It’s no secret that when the economy tanked, construction companies and related industries were hit hard.
“When everything crashed, we all had to really pare down. Our staff went almost in half,” said Linda Cox, CEO of Cox Fire Protection Inc. “Construction just came to a screeching halt.”
The economy has been picking up, but there’s a shortage of skilled laborers, said Cox, whose company has been involved in numerous northern Hillsborough and Pasco county projects.
Now that construction is moving again, opportunities for work are increasing, Cox said.
“Projects that had been put on hold, now have funding again,” she said. And, there are new initiatives, too, across the Tampa Bay region, she said.
“If you ride downtown (Tampa) and look at the tower cranes, that’s just a really good indication of how the industry is going. There’s a lot of really exciting stuff happening in Pasco County, too,” said Cox, whose company does sprinkler systems and alarm systems, primarily in commercial construction projects, including hospitals, schools and other large construction projects.
“We work primarily through general contractors, or directly for owners,” she said.
But now, companies like hers are facing a different problem.
“We’re just not replacing the skilled work force as quickly as people exited it,” Cox said.
After the economy crashed, she said, “a lot of Baby Boomers said, ‘Well, OK, I’m outta here’” and retired.
Others switched to different lines of work and haven’t re-entered the construction force, she said.
“Over the summer, we actually had to tell our sales team, don’t bid any more work, because we can’t staff it. We could have sold more work than we had crews to staff – which is a wonderful thing and a terrible thing,” Cox said.
The problem isn’t limited to the Tampa Bay region.
The Construction Labor Market Analyzer offers projected employment needs, by state, in numerous categories through October 2018.
Here are some of the projected needs for Florida:
- Boilermaker, 15,349
- Carpenters, floor covering: 17,933
- Carpenters, scaffold builder: 16,897
- Concrete finisher: 19,097
- Electrician: 18,841
- Plumber: 15,485
- Roofer: 18,147
- Pipefitter, sprinkler system: 8,211
To help address the labor shortage, there’s a push on to try to increase apprenticeships, Cox said.
Cox said her husband, Ron, recently has been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott, to sit on the Governor’s Apprenticeship Council.
The Associated Builders and Contractors is very active in the apprenticeship arena, running a large program that involves apprenticeships available in areas such as electrical, plumbing, masonry, heating ventilation and air conditioning, and fire protection, Cox said.
There’s also a need to raise awareness about opportunities available for skilled laborers, she added.
To that end, “The Associated Builders and Contractors is working with local districts to ensure our industry is represented as a valuable career path for students entering the work force,” Steve Cona III, president/CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, Florida Gulf Coast, said via email.
It’s a message that needs to be reiterated, Cox said.
“In our generation, a lot of kids just sort of followed along in the family footsteps, and construction was just sort of a viable option for a lot of young men,” she said. “And then, the trend really in high school began to be, ‘If you are a bright student, college is the right pathway for you.’”
But, the message that needs to be shared now — with young men and young women — is that college isn’t the only path to a bright future, Cox said.
“There are some other equally lucrative, professional kind of avenues that don’t require four years of college and $100,000 of student debt,” she said.
Published February 10, 2016