Construction industry leaders and the state have organized “Build Missouri Week” to recognize accomplishments and highlight the critical shortage of workers in the field.
Construction’s estimated to account for $11 billion worth of goods and services produced in the state. Leonard Toenjes heads the Associated General Contractors of Missouri, a group which represents contractors who work on roads and buildings. He says the industry’s experiencing healthy growth. “The amount of construction work has increased by about 12 percent (over the past year)” said Toenjes. “We’re looking ahead next year (for) another 12 percent. And beyond that, we’re really looking at a pretty strong construction program in our state for the next two to three years.”
Toenjes says there’ll be a crucial need for more construction workers as activity expands, but notes a shortage already exists. “We’re looking at contractors who are turning down work because they can’t find people. I was on a job in St. Louis yesterday. The first thing I asked was ‘How’s the job going’. (The response was) ‘We need people’”.
Toenjes says construction growth since the great recession is opening the industry to massive employment opportunities in the next several years. “In the next three-to-five years, we’re going to have a critical need for workers at every level in the construction industry. Anything that we can do to help bring help bring in young people into our industry is very important to us.” Toenjes says average pay in the field is between $50,000 and $60,000.
During Build Missouri Week, state and industry leaders are joining local officials to hold meetings at highway and building projects throughout Missouri.
They held a gathering Tuesday in Jefferson City adjacent to the $20 million Lafayette Street Interchange project. Students from the city’s Simonsen Ninth Grade Center across the street were brought over as Toenjes and others referenced them as possible future workers in the construction industry.
Toenjes says the expansion in construction is being driven by private investment in building projects, while roads projects are suffering from a lack of funding on the state level.
Missouri Department of Transportation director Patrick McKenna notes the agency is talking with lawmakers to address large scale road and highway needs. “Just in terms of maintenance of the existing system, so that we don’t get in worse shape and we improve bridge conditions throughout the state, we’re looking at a baseline of about $200 million.”
McKenna says an information collecting initiative has shown that economic development and safety projects related to roads will cost an additional $300 million.