Friday, March 19, 2021

Off-Site Construction Stumbling Over Skilled Labor Shortage

Off-Site and Modular Construction is red-hot this year. Even snowstorms dumping several feet of snow in the Rocky Mountain States and torrential rains in other regions didn’t stop off-site factories building commercial and housing projects. Off-site usually means it’s built under a roof, away from the elements.

While millions of Americans affected by the pandemic are still looking for work, the number of skilled trade jobs in the U.S. is far outpacing the supply of qualified workers to fill them. 

The off-site skilled labor shortage has been caused by two main factors, the mass exit of baby boomers retiring from our industry and the skyrocketing demand for off-site construction.

A recent report showed the off-site construction industry is seeing it first hand on the production lines. 

  • Plumber apprentices: Job postings have increased by 24% in the past month, and jobs are sitting unfilled for an average of 29 days.
  • Roofer apprentices: 50%; 39 days.
  • Carpenter helpers: 12%; 28 days.
  • Carpentry apprentices: 33%; 31 days.
  • Trim carpenters: 18%; 37 days.
  • Electrician helpers: 15%; 27 days.

The median hourly rate for helper-level skilled trade jobs is $16 an hour—or roughly $33,000 a year—and factories can expect to pay up to 50% higher for experienced skilled labor.

Automation has been touted as a way to ease the labor shortage in off-site construction but having automated factories only replaces the semi-skilled, lower-paying jobs in the factory. It will be years before autonomous robots can wire a house, run plumbing, install cabinetry or trim out a module. And that may never actually happen.

Want to begin solving this problem? Here’s how.

Start by re-opening vocational education programs in high schools and encouraging young people to begin training for real jobs. Encourage off-site factories to ramp up apprentice programs in the trades. 

Begin helping your local trade school teach the skills needed in off-site factories by offering to have your people teach about what they do in the factory. 

Our industry needs to become more proactive bringing more skilled labor on board today because developers and builders will be giving us even more business tomorrow now that they have “discovered” the advantages and benefits of off-site construction.

The Modcoach writes the Modcoach News, Modular Home Coach and Off-Site Construction News blogs. Modcoach Connects matches Consultants with Clients. 

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