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Homebuilders concerned about lack of skilled labor

Forty percent of single-family homebuilders are planning on hiring or contracting skilled laborers during the next year, but 62% worry they won't be able to find them, said a study released Tuesday by the National Association of Home Builders.

John Courson, president and CEO of the Home Builders Institute, the training and education arm of the NAHB, said the housing bubble brought on the concern over lack of skilled labor.

"As we've gone through the last three or four years, the skilled labor has left the business because of the lack of jobs," he said. "Also pre-bubble, builders were more willing, able and inclined to bring in unskilled labor and do on-the-job training."

Courson said shortages of more than 20% were reported in skilled bricklayers and masons; painters; finished and rough carpenters; and framing crews, all of which are expected to be in high demand now that single-family homebuilders are poised to hire more workers.

But, according to Steve Martini, national apprenticeship and training director for the International Masonry Institute, the workers who left the market during the bubble won't be hard to find once builders finally start hiring.

"In the short term, I think as long as the market advertises itself in the right areas and talks to the right people they will get these people back right away," he said.

In the long term, Martini said his organization, which trains and certifies bricklayers will be able to quickly absorb the demand for training when new workers choose to enter the field.

"Our numbers of people to train are down because there just aren't jobs for them to go to," he said. "We can gear up very rapidly to get those people trained, either starting from scratch or by upgrading skills."

Both may soon be necessary, as the survey indicates that 46% of builders in the Midwest and West are expecting to hire, along with 39% in the South and 29% in the Northeast.

In a statement released along with the survey, Courson said it was critical that workers are job-ready, as those that are planning on hiring are now using certification and skilled trades as a deciding factor.

"Workers would be wise to be up-to-date on the latest building skills requirements by connecting with trainings and certification opportunities in their area," he said.

Courson said he believes the biggest demand for new training will come in the form of green building.

"As this bubble comes down we've found more demand for green building," he said. "I think a lot of the laborers that were out there in the past didn't really have the training in green construction."

Courson said HBI, the NAHB's nonprofit that gives training to those in the residential building industry, has already conformed its training to fit the green movement.

"It used to be that none of our textbooks had green building in them," he said. "Now all of them do."

Regardless of the training necessary to get people back into the work force, Martini said he is confident masons and bricklayers forced to find work elsewhere will do what is needed to return to the industry.

"We have an awful lot of people that would love to get these jobs," he said. "If these homebuilders ever start hiring, they'll get a lot of very skilled people knocking on their doors."

jhuseman@housingwire.com
@JessicaHuseman

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