Labor Shortages in Construction, Manufacturing and Trucking

Katy Devlin
December 3, 2014
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : TRENDS & ANALYSIS

A growing labor shortage has been a top concern of companies across the glass industry. Respondents to the Glass Magazine Top 50 Glaziers survey said finding labor was their biggest challenge, and 65 percent of Glass Magazine’s Top Metal Companies said recruiting/retaining employees has been a challenge. This Trends & Analysis report looks at labor demands and current shortages among three labor segments critical to the glass industry: construction workers, manufacturing employees and truck drivers.

The Associated General Contractors of America, www.agc.org, has identified the labor shortage as a keystone issue for its members. According to the AGC’s Worker Shortage Survey, 83 percent of construction companies report difficulty finding enough qualified craft workers, while 61 percent report difficulty finding qualified construction professionals. “Construction firms across the country are having a hard time filling available positions,” says Ken Simonson, AGC chief economist. “Considering how much the nation’s educational focus has moved away from teaching students career and technical skills during the past few decades, it is easy to understand why the construction industry is facing such severe labor shortages.”

The glazing subcontractor community reports similar challenges—and it’s a challenge companies will likely continue to face in the next decade, as demand for glaziers increases. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, glazier employment is expected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022. This is less than the 22 percent growth forecast for all construction trade workers, but higher than the 11 percent forecast increase among all occupations. The increase amounts to an additional 8,000 glazier positions that will need to be filled.

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry will require the greatest workforce gains from 2012 to 2022. Due partly to increasing automation, the manufacturing/production segment of the workforce is projected to experience only slight increases in its workforce by 2022. Trucking employment is expected to increase 11 percent by 2022, on pace with all occupations. However, due to the size of the industry—more than 1.7 million drivers in 2012—the 11 percent gain represents about 200,000 new employees. Note: All Occupations indicates all occupations in the U.S. economy.

On the manufacturing front, companies report a lack of qualified workers primarily in higher skill positions. In its most recent Skills Gap Report, the National Association of Manufacturers, www.nam.org, asked manufacturers to identify the areas where they anticipated a lack of qualified workers. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they anticipate an increased shortage in skilled production positions, and 56 percent of respondents said they anticipate a labor shortage for their overall workforce.

However, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org, indicates the situation may not be as dire for overall manufacturing. According to respondents in the MIT Production in the Innovation Economy Manufacturing Survey, as reported by the EPI, 64.9 percent of U.S. manufacturing firms have no vacancies, and 76.3 percent report they don’t have any long-term vacancies. However, 17.4 percent of respondents report employee vacancies topping 10 percent.

Additionally, due to automation and overall improvements in production processes, the manufacturing segment is not expected to see notable employment gains in the next decade. According to BLS, production occupations will grow just 1 percent from 2012 to 2022, with the assemblers and fabricators segment growing 4 percent. The BLS doesn’t provide specific employment data for the glass manufacturing or fabrication segment.

One area of the workforce critical to both the manufacturing and construction segments of the glass industry is tractortrailer truck drivers. The trucking industry is already faced with a shortage of 35,000 drivers, according to the American Trucking Association, www.trucking.org, and the shortfall could grow to 240,000 drivers by 2020. These findings are echoed by the BLS report, which anticipates the trucking industry will require an additional 200,000 drivers by 2022, an increase of 11 percent from 2012. “Because of truck drivers’ difficult lifestyle and time spent away from home, many companies have trouble finding and retaining qualified long-haul drivers,” according to the BLS report.

The glass industry could feel the driver shortage even more acutely, as hauling flat glass requires additional training and a higher skill level. “The biggest issue here is finding drivers,” says Michael Weiss, former secretary/treasurer of the now disbanded Flat Glass Logistics Council and current industry consultant. “It is difficult to find truck drivers, but it’s even more difficult to find glass truck drivers. They have to be a good driver, they have to have training, and they have to be a packing engineer.”

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at kdevlin@glass.org.