Workers needed for construction jobs while employment is high

Construction work continues on the American Woodmark headquarters building on Shady Elem Road in Frederick County.

WINCHESTER — Construction employment is up to pre-recession levels nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Local construction outfits say hiring is up from recent years and more people will be needed as more work comes in, but finding workers is not easy.

“There’s less and less people who want to get out and do the physical work,” said Marty Niessner, director of estimating and purchasing for OakCrest Builders in the city. “People don’t want to do this.”

In March of this year, the number of construction jobs added to the economy was higher than in any year since March 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., the first two months of 2017 saw the same number of jobs created as in the first nine months of 2016.

Locally the return of construction is visible, with a number of apartment and institutional buildings going up in the city and Frederick County.

Local construction employers have told The Star that hiring is up and business is looking good.

Howard Shockey & Sons Inc. was recently named among the nation’s largest general contractors in terms of revenue by the construction industry magazine Engineering News-Record.

Niessner said things started to noticeably turn around in 2015 and things have been gearing up since then.

“We’re still not where we were ... in terms of revenue,” he said. But, “We’re well on our way”; it looks like more work is coming and the lack of labor is a serious concern.

The National Association of Home Builders conducted a survey in June 2016 that showed builders experiencing either “some” or “serious” shortage in construction workers jumped from 21 percent in 2012 to 56 percent in 2016.

Niessner said it’s not the case that no one is coming forward for a job, but many of them don’t have the proper experience or training and don’t have the soft skills needed to hold a job, like showing up every day on time. He said companies are connecting with one another on the issue, asking each other if they know of good people who want jobs. “The ‘qualified’ is key.”

According to a 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Wage Survey, the average wage for a construction laborer in the area is $27,680, below the national average of $35,750. This is listed on the Frederick County economic development website yesfrederickva.com.

A recent report from the Associated General Contractors of America states that in May construction employment reached a new eight-year high by adding 11,000 jobs. Rather than leading to more hires, though, this has led to an increase in hours because new hires are hard to find.

There’s plenty of room in the construction industry for people who want to work hard and rise fast, Niessner said. Even if a person doesn’t have training or experience, they can get on as a laborer and work their way up.

“You can move up pretty quick.”

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at ocastiglia@winchesterstar.com

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