Snohomish County Business Journal/JOHN WOLCOTT

Construction workers have been in high demand in recent years for the Everett Station (shown here under construction), Everett Events Center, Lynnwood Convention Center, Future of Flight and Boeing Tour facility, and Hilton Garden Inn.

Published August 2005

Who's going to build
all the new projects?

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

The state’s colleges and universities are graduating architects and engineers, but who’s going to build what they design?

There’s a shortage of construction workers in many parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, where a recovering economy in Washington state and the projects needed for British

Columbia’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic games have many contractors worried about finding enough workers to accomplish everything.

Specifically, Canadian contractors are faced with finding enough workers to handle the $600 million worth of Olympics projects, along with more than $10 billion that will be spent on non-Olympic venue infrastructure between now and 2010.

To make matters worse, some industry observers say there is a growing perception in the United States and Canada among both young people and their parents that “blue collar” construction work means a lower income and a less attractive career path than “white collar” professions enjoy.

Yet the reality is that many construction workers with lunch buckets earn more than many college graduates with briefcases.

Those who prefer working outdoors with their hands, or maneuvering large equipment on a construction site, actually have ample opportunity today to build rewarding, lucrative careers that often lead to owning their own businesses, contractors say.

“The problem with attracting young people to the industry lies more with the parents than the youth,” said Sandra Olson-Meyer, president of the Construction Industry Training Council (CITC) in Bellevue. “Parents want their children to go to college because they think it gives them better opportunities. Many times, that is not true.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported in 2000 that the average gross weekly salary for workers with less than a high school education was $364 a week, compared to $503 weekly for high school graduates.

Those with some college education were earning $583 a week, on average, while those with an associate degree received $642 weekly, those with a bachelor’s degree earned $811 weekly, the holder of a master’s degree earned $1,006 weekly and those with a Ph.D averaged $1,360 weekly.

Yet a skilled journeyman trained through an apprenticeship program in 2000 earned an average of $861 to $1,107, more than a college graduate with a B.A. degree and as much, at the high-end, as someone with a master’s degree, the last census figures showed.

“The average age of our (CITC) students is 28 years old. Many have graduated from college or at least attended college but they found that a career in the construction industry can be more financially rewarding, with more opportunity for growth,” Olson-Meyer said.

She added that CITC’s classes for construction workers offer a different career path that young people should explore.

At a business opportunities forum sponsored last Spring by the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council, contractors heard not only about construction projects in British Columbia but also about the efforts of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association to steer more young people into construction careers.

Dave Beck, VRCA treasurer, said he sees a serious challenge in supplying skilled workers, estimators, project managers and site superintendents to meet the growing demand.

As a result, Canadians are recruiting workers at the high school level, re-examining training programs and working with non-traditional labor sources.

“People weren’t as aware of the shortage of workers in recent years but now that construction is growing again we see major problems for Snohomish County and elsewhere,” said Stephen Baldwin of the county’s Workforce Development Council.

“We’re realizing we don’t have as many (trained) people as we thought, so our skills panel is promoting more attention to vocational programs and construction training,” he said.

College officials say the need for new construction trade workers in King and Snohomish counties is 1,025 a year, a level that’s expected to increase to 2,252 annually by the end of 2010.

Helping to solve the construction worker shortage are schools such as Edmonds Community College, which offers construction trades classes that turn out carpenters, concrete workers, carpet layers, roofers, plumbers, painters, masons and landscapers.

Most recently, Washington State University announced it would offer graduate-level Certificates in Construction Project Management in the Fall at University Center in the Everett Station.

That program was developed with the support of the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council, which has been working with local education centers to provide more construction-related courses.


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