Immigrants key to facing labor shortage

November 28, 2006

Read part one of the e-glass Special Series on immigration

The construction industry faces a serious labor shortage requiring 1 million new workers in the next six years and 2.4 million by 2014, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many glass company managers said they look to a growing contingent of immigrant workers to combat the scarcity.

Dave Pinder, plant manager at the Fargo, N.D., insulating glass plant for Cardinal Glass Industries of Eden Prairie, Minn., said the increasing immigrant workforce at his plant has kept him from feeling the labor crunch entirely. More than half of his employees are immigrants, he said, and through word-of-mouth advertising he has been able to keep his lines fully staffed.

“We never have to try to get people,” Pinder said. “If we just tell our employees we’re starting up a new line and need 10 people, we have referrals for a husband, brother or sister to join the company. We offer a great work environment, and people are not going to recommend someone who is going to fail.”

Jeff Winsler, president of Commercial Insulating Glass Co. in Sarasota, Fla., said immigrants make up an important part of his staff, and that he advertises through Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations to attract new immigrant workers.

Winsler looks to immigrant workers to fill more than just entry-level positions. “We have immigrants that have labor positions as well as management positions,” he said “Immigrants are coming to this country from places where it’s not normal to have as high of wages [as in the United States] or a higher education level. But with training, they have the capability to hold any position.”

While immigrants already constitute a critical part of the industry’s workforce, many more are still needed, said Kirk Pickerel, president and chief executive officer of Associated Builders and Contractors in Arlington, Va. Pickerel, who spoke at the ENR Top Firm Leaders Forum in Crystal City, Va., in September, said the industry needs to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform policy to make it easier for workers to enter the United States.

“[The industry] is already relying on folks from south of the border, and they are good workers,” Pickerel said. “Many folks here are not willing to take these jobs, but these people are.”

Tony Baca, president of Southwest Glass & Glazing, Albuquerque, agreed. “Twenty years ago, I could put an ad for help in the paper and get 50 people,” Baca said. “Now, no one responds. The message is that people in the U.S. don’t want to work in construction. I believe that if [immigrants] want to come and work and do the jobs that no one else wants to do, we just need to make it easier to bring them in."

Click here to read part one of the e-glass weekly Special Series on immigration.

To learn more about the industry’s workforce shortage, check out e-glass weekly’s Special Series on labor from Oct. 3, Oct. 10 and Oct. 17.