Worker Shortage ‘An Epidemic’ for Vermont Trades

help wantedKyle Santor knows first-hand what the labor shortage means to the home building industry: Less work to do, and fewer homes built.

Santor, vice president of sales for Floor Coverings International in Williston, Vt., said he lost out on as much as three million dollars’ worth of business in 2017, simply because he didn’t have enough labor to do the job.

“It’s not just in flooring. It’s plumbing, construction, everybody in Vermont is just starving for labor. It’s not there,” said Santor, a member of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont.

“The unemployment rate is 2.9% right now, but it goes a bit deeper than that. I have 35 years in the construction business, and it’s no longer just a problem – it’s become an epidemic. We can’t get kids interested in the trades,” he said.

It’s a situation that disappoints many in the industry: High school kids are being lured into the tech sector or, sadly, convinced that attending college is the only possible ticket to success, even if they have to take on mountains of debt to graduate.

“The state Department of Labor had a job fair. I stopped in and said to myself, ‘Hey, this is great,’ but the people [the state recruited] were all from the high-tech industry, or representing federal jobs like the TSA. There is such a disconnect – the state is sending kids into different markets when we are losing businesses at home just because we don’t have the candidates,” he said.

“We need to tell these kids that they can make really good money and not go into debt,” Santor said. “I am not a politician – but does Congress really know what’s happening out there? This is a serious issue, and very critical for our country. Without the home builders, without the trades, business wouldn’t be done. Without homes, you won’t have an office to sit in because you won’t have a home to sleep in. We are the backbone of America.”

At an HBA meeting in early February, Santor spoke to NAHB CEO Jerry Howard and asked him to encourage his HBA staff to put the NAHB Skilled Workforce Development Resources to work in his market. He learned about successful workforce development programs launched by other HBAs including Colorado Springs and Iowa City. This week, Santor was planning to meet with HBA staff and other members on a plan to revitalize the education committee.

He also learned about Bringing Housing Home, NAHB’s every-other-year initiative in which members across the Federation bring housing-related issues to their federal legislators.

“We want to make America great again, I am all for that, but let’s find the people to work – I would love Congress to hear that message,” he said. “I’m not sitting back anymore. It’s critical. We are on life support now.”

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  1. Worker shortage is a big problem in a lot of states, I remember Fortune did a big piece on it late in 2017. How can we as an industry reach out to younger people and encourage them to work in the industry as skilled labor? It’s often not comfortable or glamorous except to the ultra-small percentile. What are the stats on people moving into the industry vs. leaving?

    • NAHB Now says:

      Thanks for your comments. Our HBAs around the country are working on this issue right now, starting NAHB Student Chapters, offering job shadow programs and more. But we don’t know what the statistics are on people moving in versus people moving out of the industry — just total employment figures.

  2. The major concern for college education today is that the institutions do not have performance guarantees and transfer the cost and risk of not graduating to their students and society at large. Since the federal government owns almost all student loans, they own payment risk. On the borrower side, if the students do not graduate, most are saddled with student loan debt which is almost impossible to discharge while they have little to no additional employment prospects from the experience.

    Trade professions seem like a lower risk alternative, especially for those students that feel pressured to attend college or are still figuring out what they want to do. One can always shoot for college later if they find trades are not for them. After all, the national graduation rate for college in six years is less than 60%, meaning more than 40% will not graduate! Moreover, there is a correlation between selectivity of schools and the graduation rate so for some schools it can be as high as 75%+ that do not graduate within 6 years.. Source: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=40

  3. Tina Thomsen-Park says:

    Part of the problem is the lack of “work ethic” for the millennials (studies show that they “don’t want to work hard”, and sadly that’s what construction is – hard work – Where kids used to get summer jobs picking berries or mowing lawns, the regulations won’t let them do that any more. They spend way too much time in front of a screen and not learning how to make their way in the world. I don’t see it getting any better…….

  4. KRS says:

    We speak to the HS trade schools every year. Kids that are not going to college and looking for work. We will train them from the beginning so they do not have to have any experience. The biggest issue is driver licenses.

  5. Kay Lanahan says:

    No one is speaking to the immigration issue, I am a concrete contractor and trying to find skilled concrete workers outside of the Hispanic immigrants is almost impossible. This is very hard work and takes a skill that is learned best on the job. The pay scale for us is good and we typically promote from inside. These workers need to have a path to work legally, they need to be able to get driver’s licenses and in Virginia it is not a seasonal job so they must be able to stay year round.

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