A major survey of US companies has found that 83% of contractors are finding it hard to find skilled construction employees.

The study from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that vacancies for carpenters, equipment operators and labourers were proving hard to fill following a prolonged industry downturn.

As a result, association officials have urgently called for the development of new career and technical skills courses to be made available, as well as improvements in working conditions in order to meet a growing demand for construction services.

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the AGC, said, “As the survey results make clear, many construction firms across the country are having a hard time filling available positions.

“Considering how much the nation's educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages."

Other figures to emerge from the study of more-than 1,000 companies included 61% of contractors struggling to fill professional positions such as project supervisors, estimators and engineers.

Just over half those surveyed noted their belief that educational training was rated “poor” for the construction sector – which they believe needed urgent attention. A total of 35% responded that education for construction professionals was inadequate.

Mr Simonson noted that worker shortages appear most severe in the Southeast, where 86% of contractors report having a hard time finding qualified staff. A total of 84% of contractors in the Midwest, 82% in the West and 67% in the Northeast report difficulty finding workers.

The construction economist added that many contractors are changing the way they operate to address the issue, with 48% of companies nationally report increasing their use of subcontractors and 37% increased their using of staffing agencies.

The AGC also said that 56% of companies are increasing wages in a bid to retain their employees. On a national level, 59% of contractors reported they have increased wages to help retain construction professionals.

In response, the AGC has prepared a strategy document, Preparing the Next Generation of Skilled Construction Workers: A Workforce Development Plan for the 21st Century, which the organisation hopes will prove a basis for action to resolve a perceived skills shortfall.

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