Joseph Herring, like many in the construction industry, worries where he’ll find his future workforce.
Most of Herring’s business comes from the manufacturing sector, which is teetering on a national resurgence, and that presents a double-edged sword for Herring.
On one end, a rebounding economy will bring more construction projects, but it also will necessitate more workers.
“This class of person is getting much less,” said Herring, the president and owner of KAL Industrial Services and All-Pro Refractories. “The older generation is now getting too old to do that work. You don’t have a younger group of people that’s coming up and willing to do this type of work. I believe it is going to be a problem in the future.”
An Associated General Contractors of America survey released this month indicates Herring’s concerns are wellfounded.
Nationally, nearly 75 percent of 700 construction firms polled by the association reported that they are having issues finding qualified labor. In Georgia, 65 percent of contractors in the survey said they can’t fill some or all key professional and craft worker positions. Among the hardest jobs to staff were carpenters, electricians, project supervisors, estimators and engineers.
Predictions were grim. More than 80 percent of respondents in the state said it will remain just as difficult, if not more so, to find skilled construction professionals and workers in the next 12 months.
Augusta Building and Trades Council President John Wall echoed the study’s findings on the local front.
“It’s not just in the construction industry,” Wall said. “It’s in construction management. It’s in engineering. It’s across the board. Your baby boomers are retiring.”
Wall believes that low pay is one reason the younger population is deterred from pursuing a career in construction work. In 2012, the average annual salary in Augusta was about $39,000 for a worker in the construction and extraction field and about $41,000 for someone doing installation, maintenance and repair work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Doug McMonigle, the president of MRC Construction, said the troubled economy also hurt the subcontracting business, which further reduced the labor pool.
“If (the housing market) does come around and the pricing does come up a little bit and folks can still make a living, I think they’d probably get back into it,” said McMonigle, whose firm focuses on custom home construction, remodels and light commercial projects. “Right now, the pricing is still so low that it’s just not worth it for all of the headache.”
McMonigle, the former president of metro Augusta’s Builders Association, foresees problems within the next decade if a new crop of workers doesn’t become involved in construction.
“You just don’t have any 25- to 45-year-olds that are really trying to do that,” McMonigle said. “When you put ads in the paper, those that apply are typically 45 and above.”
Industry experts stress the importance of ongoing training programs and increased educational opportunities to reinvigorate interest.
At Augusta Technical College, classes in electrical construction and maintenance, welding and air conditioning technology remain full, said Jim Price, the dean of the school’s Industrial Technology division.
About 80 percent of students in Price’s department go on to find employment after completing their course work, he said.
“It’s a good picture,” Price said. “It’s an improving picture. It’s not the rosiest of pictures just because of the economy.
‘‘We’re still trying to slush through here, but we’ve been very pleased with our placement numbers after these students graduate with either a diploma or a two-year degree.”