The shortage of skilled construction workers is slowing down construction projects up and down the west coast.
In its 2018 provincial budget, British Columbia set a target of 144,000 new affordable homes to be constructed over ten years. “114,000 homes would require doubling the output of the current infrastructure in the building industry,” admitted Concert Properties CEO and panel moderator Brian McCauley during the Vancouver Real Estate Forum in April. “We just don’t have the capacity to build housing as fast as we need to.”
The California Housing Deficit
The State of California’s housing department estimates 180,000 new housing units are needed every year to keep housing prices stable. Over the past 10 years, they’ve averaged less than half of that.
“California hasn’t built enough housing to keep up with the number of people who live here,” writes housing analyst Matt Levin. “Land, labor and raw material costs are higher in California, and those costs are rising.”
“Construction labor is about 20 percent more expensive in major California cities than the rest of America. The shortage of skilled construction workers bears much of the blame. When the housing market crashed in the late 2000s, construction workers left the industry in droves. And those same workers haven’t come back.”
Difficult to Recruit Skilled Workers to Meet Demand
Finding and retaining new skilled workers has become an ever-increasing challenge. More people entering the workforce prefer a career with few physical and environmental challenges. Construction isn’t at the top of their list.
“Construction today just doesn’t seem to have the same appeal to younger workers. Firms are struggling to recruit younger workers to supplement and eventually replace a graying workforce,” confirms Levin.
“People who would have gone into construction years ago are now going into computers or the IT field,” says Corey Dean, general manager of Bel Arbor Builders in Richmond, VA. “Those jobs offer good pay and comfortable offices. [They’re] not outside sweating or freezing.”
“Labor capacity is not going to get better… ever.”
“Labor capacity is not going to get better … ever,” notes John McManus, Vice President and Editorial Director of Builder Magazine. “For every young individual who enters the construction labor workforce, five are aging out of the field. Conservatively, it would take 15 to 20 years – a generation – to replenish and retrain the skilled associates necessary to bring housing activity back up to historical levels. No one expects that to happen.”
Mitigating Labor Pressures
“Building product manufacturers are trying to counteract the diminished labor force. Many have designed new products that require fewer workers and less time to install,” writes Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder Magazine.
“Products developed to streamline the building process, slash field installation time, and improve productivity go a long way toward helping alleviate the industry’s labor problems. But not all the way,” Dersin concludes.
To lessen the impact of skilled labor issues, builders have started using updated software and building materials. Popular items include improved programs that produce designs which avoid corrective rework and lighter-weight building materials with synthetic components that are easier to work with and faster to install. Regardless, it’s going to be a change to methodology that will yield the greatest and long-term outcomes.
Reducing Installation Time Is the Key
Electrical controls manufacturer Levven Electronics is finding new ways to reduce the time it takes to install residential and commercial electrical systems. Their wire-free control products allow electrician to rough-in a house without running any wire to the switch locations. By eliminating the switch rough-in work, builders using this technology are saving 1-2 days of construction time.
“We have reliable wireless technology now. There’s no reason to put wire and boxes inside the wall for switches,” says Marv Verlage, vice president of Levven Electronics. “Now, electrical trades simply connect a wireless receiver to the physical wire contacts in the electrical box; a junction box above a light fixture. The wireless switch component can mount on any surface after the walls are painted wire-free, without wire in the wall.”
“Why deploy skilled labor to drill holes in studs and pull wire for switches when that crew could finish a day early and move on to the next house?” he asks. “Wire-free switching is low-hanging fruit for builders who want to faster build times.”
Complete More Homes With Existing Skilled Labor
“Reducing the number of days it takes to build a house lowers costs and increases the builder’s profit,” states Verlage. “Imagine it’s costing $1,000 a day to carry your operations. If you build 100 homes a year and you save one day per home – that adds $100,000 directly on your bottom line.”
“A large production builder like Taylor Morrison, constructing 8,000 homes per year? One day per home translates into 8,000 additional days of skilled labor that can be applied to building and delivering more homes. The outcome is better for all stakeholders; the builder, the trade, and the home buyer.”
Levven Electronics is the designer and manufacturer of Levven Controls wire-free switches. Learn how builders benefit with wire-free switching here.