Hurricanes Highlight the Skilled Labor Shortage

The United States has been battered by huge storms over the past few weeks, as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria decimated parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. These areas continue to need help recovering, but there is a dramatic shortage of skilled workers who are available for rebuilding sections of Houston, neighborhoods in the Florida Keys, and most of the island of Puerto Rico. So where is all the skilled labor??

Already in states and territories through the U.S., there has been a shortage of capable and experienced workers. After the recent hurricanes, not only has there been more work to do, but many of the workers who lived in the affected areas were not able to return to work. Some fled with their families, others were stranded by flooding, and some lost their own homes — giving many laborers more important things to do than show up to work the following Monday. This is especially true in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, where the primary energy provider is operating at a mere 16% capacity and a whopping 36% of the island still lacks clean water access.

Recovery for Puerto Rico will require major rebuilding efforts and, back on the mainland, hundreds of thousands of laborers will be needed to repair damages in Texas and Florida. With all the obvious need for workers, the skilled labor shortage becomes even more impactful on individuals’ lives and businesses, highlighting America’s need to encourage employment in trade industries.

A CBS News profile recently described how the “construction industry has tried raising wages. It is also turning to pre-fabricated homes to make up for the labor shortfall. But it’s not enough. By one estimate, for every skilled worker entering the workforce, there are five who retire.” Meanwhile, a “2017 survey of career-minded young people found that only three percent were interested in a construction trade.”

There exists an unfortunate stigma around skilled labor that suggests only less-studious people work with their hands. This is obviously false, yet many young people still don’t realize that trade schools can teach them critical thinking and hands-on skills that they actually enjoy, the work can be challenging and rewarding, and “blue collar” work can pay just as well as “white collar” jobs. This is why, when we have discussed solutions for combating the skilled labor shortage, encouraging education is at the top of our list. Teaching young people about the value of work done in construction and other technical fields can inform and empower them to consider a future in a trade.

With so many Americans in desperate need following a series of devastating hurricanes, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to young people, and everyone else, how important work in the trades really is. Skilled laborers from across the country are uniting to lift up and aid their fellow citizens in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Passing along the value of these efforts could be the start to changing how people think about working in our industry. As we wrote recently on the blog:

“Material quality, equipment efficiency, and professional craftsmanship all have value. But what gives our work greater importance is helping families create homes, entrepreneurs start businesses, and communities grow in size and service to their citizens… Let’s keep laying the legacy of work well done for our neighbors and communities, one brick at a time.”

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