A recently released survey by the Associated General Contractors of America revealed that nearly 80 percent of construction businesses are having a hard time finding qualified skilled labor. Beginning first in small isolated pockets when home construction bottomed out in 2011, the labor shortage is now in full bloom, with repercussions being felt throughout the nation.

The reality is that while the building industry has experienced steady and positive growth in recent months, this growth could be even faster if there were enough qualified candidates to fill open positions. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Business, an economist for NAHB is quoted as saying, “We could be growing faster if the labor shortage issue wasn’t present.”

Did All the Skilled Labor Just Disappear?

On the surface, the numbers indicate that there should be plenty of workers looking for jobs. From 2006 through 2011, the construction industry lost 2.3 million jobs. Additionally, there are about 1 million fewer residential-construction jobs to be had today than there were prior to 2006. When looking at the numbers in a bubble, a person could conclude that there should be an excess of workers to fill the openings, right?

The problem is that if there is an excess of skilled laborers, contractors are having a hard time finding them.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) there are currently 143,000 vacant construction positions nationwide. In fact, a recent survey by the NAHB revealed that 69 percent of its members were experiencing delays in completing projects on time due to a shortage of qualified workers, while other jobs were lost altogether.

The problem is that when the recession hit, many skilled workers who were unable to find jobs dropped out of the industry, and have never returned. Compounding this problem, a whole generation of younger workers are no longer even considering construction as a viable career option.  Many high schools have phased out shop classes, and parents increasingly have steered graduates to four-year colleges and white-collar careers. Now, as older workers are retiring, there simply isn’t anyone ready to take their spots.

What’s next?

Good or bad, we have likely only seen the beginning of the construction labor shortage. Building activity is projected to strengthen over the next few years, and the demand for skilled craftsmen is expected to continue to grow. While residential and commercial construction activity may have increased significantly since the low point of the recession, many still view this resurgence as fragile. Constrained by a shortage of skilled workers, this resurgence could end up tempered by the continued increase of new home prices and delays in projects.

Filling this gap is going to take a concerted effort on all fronts, including encouraging America’s youth to return to the construction industry.