How Immigration Changes Can Impact Your Next Construction Job
Can we maintain upward growth without the manpower?
In theory, the construction industry should be enjoying a profitable surge. More homes are being built and large-scale construction projects are in high demand. The question is that if everything looks so good on the surface, why is almost every construction project over budget and massively delayed?
The issue lies within the shortage of skilled labor available to do the work. This lack of labor can be attributed to a number of factors, such as an aging workforce and more rigorous drug testing, but the driving factor is the uncertainty surrounding immigration policy.
According to one 2015 report, immigration from Mexico has declined 67%, which translates to 570,000 fewer Mexico-born construction workers than in 2007, and they are not expected to return. We are experiencing one of the biggest worker shortages in the last 20 years, and it’s unfortunately happening during what should be a boom in the one of the most labor-intensive industries in the US.
The National Association of Home Builders shows that, in certain states, up to 42% of the construction workforce is made up of foreign workers. And, with more rigorous immigration policies on the horizon, the number of foreign-born construction workers in the US will decrease substantially.
Legal and illegal immigrants are affected by the promise of stronger immigration enforcement, and this has a direct impact on the construction industry.
Here are a few ways that the construction worker shortage may affect your next construction job:
There is no way around it; politics are directly impacting the worker shortage that the construction industry is experiencing. Our current administration is focused on deporting undocumented immigrants and there is buzz about rolling back visa programs. This focus on immigration is making immigrants, both authorized and illegal, nervous about pursuing construction work, so there are fewer and fewer showing up.
Another substantial factor affecting the foreign-born construction workforce is the clunky-ness and sheer lack of visas being issued to workers. Currently, there are about 5,000 H-2 visas being granted each year, and in order to meet current demand, that would need to increase to at least 100,000 per year.
There is discussion about revamping visa programs, so those in the industry can either bide their time and let it play out, or get involved in politics and lobby their senators to raise the number of visas issued each year, along with any other desired change.
Statistics show that immigrant workers have always been less likely to report on-the-job injuries or unsafe working conditions, and now, the threat of random worksite investigations are making workers feel even more uncomfortable speaking out. Because of this, we are seeing more and more workers abruptly leaving jobs at the first sign of danger.
This level of anxiety and fear of the unknown can disrupt industry projects and discourage large buyers and investors from investing in major endeavors.
Dip in qualified labor, higher operating costs, increased delays
The construction industry has a long history of dependency on the immigrant workforce. Again, almost half of the industry is made up of foreign workers, however, due to current and pending immigration laws, up to 78% of construction firms are having a hard time finding skilled construction workers.
To help compensate for this shortage, companies are upping the ante by raising pay, investing in training initiatives, and increasing overtime. As a direct result of these rising internal costs, bid prices are increasing, as well.
In addition, projects that are already underway are also being affected. Since many are costing more than originally anticipated, they are also taking much longer to complete than originally scheduled.
Emphasis on innovative machinery
Aside from improvements made to building materials and tools, the construction industry hasn’t experienced much change in the last five decades. Now that we are facing one of the largest labor shortages in our time, companies are beginning to look beyond manpower and incorporating alternate solutions to get the job done.
We are starting to see a rise in the use of battery-powered alternative vehicles including electric wheelbarrows and mini skid steers that increase efficiency and reduce the staff needed to get the job done. These are particularly useful for tasks that require manual work, like hauling heavy or bulky materials. And, unlike the previous generation of construction equipment, this battery-powered iteration is making indoor construction much more feasible. They are lightweight, compact, and safe to operate.
As an industry experiencing a substantial operating shift, we need to work together to rise above the challenges that a reduced workforce can pose and do what we can to foster an upward growth trend. While immigration laws may pose a temporary speed bump, we have a unique opportunity to look beyond the status quo and innovate.