B’ham suffering from a shortage in contractors

B’ham suffering from a shortage in contractors
Birmingham has plenty of work for contractors, but the city has a shortage in workers for the positions. (Source: WBRC Video)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - According to some accounts, Birmingham is booming.

“The economic development and industry recruitment in the state of Alabama and downtown Birmingham, every number you look at from Secretary Canfield’s office to the mayor’s office, is better than it’s been in years,” says Jay Reed, President of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama.

Construction worker shortage in Birmingham

There’s enough work to go around for all the contractors in the area. But why is it so hard to find the help? Reed thinks it’s because they haven’t done a good enough job recruiting people to the industry.

“Mike Rowe himself, what did he call the TV show? He called it ‘Dirty Jobs!’ And that was what we were portraying a lot of times what those jobs were,” says Reed.

He stresses these are good paying jobs with security. Daniel Murray with Murray Building Co. says he’s seen subcontractors pay higher salaries to keep their employees.

“Salaries are going up, you can make good money as a welder or a pipe fitter or a mechanic or any of those types of things,” says Murray.

Meanwhile, the existing workforce is aging, with most managers in their 50s. And they’re not seeing enough young people to potentially take their place. Reed says without the support, something terrible will happen to the city’s growth.

“But if we do not fill this workforce void, it will come to a screeching halt and that is why it’s consuming every conversation that our association is involved in,” says Reed.

Construction worker shortage in Birmingham

One solution they have is the Academy of Craft Training.

“So we have turned a page and gotten that message out there and now, you’ve got our Academy of Craft Training. We’ve got over 250 students,” says Reed.

It’s a public/private partnership with the state’s education system. So far, 16 of Birmingham’s high schools are participating. Students receive training in building construction, masonry, HVAC/plumbing, welding and electrical.

“They get visited by people like us, general contractors, subcontractors that may be looking to hire, they get a little face time with them and a lot of hands-on experience in the meantime,” says Daniel Murray.

They’ve graduated 150 students, many of whom have entered the workforce. And their graduates are treated like star athletes when it comes to their “signing day." Reed says the program helps, but it’s still not enough.

“This thing is bigger than just ABC, it’s bigger than just the governor’s office, it’s bigger than just the mayor’s office. And that’s why, sitting down, true public/private partnership and let’s get a solution to this. If we don’t get a solution, the $12 billion economic engine in the state could go away,” says Reed.

Last year, the program yielded 90% workforce placement among its students. If you’d like to learn more about the program, visit their website.

If you’re interested in helping get the word out, contact Jay Reed at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama at 205-870-9768.

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