Construction worker shortage poses problems for future projects

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JEFFERSON CITY - A two-year construction project to improve the Lafayette Street Interchange in the state capital will be completed next month. More projects like it, though, could be in danger unless more young people start entering the construction workforce. 

At an event showing off the nearly-complete interchange, the president of Associated General Contractors of Missouri, Len Toenjes, had a clear message. 

"We need workers," Toenjes said. 

He repeated the message and emphasized how important it is that Missouri increase its construction workforce. 

"We need engineers, we need carpenters, we need craft workers. We need young people to really consider a career in construction in the future," Toenjes said. 

According to the Construction Labor Market Analyzer, the demand for laborers will reach nearly 18,000 in Missouri by August 2019. Those numbers won't be reached unless more people start entering the workforce. That could mean more vital construction projects going unfinished. 

Daniel Byrd, an operator with Jefferson Asphalt, said he believes the workforce shortage comes down to how the current generation is being raised.

"The generation coming up nowadays wasn't raised the way I was. The kids have it easier, I would say. Parents aren't pushing them to work. They're pushing them more toward education and not pushing them to bust their back like I was," Byrd said. 

Toenjes said the need isn't limited to union workers.

"We're talking about union, we're talking about open shop, we're talking about people of every stripe. There are jobs all over the place whether it's union or open shop," Toenjes said. 

AGCMO officials said the country's emphasis on a four-year degree is a big reason why fewer young people are considering a career in construction. Hal Brenton, project superintendent of Emery Sapp & Sons, said longevity is what should draw people to the field. 

"I've been doing this almost 40 years and construction has been very good to me. It's very enjoyable to do projects and then go back and see what you've been a part of," Brenton said. 

In an effort to draw more young people to the workforce, AGCMO has set up an online portal where prospective employees can look for job postings and post their resumes.

"Contractors can post a job if they have a job opening. Our young people can go on there and find jobs. We've created this portal to help bridge that connection," Toenjes said. 

That portal can be found here and you must be a member of AGCMO in order to access it.