Addressing Labor Shortage Key to Improving Affordability, Providing Job Opportunities in Wake of COVID-19
The coronavirus has affected the economy in a number of ways — one being the housing market. A recent episode of the "Building the Dream" series from TheHill.TV looks at housing as an area that can boost the economic recovery, but only if the workforce is in place to do it.
Home building was hit hard during the Great Recession, and had recovered in most areas across the country, noted Ed Brady, president and CEO at the Home Builders Institute (HBI). But month to month, the industry had a labor shortage of anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 jobs, creating a significant skilled labor gap.
Demand, however, has not slowed, and that's putting pressure on prices as supply continues to try to catch up to demand — an issue well before the COVID-19 crisis.
"Housing affordability is an ongoing issue," stated Brady. "Labor is a third of the cost in a residential home. We continue to look at supply and at the labor force in trying to keep those costs down."
One of the lessons learned from the Great Recession, he shared, is that the home-building industry needs to continue to invest in training. This element was lost during the key recession time frame of 2008 to 2010, and is critical to ensuring the industry can meet the demand for housing.
"As we fully employ and fully develop the skilled labor throughout the country, the crisis will stabilize," he added, noting that the industry continues to train virtually as the coronavirus pandemic continues. "When there are 400,000 empty jobs, prices continue to rise. It will affect the affordability of housing just like land increases have affected affordability."
To help close the gap on the labor shortage, the housing industry continues to look at a number of outlets and opportunities to attract workers who may not have considered a career in construction — including women.
"It's not just about hiring women," Judy Dinelle, building ambassador for 84 Lumber, stated. "You have to create an environment for people to grow and not be stagnant. If you do it naturally, then you're going to be able to draw more women into construction."
The home building industry's versatility — as well as the support, encouragement and opportunity the industry provides — can make it attractive to prospective employees, depending on where their interests fall and what they want to be able to accomplish.
"The industry is so diverse within its job levels — anywhere from engineering to architecture to design to marketing," Dinelle noted. "So that's one thing about the construction industry is that it’s very diverse in everything that we do and what you want to do. So the education part of this is you can be whatever you want to be and do whatever you want to within our industry, and make a very decent living."
To learn more about NAHB's workforce development initiatives to address this issue, visit nahb.org.