Nearly three-fourths of construction firms from around the nation report they are having trouble finding qualified craft workers to fill key spots and feel the problem is only going to worsen, according to a recent survey released by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Window companies wholeheartedly agree this continues to be a serious problem. But it’s not finding applicants that’s the problem.

“We still get many applications for factory work,” says Dave Ball, plant manager, Wallside Windows. “But we have not had a lot of success in keeping those people we hire. The biggest job we are having a hard time filling is installers. We are lucky to have a large amount of installers who have been with us for a long time but their helpers seem to come and go every day. They have all hired many people (when they can find them) only to start training them and that person quits.”

David Barnes, president of Viwinco, agrees. His company also gains many applicants through the door.

“We’re having no problems getting bodies through but depending on what we are looking for it becomes a challenge,” he says. “With production workers we get so many through the door but half of them don’t cut it or once we do the background check we can’t hire them.”

Barnes uses state agencies and vocational schools to seek labor, while Ball adds his company “uses word of mouth as much as anything.”

“If we have a good worker we are always asking if they have anyone that they may know who is looking for a job,” he says. “It works sometimes but not all. We have put out ads and we get applications for the factory but almost no interest in field installs.”

While he does not work with vocational schools he adds it may be something to consider.

“I think over the last few years so many people are losing their jobs and going back to school and younger people are being told to get a job you MUST go to college that it has created a shortage for your general labor type of people,” he says.

According to the AGC survey, 74 percent of the more than 700 companies responding to the survey reported difficulty filling onsite construction jobs such as carpenters, equipment operators and laborers, while 53 percent are having time filling skilled professional positions such as project supervisors, estimators and engineers.

“Many construction firms are already having a hard time finding qualified workers and expect construction labor shortages will only get worse,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, the AGC’s chief executive officer. “We need to take short- and long-term steps to make sure there are enough workers to meet future demand and avoid the costly construction delays that would come with labor shortages.”

Scott Knisely, the president of Bystronic Glass in Aurora, Colo., says the window and glass industries are enduring similar pains.

“Our business is a bit different in the fact that we are on a continuous look-out for skilled service field engineers that are capable of working with their hands and have a keen understanding of electronics,” he says. “In addition, travel demands on our guys are high. Given these requirements, we, too, have a hard time finding the right people with the right skills.”

Knisely attributes the shortage of qualified labor to the overall decline of manufacturing.

“The lack of exportation of manufactured goods drives a lot of this skill shortage,” he says, “as there are simply not the people going into this line of work anymore to service the type of automated machines these factories demand.”

Knisely says there is no choice other than developing talent internally to alleviate the problem, but that, too, comes with its own set of problems.

“We typically hire people out of school with a good theoretical basis and train them in-house,” he says. “This is not very efficient and carries costs that cannot be recovered easily.”

Forty-eight percent of the firms responding to the AGC survey say they have begun mentoring future craft workers, while 33 percent have begun establishing a presence at career fairs and 33 percent have begun supporting high school-level construction skills academies. Forty-seven percent of those who took part in the survey have begun offering internships for construction professionals.

“Kids these days in high school don’t want to sweat,” Werner says. “They want nice, air-conditioned jobs and you’re not going to find that in construction.”

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