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Booming construction industry facing worker shortage

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SALT LAKE CITY — The construction industry is on the rebound in Utah and across the country, but contractors are having a hard time finding qualified workers for the good-paying jobs.

The worker-shortage issue was a big topic at the Associated General Contractors of Utah annual convention Friday in Salt Lake City. More than 2,000 people were in town representing all areas of the construction industry.

“Almost every meeting there is conversation about what are we going to do for the future workforce and how do we address it,” said Rich Thorn, president and CEO of Associated General Contractors of Utah.

Utah's construction industry is growing rapidly again, with many major projects visible. It's a big change from a few years ago when the economy tanked. Construction projects stalled and workers had to find new careers.

“They left the construction industry. They had to put food on the table, so they went and found other jobs,” said Jeff Clyde, president of W.W. Clyde and Co. “They're not returning back to the construction industry."

Another problem is the aging workforce. Clyde said he thought the average workforce age in the construction industry across the country is about 46 or 47. Construction workers are starting to retire in big numbers, and there aren't enough young people entering the field to replace them. Clyde said his company will face that problem soon.

“In the next five years, I have at least 10 middle manager-type positions that are going to retire, and in order to replace those I have to have people coming up from the bottom end in order to do that," Clyde said.

They left the construction industry. They had to put food on the table, so they went and found other jobs. They're not returning back to the construction industry.

–Jeff Clyde, president of W.W. Clyde and Co.

So how can he get qualified workers in the future? Industry experts go into the schools and heavily promote the construction industry to students and plant the career seeds early. Carpenters, heavy equipment operators, brick masons, woodworkers, those jobs will be available in the years ahead. And qualified people will be needed to do them.

“Because if they're not there, there's no one to swing a hammer, no one to pull the lever on the dump truck, there's nobody to rake the concrete, and guess what, when that happens, things don't get built,” Thorn said.

Thorn said it’s estimated that by the year 2020, nearly 2 million construction positions will be available and potentially unfilled across the country.

While the jobs can be tough and challenging, Clyde said the industry has lots to offer.

“It's very satisfying,” he said. “When you go out and look at a project and you take that pride in building that project and say, 'Look how we changed the face of the horizon for our state and the country.' … It's great to take that pride and say, 'Look what we built.”

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc


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