Lack of skilled labor in construction holds back housing market

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COLORADO SPRINGS – Across the United States, builders estimate a shortage of 5.5 million homes as demand continues to grow, and a population of millennials reaches its home buying years.

“We’ve hit a point in our industry where we’re able to sell more than we’re capable of building right now,” said Chad Thurber, president of Vantage Homes and incoming president for the Colorado Springs Home Builders Association.

Thurber says Colorado Springs has weathered the housing shortage better than most, but with the number of homes for sale topping out at around half of a typical market, the area is not immune.

Thurber says, it starts with supplies.

“[For example] at the start of this week, we had 17 houses waiting for floor joists. But because of the supply constraint of getting floor joists, we got two this week.”

From lumber, siding and many other materials, Thurber says it’s become increasingly difficult to time out the arrival of materials with the schedule of trade workers needed to put it together. When the trade workers are short staffed, the problem is compounded.

“It’s really hard to decouple what is a supply problem hurting the schedule and what’s a trade capacity challenge that’s hurting the schedule,” he explained. “Because we got both of them.”

Economists say one problem seems more difficult to resolve.

“Let’s just say [the supply problem] goes away within the next year or two. We’re still going to have a labor shortage,” said Tatiana Bailey, a Ph.D economist and director of the economic forum at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

Bailey says the global supply chain is going to be held up as the majority of countries are still struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now vaccines for the virus are largely held up in western, developed countries.

As far as labor worker shortages, Bailey and Thurber both say there are not enough people qualified for the jobs that are open.

“It’s finding that skilled labor that’s the real challenge. We are still getting people who apply,” Thurber said.

Electricians and plumbers are among some of those ‘skilled’ positions. Bailey says the bottleneck could be alleviated more quickly than in other industries because the required training is only several months to a year, versus four or six years through a university.

“These construction-related jobs, they’re going to be around for a long time. And you don’t necessarily need a four-year degree to qualify for these jobs.” Bailey said.

Bailey says part of the reason for that – is the aforementioned housing shortage.

The 5.5 million number actually grows to 6.8 million when obsolete homes, that either need vast renovation or complete reconstruction, are included.

Bailey says estimates show building will need to increase by two-thirds—from the current 1.2 million homes built per year to 2 million homes built each year—over the next eight to ten years.

“The interesting dynamic there is that the younger cohort, the millennial age, they’re needing homes. Then you have the older cohorts, let’s say the 50-65 year-olds, who don’t necessarily want to leave their homes,” she said.

Tune into FOX21 News on Thursday – Tatiana Bailey will talk about pathways and career prospects in construction.

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