Panelists at the SMPS Atlanta April Luncheon (“The Boom is Back: Is it Built to Last?”) agreed – the “boom” may not yet be in full-swing, but, it’s on its way. Several large-scale projects including: the Braves & Falcons stadiums, State Farm’s two-million square foot campus and Baxter’s manufacturing plant in Covington pose a mixed blessing for our metro markets as the labor pool struggles to keep up with demand.
In total, GA is slated for $19 billion in construction projects over the next two years – literally double what it was the past four years combined, and the state reported 8,500 new laborers in 2013 (the second-highest in the nation). So, what’s the issue?
Baby boomers currently make up 49% of the construction industry. Universities are reporting the lowest number of construction-related majors in history. Some colleges have even gone so far as to remove their B.A. program in Construction Management, due to lack of enrollment. The recession forced otherwise qualified craftsmen into new careers or retirement – and most are hesitant to return, despite the growth.
Just 12-18 months ago, project managers were overwhelmed by floods of proposals. Now, they are scraping the barrel for subcontractors who have enough skilled laborers to handle even moderate-sized projects. Some contractors are forced to bid only on jobs that have a specific timeframe, as their teams are so thinly-stretched, they cannot guarantee they’ll be able to deliver on an “on-call” basis.
As the pool of qualified job seekers dwindles, “rate of pay” is becoming a discerning feature amongst competing companies.
Small firms with modest budgets are projected to suffer the greatest impact as project managers now average between $48,000-$55,000 their first year out of college. And, those offering licensed professional services are struggling to acquire tradesmen with proper certification or experience. Even when professional certification isn’t required, basic labor is becoming equally as difficult to find. With the governmental lock-down of undocumented workers and only a 50% graduation rate in metro high schools, even the entry-level pool is drying up.
So, now what?
While there is no definitive answer, the general consensus appears to be education and training. Firms will benefit from beefing up their existing (or, non-existent) training programs – especially within the technical industries. And beyond that, the industry as a whole would do well to shift its focus to the next generation. Organizations like the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (www.CEFGA.org) are already ahead of the game in their mission to “partner with construction companies, trade associations, the Technical College System of Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Education to support training programs and encourage students to pursue careers in construction.”
The pride and value of American craftsmanship may be lost on the upcoming millennial generation unless industry leaders can regenerate interest in the specialized trades that once helped build our nation.
Experts conclude: Atlanta is poised for a very strong recovery. But, the success of this “boom” relies on the strength of its craftsmanship.