2018 bodes well for the residential construction industry in Pennsylvania. The cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia continue to thrive as high-tech millennials flood the real estate market. York and Lancaster County markets are projected to remain strong for the foreseeable future and the Lehigh Valley is on the comeback trail as well.
Yet with all this residential housing growth, both in new construction and renovations as younger buyers start to buy rather than rent, the industry continues to suffer significant shortages in skilled workers in all phases of development and construction.
The lack of skilled professionals in the industry is now a recognized economic problem and one point of concern for future growth. An Associated General Contractors’ survey shows that 75% of firms expect to add headcount this year and that 78% of them are having trouble finding qualified workers. In addition, 82% of firms expect it to remain difficult, or get even harder, to find and hire qualified workers in 2018.
Indeed, according to the Master Builders' Association of Western Pennsylvania, their members expect they will need to replace 41,000 retiring workers - about 40 percent of that area's construction workforce in the next five years, in addition to accounting for new industry growth.
Employers in the Industry
Employment in the residential construction industry is usually categorized into three broad categories. Within each category, there are dozens of specialties involved as full-time employees, contractors, and sub-contractors.
Employers are broadly categorized as:
- Consultants plan and design the construction work. They take a building design brief and transform it into a workable plan. They are tasked to provide accurate quantities, costs, and methods needed to complete the project. Consultants can include architects, surveyors, and project managers.
- Contractors physically build or renovate the existing structure. They can be of the “general” variety and control the entire construction site. Within this category includes many of the jobs required to complete the project including brick masons and machinery operators.
- Subcontractors are typically hired by the contractors to do specialized work. They might be specialists in foundations, steel or electricity and are needed to complete highly skilled tasks that require specific training or experience.
Where’s the Growth
It’s true that most jobs within the residential construction industry are experiencing a labor shortage. However, those that are looking to enter the construction field, and according to Pennsylvania and U.S. government statistics, these are the most in-demand and fastest-growing careers:
Construction or Project Manager
Construction managers oversee the overall construction project. They act as an interface between the owners or architects and the construction workers. They take responsibility for the day-to-day work and report back on progress, costs, and issues. According to a recent ACG of America survey, 82% of Pennsylvania construction firms are in need of construction and/or project managers.
Construction Equipment Operators
Construction equipment operators use a wide range of equipment at job sites: bulldozers, road graders, trench excavators and more. Operating engineers typically learn through on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs, and union sponsorships.
According to the same ACG of America survey mentioned above, 90% of Pennsylvania construction companies find these positions difficult to fill.
Solar Photovoltaic InstallersAs the U.S. moves away from fossil fuels, solar energy has become more efficient and cost-effective to deploy in homes. Solar Photovoltaic Installers focus on the installation and maintenance of solar panels. Specialized training is necessary to become proficient at this vocation. It’s expected that the number of jobs in this field will double through 2026.
Construction laborers are in demand across the entire construction industry – both residential and commercial. Typically this is the “grunt work” at a construction site, including digging trenches, operating or tending machines such as concrete mixers, loading and unloading materials, and cleaning or preparing a site before and after construction.
Information from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry shows brick masons and block masons within the laborer category are two of the fastest growing jobs in the Commonwealth – projecting 33% growth over the next five years.
Two notable programs in Pennsylvania are attempting to stem-the-tide of these losses in the industry and reignite the pipeline of skilled construction professionals available to contractors.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry’s Apprenticeship and Training Office (ATO) recently added five new apprenticeship programs and two new apprenticeship occupations to its list of approved apprenticeship programs. In just two years, ATO has added 1,714 new apprentices and 66 new registered apprenticeship occupations statewide.
The Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA) sponsors its Endorsed Trade Program that awards hundreds of students an advanced trade certification in collaboration with trade schools around Pennsylvania in fields such as building construction, cabinetry, HVAC, masonry, and plumbing. Students who complete the PBA-certified program are then tested and receive their accreditation - providing reassurance to builders and potential employers they are well-prepared for work with a residential construction company.