Local companies say construction workers are hard to find. They are hoping a jobs fair on Tuesday will help fill open positions. CHRIS STEWART/STAFF

Construction hiring event: ‘We’re dying for workers’

Construction workers used to worry about being laid off this time of the year. Now it’s the employers suffering.

“It’s February and we’re dying for workers,” Eric Doench, a senior project manager at Shook Construction, said.

The Great Recession hollowed out the ranks of construction workers and the widespread elimination of high school vocational programs cut off a pipeline of talent now needed to repair the region’s infrastructure and construct its future.

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With the economy humming again, the lack of workers means good-paying construction jobs are available right now, said Doench.

Shook Construction will be one of about 60 employers looking for workers Tuesday at Montgomery County’s 2018 Construction Career Fair at the Dayton Convention Center.

“We’re short on all the trades: carpenters, electricians, iron workers — we need them all,” he said.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the Great Recession forced about 1.5 million payroll construction jobs out of existence. But as the economy rebounded, finding workers has gotten tougher a NAHB study shows. Just 13 percent of builders rated finding workers a concern in 2011, but six years later, more than 80 percent of said the availability of labor was a problem.

“It’s across commercial and residential construction entirely,” said Kathleen Unger, Home Builders Association of Dayton executive director. “We’re facing shortages in every facet of our industry, from masons to HVAC technicians to carpentry workers. We desperately need people who are willing to work and learn and move up through the trade.”

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The goal of the event is to connect those seeking employment – some who may have been displaced from other careers – with good-paying, living wage jobs, said Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman.

“They all have open positions and several will hire on the spot if a person is someone they need,” she said.

A recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Sage Construction and Real Estate shows 60 percent of firms have increased base pay, up from 52 percent last year. Thirty-six percent have provided incentives and/or bonuses to cope with workforce shortages.

Doench said Shook will be looking for candidates from carpenters to electricians to iron workers to job foremen and site superintendents. Depending on the job, he said within a week perhaps some of those interviewed will be earning their first paychecks making $25, $35 or even $45 an hour.

“Wages are definitely not going down,” he said.

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This will be the fifth year for the construction career fair. During 2014 when unemployment was higher, about 400 people attended. As the economy gained steam, the number dropped to about half that last year, according to the county.

While Unger said the region’s opioid crisis is one factor in why there are fewer construction workers, a far greater reason is that fewer young people are learning about the trades in school.

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“A lot of high schools in the past 15-20 years started moving away from having their own vo-tech programs,” she said.

The average age of construction workers in Ohio during 2015 matched the national average of 41, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“With those programs falling by the wayside, the most obvious replenishment of workers who are retiring aren’t coming up,” Unger said. “If we don’t give them a full idea of what opportunities exist, how would they even know to go into a trades’ program?”

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