Although construction firms are boosting pay and benefits, adding new training programs and adopting new technology, labor shortages continue to persist in the industry, according to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America.

The association, which surveyed 2,000 construction firms nationwide, found 80% of contractors in the country and in Washington reported difficulty in finding qualified employees for hourly positions. The shortage also is playing out in the Inland Northwest.

Roofers, electricians, millwrights, ironworkers and drywall installers were among the most in-demand hourly craft positions for Washington firms, according to the report.

More than 35% of contractors in the state expect worker shortages to persist into next year, stating they are skeptical about the pipeline for recruiting and training workers.

"Very few contractors can find the right people, or enough of them," said Cheryl Stewart, executive director for the Inland Northwest AGC. "Across the board, I don't know of any trade that's having an easy time."

Local contractors are increasing pay, incentives and health benefits to attract more workers and close to half surveyed in the state are launching or expanding their own in-house training programs and getting involved with career building programs.

"We're trying to get that message out with the local schools that construction is a great career," John Madden, general manager of Inland Asphalt Co., said during a Tuesday conference call announcing the survey results. "But, just like these surveys show, we expect to have a difficult time hiring people for the foreseeable future, so we are trying to up our game on making it a great place to work, paying a competitive wage and making it a safe place to work."

The Inland Northwest AGC's work-based Lemon Head program, the Head Start to the Construction Trades and NEWTECH Skill Center give contractors the ability to hire youths to work on construction sites, providing them with job skills and experience.

Spokane Valley-based Wagstaff, a manufacturer that builds custom industrial equipment for aluminum producers, launched a production and manufacturing academy for high school students to explore potential careers in skilled trades.

The AGC crafted a national workforce development plan in 2013 that calls for doubling federal funding for career and technical education programs over the next five years and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform to allow skilled workers to legally enter the country.

The organization stated if construction labor shortages persist, it could stall infrastructure projects as well as new housing and commercial development.

Amid the nationwide construction labor shortage, the Spokane region added 3,500 jobs from July 2018 to July 2019 — a 23% increase — marking the largest percentage gain in construction jobs among the nation's metro areas, according to a separate report released Wednesday by the AGC.

The association claims year-over-year construction employment gains nationwide likely would be more widespread if companies were able to hire more qualified workers.

The sharp increase in Spokane-area construction employment could be compensating for lower-than-usual job numbers in 2018 anda greater number of development projects occurring in the area in the past year, Stewart said.

"We are adding a lot of people. We have a lot of big projects going on here and some of it is seasonal," she said.

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