No arguing that it’s tough to be looking for a job right now. If you are unemployed and 16 to 24 years of age, you are one of 18.6 million of your peers looking for work in your age demographic according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That translates to an unemployment rate of 48.9% in this demographic sector of the population.
As a specialty contractor with a significant hourly workforce in the commercial construction industry, I am deeply concerned about a disturbing trend that has developed over the past thirty years and has recently escalated to a new level. Beginning with the 1980s economic decline in Houston and Texas, and continuing over the last three decades, employment practices in the commercial construction industry have deteriorated to the point that, for the most part, the employee/employer relationship is almost non- existent. Except at the more responsible companies, the once valued partnership between employer and worker has been replaced by the hiring of independent 1099 contractors, “pieceworkers” and temporary staffing companies. In response to owners demanding lower prices, general contractors and specialty contractors alike have largely become “brokers” of the construction process, using contracts and questionable employment arrangements to manage labor on construction sites. What began in an effort to compete during a difficult time in the 80s has persisted through extended periods of prosperity, only to accelerate during the current economic difficulties we now face.
Last Wednesday was a great day for reflection about the workforce issue, at least for me. It began at a lunch gathering of Associated Builders and Contractors Past Presidents and the current executive committee to gather insight and input for the coming year’s planning session objectives, as requested by the ABC Greater Houston Chapter incoming chair Tim Ricketts. As Tim asked the past presidents for recollection of significant issues, accomplishments, and struggles during their respective terms, the issues of workforce, craft training, and unions dominated the discussion. Familiar themes of owner input and related issues, union difficulties, and economics were brought up. For example, owners were paying a significant training contribution via the union wage and fringe benefits to contractors, but didn’t see the value in paying contractors or ABC to do training in a merit shop environment.
On November 17th, the Houston Chapter of the American Subcontractors Association held its monthly membership luncheon at the HESS Club. The topic for the meeting was a panel discussion covering the Construction Career Collaborative (C3) initiative. Panelists were Peter R. Dawson, AIA, Senior Vice President, Facilities Services, Texas Children’s Hospital; Joe Savala, Associate Vice President, Facilities Administration, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center; Jim Stevenson, CEO, W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation; and Tom Vaughn, CEO, Vaughn Construction. I served as the panel moderator, leading the panel through a series of questions covering:
One of my mentors, Tim Johnson, has always said that it is it important for us to seek out quality workforce programs and recognize these “pockets of excellence”. I agree.
Pictured above is one of our Economics classes with instructor Ted Hajdik