QUESTION: One of the biggest causes of unease among contractors today is the industry’s persistent labor shortage. Do you see any signs that the shortage is starting to abate?
Anna Stern, vice president of Tri-North Builders: “While the availability of labor certainly ebbs and flows, I have not seen evidence that the labor shortage issue is or will be abating anytime soon. In fact, it appears to be worsening in some areas. I have, however, seen positive signs. I know the carpenters have made a concerted effort to increase their membership and have seen positive results. While I haven’t spoken with other trades at length, I would assume they have also been working to increase their membership. The problem is that training those folks takes time, so we’ll start to really see the effects of current efforts in a few years, not in the immediate future.”
Ben Noffke, vice president of Noffke Roofing, Mequon: “We don’t need a $15 minimum wage across industries — this is nearly the minimum wage for new, inexperienced construction workers nowadays. What we need is more people willing to work — and this means cutting benefits for those who choose to not work. I think the labor shortages we are experiencing now are still in the early stages of what we will see in the upcoming years.”
Jim Hoffman, president of Hoffman Construction, Black River Falls: “No – employers who will be successful in the future will figure out how to recruit, train and retain workers. What has worked in the past will not in the future. We need to become good at communicating what it is like to be in the trades. We need to get into the high schools and tech schools with as much contact as possible: high school career days, advising in tech schools, internships, job shadowing, partnering with labor.
I’d love to start a charter school for high school juniors and seniors concentrating on the trades: CDL training, welding, operating equipment, plans and specifications. Combine this with internships and tech school training and that is a path toward success.”
Ken Kraemer, executive director of Building Advantage: “I am looking at the current workforce needs as a great opportunity to promote careers in the union construction industry. I have regular conversations with developers who are confident that we can man their jobs, and our apprenticeship growth is evidence of that. With significant economic development, we will always need to focus on workforce development, and the members of Building Advantage have always made that a priority.”
David Turiciano, construction collections attorney and litigator at Turiciano Law: No. High schools and colleges continue to peddle the notion that worthless and expensive degrees are a prerequisite to success. We must counsel young people to prepare for a career in the trades. We have enough communication and business administration grads.”
Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council: The skilled workers labor shortage is something we are addressing sooner than later. It is real and will be here soon. That’s why the need is so great to train the next generation of skilled workers today so they are ready to fill the needs of our industry tomorrow.”
Robert Dennik, vice president of VJS Construction Service, Pewaukee: There seems to be no sign that the labor shortage in the trades is letting up anytime soon. The unions have been actively recruiting talent to enter the trades but it is a tall task to manage. One of the issues is the present workforce isn’t getting any younger. In the southeast Wisconsin region the Association of General Contractors is working with Wisconsin Regional Training Partners/Big Step in order to help train the future workforce of the trades.
John Schulze, director of government and legal affairs at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin: No, but Associated Builders and Contractors are doing what we can to get more skilled people into good-paying construction careers. Currently, our members have 1,000 apprentices across a dozen construction trades. I also want to thank state Senator Roger Roth and Assembly Labor Committee Chair Andre Jacque for championing legislation to help bridge the skills gap.