Chairman's Message: Labor Shortage?

Words: Larry Vacala

To say that the construction industry is facing a labor shortage is an understatement. For years, contractors have struggled to complete projects on time and on budget while dealing with a declining and aging workforce.

According to a recent Association of General Contractors survey, workforce shortages were at the top of the list of concerns. The construction industry has a shortage of skilled workers, and it’s only going to get worse unless something changes.

Meanwhile, young people are uninterested in careers in construction. Technology can certainly help the construction industry increase productivity, but to meet the projected demand for construction, more young people need to enter the construction field.

Regardless of the reasons behind the lack of young people entering construction, the construction industry needs to do a better job of showing that construction careers can be gratifying and offer relevant skills for the future.   

It’s not just that companies are looking for new employees. Companies are losing employees to competitors and not able to find suitable replacements. In this environment, existing employees are getting raises and bonuses simply to stay at the job they’re already doing. Wages are increasing for skilled and unskilled workers.  Labor costs are a challenge that almost everyone is facing.

In Chicago, the Mason Contractors Association of Greater Chicago along with our Union partners, Administrative District Council 1 of Illinois of The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, developed a Novice Trainee Program. This program essentially permits Union contractors to hire young people to experience what it’s like to work in the Masonry Industry. Employment of each novice trainee is limited to a 400-hour probationary period, after which time, the Employer must decide whether the novice trainee will be retained as an apprentice through the District Council Training Center or be terminated. Novice trainee starting pay is 45% of journey worker’s scale. If Chicago mason contractors take advantage of this program, we should start to see an increase in young people entering our industry.  

The MCAA offers a special membership to students working towards a career in masonry. We understand the need to recruit talented, hardworking youth that will carry on the trade’s reputation for quality workmanship into the future. MCAA has launched multiple programs that address recruitment and promote apprenticeship. We are currently in the process of establishing a National Workforce Development Program as well as working with the Department of Labor on a National Youth Apprenticeship Program.

Members of MCAA, our legislative committee and Steve Borg, our lobbyist from the Vogel Group, have backed the immigration bill (The Dignity Act) which was introduced by Congresswoman Maria Salazar (R-FL).

The Dignity Act provides a reasonable, compassionate, and complete solution to America’s immigration crisis. It ends illegal immigration to the United States once and for all, reestablishes law and order, provides a practical solution for the undocumented, revitalizes the American workforce, fixes our legal immigration system, and restores America’s economy. 

We are excited about this bill and what it will do for the industry if it becomes law.  It has a pathway to working for people who are currently here awaiting their immigration case. 

That process would be a little involved, but not overwhelming and would assess fines over a period of years but would allow them to work in the US and get in line to become a citizen if they wish, or just retain their legal work status indefinitely.  It would also supply funding to secure the border.  Once in place it would also require all employers to use E-verify.

We all need to play a role in recruiting and marketing our trade. It's up to each of us in the industry to advance our message. College is not for everyone, and masonry can provide an extraordinary career without all the college debt. A career in masonry can provide a very comfortable life. 

Hope to see you in Hershey at our Midyear event.

Stay Safe and Stay Strong!
Larry Vacala

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