Rebounding the Highly Skilled Workforce
While many industries are facing problems in finding workers, the issue is particularly acute in the highly skilled trades - such as the trade of masonry.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a spike in mason retirements in the next decade which will exacerbate the shortage. Insufficient numbers of new masons will enter the field to offset retirements, much less keep pace with growing demands for new houses, industrial facilities, schools, hospitals and offices. The problem will be compounded by the need to restore growing stocks of old masonry buildings as well as the increasing use of brick and stone for decorative work on building fronts, lobbies and foyers. The prospects for masons will be very strong through at least 2014.
Highly skilled workers cannot be replaced quickly. It takes years of supervised training to produce a highly skilled mason. Unless action is taken to reverse the trend, shortages may cause construction delays, reduced construction quality, inflationary pressures and other negative consequences.
This dilemma is important for its public policy impacts on the construction business, which accounts for tens of millions of jobs in the country and is an economic cornerstone. Further, it will impact the taxpayers inasmuch as the federal government is the largest single construction customer; indeed, government institutions at all levels will feel the effects of skilled worker shortages.
The federal government can help reverse these trends with low-cost, non-controversial efforts to inform prospective workers about the strong prospects for long-term, high-wage employment opportunities in the highly skilled trades, and also reinvigorate funding for voc-tech programs.
The U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education should develop, in consultation with private industry, an initiative to inform high school juniors and seniors about long-term job opportunities in the highly skilled trades such as masonry. The program materials, including FAQ sheets and promotional posters, would be made available to all U.S. high schools and distributed by guidance counselors, and would be made available on the DOL/Dept. of Education websites.
At a minimum, the initiative program materials should describe:
- Projected outlook/earnings potential for highly skilled job opportunities in highest demand (BLS)
- Opportunities for business ownership/self-employment (1/3 of masons are self-employed)
- Types of training programs and how to make inquiries/submit applications
- Advantages of employment in the highly skilled trades
The masonry industry strongly encourages the support of full budget allocations and appropriations for Perkins Act vocational and technical training programs, with special emphasis on investment in trades in greatest need for new workers according to BLS estimates.
DOL and Dept. of Education should generate recommendations to Congress on legislation to create incentives to assist small businesses in recruiting and training new highly skilled workers. Such recommendations may include tax incentives, grant programs, award/recognition programs or other means to facilitate training efforts sponsored by small businesses.