Among the many COVID-19 casualties was apprenticeship program participation. For years, the leading challenge facing contractors has been a lack of a suitably skilled workforce. Survey data indicate that for a brief period during the worst of the public health crisis, demand for services emerged as the most pressing issue. But the economy’s generally rapid recovery and the attendant rise of backlog has once again created challenges finding enough skilled craftspeople.
If one considers only headline statistics, the labor market conditions facing contractors do not appear so dire. While the nation’s overall rate of unemployment stood at 5.4 percent in July, construction’s analogous rate was 6.1 percent. On the last day of June, there were only 0.9 unemployed people per available job opening economy-wide, but in construction there were 2.2 jobseekers per available job.
But these headline numbers fail to capture a considerable level of nuance. First, some regions are hotter than others (e.g., Boise, Austin, Nashville), and in these regions there are relatively more job openings to be filled. Second, what appears to face contractors is not so much a worker shortage in much of the nation, but a skills shortage. Job sites are typically associated with heavy equipment. There are OSHA safety regulations. Accordingly, simply pulling an untrained person onto a jobsite is fraught with hazard.