A New Blueprint for America’s Construction Trades

By on October 6, 2017

From CBS News:  It’s been a month since Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston and Southeast Texas. Damage estimates go up to $190 billion. The cleanup has begun, but a major shortage is looming for the rebuilding effort. It’s not a lack of will, or money; it’s a lack of skilled labor … a national shortage that’s reaching a crisis stage.

Nearly 40 years ago, America’s “do-it-yourself” work ethic became the stuff of primetime television, when “This Old House” took to the airways on PBS. Since 1979, master carpenter Norm Abram, the show’s unlikely star, has taught two generations of viewers how to build things.

“I didn’t have the best clothes; my backpocket had holes in it, I had a crazy-looking cap,” he said of an early project where he used “scaffolding that would never pass OSHA controls today!”

One Christmas, when Abram was a kid, his father gave him a Handy Andy toolbox. It opened his eyes to the joys of working with his hands.

“A truck pulls in, dumps a big load of lumber there, and all of a sudden the carpenters come out and take saws and hammers and start cutting material. And a house just comes to life,” Abram said. “And it’s not as easy as it looks, but it’s very rewarding.”

It’s a reward Abram worries fewer and fewer Americans are experiencing.

“It’s the biggest thing I hear from contractors,” he said. “‘What’s your biggest problem?’ ‘I can’t find good help.'”

America’s economy has a growing labor crisis — a shortage of skilled construction workers. These men and women — carpenters, plumbers, electricians and masons — put a roof over your head. They’re getting harder and harder to find, at a time when — with two devastating mainland storms in the past month — they’ve never been more needed.

“Over the last four years, we’ve seen rising rates of open jobs,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders. “In other words, there’s a help wanted sign put out by the builder or the remodeler, and they simply can’t fill it.”

We talked to Dietz about these “Made in America” jobs, a traditional front door to the American dream.

“Over the decades as we’ve gone through different rounds of infrastructure development, building the nation’s suburbs, the highways and the rest, those construction jobs have been a critical part of building a middle class,” he said. “The challenge right now is that we simply do not have enough people who are ready and willing and able to join the construction industry.”

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About Dede Hance