Midwest suffers from construction worker shortage

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COLUMBIA - The entire country is facing a construction worker shortage, and the Midwest is hit particularly hard, according to data released by the Associated General Contractors of America earlier this week. 

A survey found that 85% of construction firms in the Midwest are having difficulty filling hourly craft jobs. Craft jobs include carpenters, equipment operators and laborers, among others. 

Missouri is experiencing the effect of this shortage, according to Chip Jones, the Department of Transportation branch manager for Emery Sapp & Sons in Columbia. 

"About eight years ago we saw a recession, there was a lack of work, a lot of them left and now that there's more work, there's not people coming back to the construction industry so there's a shortage," Jones said. 

According to Jones, while his company and other construction firms are currently able to keep up with the work demand, they will not be able to keep that up if the shortage continues.

"We've gotten by for now," Jones said. "But as our average employee gets older and older and there's not enough new guys entering the industry, we're going to see a problem."

Len Toenjes, president of Associated General Contractors of America, said a contributing factor to the shortage is the lack of construction education available to young people entering the work force. 

"A lot of the community colleges and trade schools have dropped their construction programs, and more kids are going into other fields like IT instead of construction," Toenjes said. 

Jones said he understands why young adults are not as willing to work in the construction industry. 

"It's not always a glamorous job," Jones said. "You're in the elements, it's hot in the summer and cold in the winter."

However, James Grob, a field supervisor, with Kaiser Electric, said that he thinks the construction industry is more interesting than ever. 

"We've got computers and iPads we put everything on," Grob said. "All our blueprints and that stuff. And it's an industry where you're doing something different every day. You're not just sitting in an office."

According to Toenjes, the average construction worker is in his late 40s to early 50s. 

"In 8 or 10 years all these guys are going to be retiring," Toenjes said. "We need to start reaching out to the youth and convince them to get into the field." 

Toenjes and other members of Associated General Contractors of Missouri are reaching out to community colleges in an effort to open up more construction technology programs in the state. 

Jones said he doesn't think enough young people realize how rewarding a job construction can be. 

"You get to see what you built at the end of the day," Jones said. 

Grob echoed that sentiment. 

"Every time I drive by the Mizzou Arena, I think about how I had a part of it," Grob said.