Missouri’s economy is benefitting from an increase in construction jobs, especially to fix roads and bridges thanks to a windfall of federal and state support this year. Between July and August, the state gained 2,300 construction jobs.
But while there’s a surge in opportunities, there’s a shortage of workers in the state to fill these jobs. State transportation director Patrick McKenna and Len Toenjes, president of AGC Missouri Monday announced the growth and opportunities identified in an industry survey.
Their findings show that 80 percent of the state’s contractors are having trouble finding qualified workers. While Toenjes praises the ramped up efforts of the state’s technical colleges, he says his industry suffers from an image problem.
“A lot of people look at a four-year college degree, being a doctor, being a lawyer has a certain persona in today’s society,” Toenjes says. “Our message is construction is a very honorable career, that it’s about more than the money or the stature, while we’re looking at people who come out of a four-year college degree with some sort of huge student debt and some kind of degree that may or may not have any validity in the marketplace.”
Eddie Welsh, chief operating officer of Capital, a Missouri-based construction contractor, says construction is about making money too.
“For kids that are 15, 16 and 17, the more that we can educate them that they can get out of school,” he told Missourinet. “We have a number of employees right now that are 19 and 20 years old making $60,000 to $80,000 a year.” Those wages are above the median income for the state of Missouri, and many of his field employees get the winter off.
Capital has major public projects underway around the state, including a flurry of bridge rehabs in mid-Missouri.
“We could add 30 percent more workers in the state of Missouri alone just for DOT work. the commercial work is so high, with people building big box storage for freight, FedEx and UPS and all those folks doing big buildings in Kansas City. St. Louis and all over. They take a lot of workers that would otherwise be working on Department of Transportation projects,” he adds.”
Welsh and other contractors hire crews from neighboring states to fill the gaps. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Development Center, Missouri’s construction employment is projected to grow 13.11 percent by the year 2026.
“We’re in the middle of a perfect storm,” Welsh says. “We’ve got state funding from the Department of Transportation, we’ve got a healthy economy and the one thing that we are all in need of is labor.”