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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

As housing recovers, a shortage of skilled workers

Shannon Mullen Aug 1, 2014
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The housing crash sent many construction workers fleeing to other industries. Now that housing is recovering, builders are struggling with a shortage of skilled workers. That’s delaying housing starts and driving up home prices.

The housing market continues to recover along with the overall economy, but the construction workers who left the industry in droves during the recession aren’t exactly flocking back. Meanwhile, a shortage of skilled workers is getting worse. But can you blame them for leaving in the first place?  

The National Association of Home Builders reports that unemployment among construction workers peaked at 22 percent during the recession.  

No wonder so many found jobs in other industries, says the group’s chief economist, David Crowe, adding that housing still seems too unstable for them to come back.

“More than half of builders are now telling us that they’re having trouble finding construction workers – carpenters, brick masons, painters and so forth,” Crowe explains.  

60 percent of builders the group surveyed say the shortage forced them to delay projects in the last six months, or raise home prices.

That’s not putting much of a drag on the housing market yet, says Kermit Baker, with Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies: “But with growth coming down the road in all likelihood, certainly we’re going to have serious problems in the future if we don’t train and attract more workers in the construction industry.”

Baker adds that builders need to revive some of the training programs they scrapped during the long downturn, and get their “muscle memory” back for growing their workforce.  

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