Shortage of skilled workers hammers local construction industry

PHOTO: Installation of hardwood floors, Photo Date: May 18, 2008. (Cropped Photo: Scott Lewis / CC BY 2.0)

There's a shortage of construction workers in Austin, and it could be impacting how much families pay for houses and home improvement projects. Some industry leaders say the problem is getting worse, and CodeNEXT could factor in.

Casandra Enderle recently made some renovations to her home in East Austin. She added an exercise room above her garage, a pantry, some stairs, and a laundry room.

While Enderle and her husband say they are very happy with the services and final product, the project took about a year to get started.

"All the new house construction has slowed down the ability to put on new additions. The builders are very busy with the bigger projects," Enderle says.

"Getting a house built in four to five months is challenging in this market," says Home Builders Association of Great Austin CEO Emily Blair.

Blair says the issue isn't a new one and has been going on since the housing downturn.

"This goes back years and years, to when people left the construction industry, when the gas industry was a better place to be a skilled laborer in, and then they didn't necessarily come back, or they aged out of the industry or are at a retirement age," says Blair.

The lack of workers impacts costs for buyers, which hinges in part on labor expenses.

"We've seen those costs going up because of this. It's kind of a function of supply and demand, and there's just not enough people," Blair says.

If one contractor doesn't have the workforce it takes to do their part, an entire project can suffer.

"When they have a build schedule that one task depends on the next, one change at one part of the process has sort of a domino effect," said Blair.

With the city's newly unveiled CodeNEXT development plan, the industry will likely need more skilled workers. The plan would cut some red tape when it comes to permitting, but also calls for more residential development.

"Talking about labor shortages, it could be a concern potentially," said Blair, "But we need to be able to meet their needs, and produce the amount of housing that the market demands."

The HBA of Greater Austin has been working with city leaders on making CodeNEXT work well with the current building climate and address workforce concerns.

Blair says the worker shortage is likely to get worse, since the average age for contractors is 55 to 60-years old.

"So we're looking at this becoming a growing problem over the next five to ten years," said Blair.

Legislation in years past has helped put education programs in place for skilled workers. The HBA is also working with higher education institutions to make sure students know about the opportunities that are available.

"So they can advise their students, maybe in the counselor's office, and say, 'Hey, have you thought about this?'" says Blair.

The HBA also has a job bank on their website.