jobs the shortest.
Management is less optimistic about growth in construction and maintenance work than in 2015. A plurality of management respondents still thought there would be very strong growth in 2016, but there was greater diversity in opinions about growth in work opportunities this year than last year.
There was almost an even split between those who thought there was a shortage of union craft labor (52%) and those who thought there was not. About a fourth (23 percent) of the respondents reported a shortage of at least four percent in their organization. Carpenters, plumbers/pipefitters/steamfitters and electricians exhibited the most pervasive shortage. Teamsters had the smallest percent of respondents reporting a shortage in their organization. Only three crafts—boilermakers, carpenters and iron workers—had a smaller reported shortage in 2016 than in 2015.
If one considers that a labor surplus also is a problem, then some sort of union craft labor supply issue or “problem” exists for well over half of the sample, whether it be a large or small shortage, or a surplus. Only 32 percent of respondents said their union craft labor staffing level was the right size.
The largest industry represented in the survey, commercial/institutional construction and maintenance, had the second highest growth projections and the lowest worker shortage ratings, which suggests “better” health for this industry, relatively speaking, compared to the other industries.
Results for the second largest industry in the sample, utility construction, were somewhat counterintuitive in that respondents projected low growth, but also reported the largest worker shortages.
The greatest growth was projected for three of the four corners of the United States: New England, the Southeast and the Northwest. New England and the Southeast had elevated concerns regarding staffing levels compared to other regions; thus, combined with their stronger growth expectations, those regions may be expected to have some of the strongest challenges meeting union labor craft supply needs. The Northwest region had the fewest concerns (compared to the other regions) regarding adequate staffing, so that provides some labor supply relief since good growth was also projected there. The low growth prospects for the largest region, the East North Central region, were met with lower shortage ratings as well, so labor supplies may be less stressed there than other regions.
The full report is available at TAUC_LABOR_SUPPLY_SURVEY_REPORT