Summit County’s labor shortage impacts homebuilding industry
Between smaller staff, the pandemic and supply-chain issues, some jobs are taking four to six months longer to complete
According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, specialty trade contractors are expected to be one of 10 industries that will have the highest total employment change in Colorado between 2020 and 2030.
This industry encompasses occupations that are involved in building construction, and electrician employment is projected to grow the most, with an estimated employment of about 12,875 positions by the end of 2030. Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters follow at about 8,255 positions and construction laborers are next at about 6,767 positions.
But this isn’t news to those within the industry. In fact, a couple leaders have already noted the growing demand to fill positions and the limited number of applicants to do so.
Blake Nudell is the owner and president of Travis Construction Inc. in Silverthorne and is also president of the Summit County Builders Association. He’s picked up on this trend since before the pandemic and believes the situation has been exacerbated due to the “Great Resignation” — people leaving the workforce because of current events.
Yet Nudell believes that younger generations are looking for different kinds of work, too.
“Seems the younger generation are not interested in manual labor,” he wrote in an email. “Being a skilled worker isn’t as appealing as it was when I started in this industry 45-(plus) years ago.”
Right now, Nudell said he has a team of 14 full-time employees and about four part-time employees. He’s down about three to four positions, some of which are skilled positions, some are regular labor, with even entry-level positions proving difficult to fill.
“Another hard part is (that in) labor, you’ve got to have them drive a vehicle around to pick up material or run to the landfill or run and help somebody, and their driving record doesn’t qualify for my insurance so they can’t work out as a laborer,” Nudell said. “That’s another challenge. If they have a couple speeding tickets on their record, then they can’t be covered by my insurance policy.”
Projects are taking longer as a result, coupled with supply-chain issues and COVID-19 protocols that also drag jobs out.
What few positions he’s tried to hire for don’t always pan out, either.
“I even had a couple people that I would say I would hire and then never showed up for the first day of work,” Nudell said. “I gave them a hard hat and a vest and got all their information, tax information, and they’re supposed to start on a Monday and never showed up.”
Paul Camillo, owner of Anthony Ryan & Associates LLC in Silverthorne, is hearing the same thing from members of the Summit County Builders Association. Camillo is a reseller of modular homes and he relies on subcontractors to help him put together the units once they’re on site. While these modular homes are taking nine to 12 months longer to manufacture, Camillo isn’t experiencing the lack of laborers firsthand. Rather, it’s something he’s focused on through his role as vice president of the association.
“The builders association is going to see what we can do in that regard here in the coming year with some programs,” Camillo said.
Though Camillo declined to give more details about these programs, he did note that the association has collaborated with the Summit High School to provide scholarships to graduates interested in working in the industry.
As for the feedback he’s getting from members, most are saying they are paying more as a way to entice applicants and keep the people they’ve got. Some crews are smaller, but Camillo believes this shortage is all part of the ebb and flow of the market and the industry is getting along fine for now.
The real question is how the shortage of laborers could exacerbate Summit County’s housing inventory. Already, the community is struggling to offer its workforce affordable and attainable housing options, but Camillo doesn’t think this is cause for concern yet. He pointed out that other developers from the Front Range have a hand in creating larger projects. As for Nudell, he’s not so confident.
“I’ve been doing this for 45-plus years and these last 10 years has been really tough to find good, skilled people,” Nudell said.
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