Contractors on the Detroit Red Wings' Little Caesars Arena project were fined a combined $2.9 million through March for failing to maintain a workforce of at least 51% Detroit residents, according to The Detroit News. The fines will go toward the city's job-training fund.
From April 2015 to March 2017, locals made up only 27% of construction workers on the project. In March, 53 contractors fell short of the hiring mandate and were assessed fines of up to almost $138,000. The last time the requisite minimum 51% of workers were locals was in August 2015.
There are currently 1,100 workers on-site Monday through Friday as part of the six-day, three-shift weekly construction schedule.
As of October 2016, arena contractors had paid a total of $500,000 into the city's training program for failing to meet the hiring requirements. At the time, local officials said the companies had tried to find workers through job fairs and by offering training programs but that there weren't enough potential workers to meet demand.
A shortage of skilled workers has plagued the U.S. construction industry for some time now, as older workers begin to retire and fewer younger people than in the past have demonstrated interest in a career in the trades. The Great Recession also saw a large segment of the workforce leave the industry and not return. This has left developers and contractors fighting over the limited pool of qualified labor.
Industry groups have offered up a variety of solutions to the problem. Among them is the Associated General Contractors of America, which has long advocated for increased funding for training programs that teach in-demand construction skills. Much of the vocational education system is geared toward high school students and as an alternative to college, but that age group has not expressed much of a desire to enter the industry.
According to an April survey by the National Association of Home Builders, only 3% of adults ages 18 to 25 who knew what career they wanted to pursue picked one in the construction trades. For those undecided about their career path, 63% said they most likely wouldn't pick construction, no matter the pay.
The industry is responding with new or revamped training programs, in many cases funded by builders and contractors in a given region. In the Denver area, a group of homebuilders is recruiting the unemployed or underemployed, recent high school graduates, military veterans and others into construction through the Colorado Homebuilding Academy.