Immigration reform could relieve pressure on Houston's construction labor market
- Houston’s construction industry is struggling to find an adequate supply of skilled labor and, according to a report from Houston Public Media, immigration reform could help relieve that pressure, as well as control rising project costs.
- Undocumented workers make up more than 30% of Houston’s 300,000-person-strong construction labor force, and a policy of deportation, according to some of the city’s industry leaders, would slow down projects. Allowing these workers some type of legal status, however, would provide a more stable labor pool, reduce project costs and result in more workers receiving training and benefits.
- Mike Holland, chief operating officer for Houston contractor Marek, told Houston Public Media that labor issues including shortages and decreasing quality are the biggest contributors to the rising costs of construction projects.
The concern around the shrinking pool of available construction workers is not just happening in Houston but throughout the rest of Texas and around the U.S., where many metros are experiencing building booms and need a steady supply of skilled labor.
In fact, according to a January survey from the Associated General Contractors of America, about 80% of contractors were concerned that there would not be enough workers to support their expansion plans this year. In another survey, Wells Fargo Securities said that finding enough labor was the biggest concern of 47% of the contractors it surveyed for its annual construction industry forecast. A lack of skilled workers presented the biggest business risk for 35% of the contractors polled.
The number of new workers coming into the industry is also at a minimum because fewer younger people are willing to consider the construction industry as a viable career option. Their negative views about construction jobs include the supposed “dirty” and physical aspects of it.
AGC and many other industry organizations have been asking for reforms that would increase the supply of skilled construction workers and earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) introduced two bills that could help answer that call.
One of Smucker’s proposed measures would create a new immigration visa system for non-farm workers, allowing U.S. contractors on pre-approved projects to tap into a pool of temporary foreign labor. The second bill would ostensibly provide more money for construction career training and apprenticeships by encouraging charitable donations for community-based apprenticeships, workforce development and career and technical education programs. Half of a $2 billion tax credit would go toward apprenticeships and job training programs.
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