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Florida Contractors Want to Hire but Have Found a Tight Labor Market. Clay's Vocational Training Eases Shortfall

Florida Contractors Want to Hire but Have Found a Tight Labor Market - April 11, 2017 - by Derek Gilliam, JBJ

A recent survey of contractors in Florida produced mixed numbers for the construction industry as employers both expected to hire more workers, but believe they will experience difficulty in finding the right people.

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. surveyed its members in Florida where they found that 88 percent of construction firms in the state plan to increase hiring over the next six months.

However, about 84 percent of contractors anticipate experiencing more difficulty finding appropriately skilled labor.

Christina Thomas, training director of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, wasn’t surprised to learn about the findings from the ABC.

“The Baby Boomers are retiring and it’s difficult attracting people into the industry,” Thomas said. “I’ve heard it said before, the number one thing that’s driving up costs in the construction industry is labor.”

Thomas runs one of the several accredited apprenticeship programs in Northeast Florida. In recent years, NEFBA has partnered with several schools across the region, mainly in Clay County since their school system has not cut vocational training as deeply as in Duval.

The program has 16 instructors and teaches across four construction disciplines: carpentry, electrical, HVAC and plumbing.

The four-year program has about 210 students currently enrolled.

The program is in its open period right now, which runs through June 30. The carpentry program has year-round enrollment.

When a student gradates from the program they will have earned 8,000 hours of on the job experience and 600 hours of classroom instruction.

Thomas believes that high school students often do not understand the opportunity the construction industry presents as American society has pushed college as the appropriate path.

She points out that nearly 50 percent of all high school students will never attend a four year university.

“What are they going to do?,” she asked. “You go to any freshman class and ask them how many of them are going to college. Every hand will be in the air.”

The majority of graduates from the NEFBA apprenticeship program will earn their certificate and have an immediate earning potential of about $45,000, Thomas said.

Right now, because of the increased demand on the construction industry and the decreased labor supply, skilled construction labor can demand a premium.

Nearly 90 percent of the ABC respondents believed sales would increase with 45 percent expecting an increase greater than five percent.

“There can be no doubt that business is thriving for Florida ABC members, both general and subcontractors, in the commercial and industrial sectors,” said ABC of Florida 2017 Chair Mary Tappouni, president of Breaking Ground Contracting in Jacksonville. “Yet, contractors’ concerns about the inadequate number of workers entering the construction industry—despite the availability of high-paying jobs—could limit industry growth.

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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