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When Hurricanes Hit: Construction can be Rocked When the Worst Weather Rolls In


Hurricanes and other natural disasters aren’t the only reason why there’s a shortage of construction workers—but the recent number of them has worsened the problem

We see the equipment on construction sites and equate it to the work being done. Without workers, though, the construction equipment sits idle. There’s already a national shortage of construction workers, so what happens when a natural disaster strikes?

There have been several major natural disasters recently. California, Texas, and Florida show us exactly what can happen. Here’s the toll something like a hurricane or a major wildfire takes on the construction industry.

Prices rise faster than the water

A natural disaster dramatically increases the demand for building materials. Texas and Florida are feeling this right now, as they recover from devastating hurricanes. But something else is cranking those prices even higher this time.

Wildfires in California have greatly reduced the amount of lumber resources. Both hurricanes and wildfires have contributed to lumber prices rising to the highest levels in the past decade. What’s more, those elevated prices tend to stick around. Following Hurricane Katrina, higher prices for construction material remained for several years.

Peripheral materials are impacted, as well. Drywall, steel, and even concrete can become both scarce and expensive after a natural disaster. The prices get another bump when there are complications in shipping to an area that’s been affected by something like a hurricane.

People problems

Construction workers are key to the rebuilding of any area struck by a natural disaster. We may think there are enough people, but there actually are not. Take Houston, which suffered severe damage from Hurricane Harvey. The city has one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation, a rate which was not slowed down by the storm. It was difficult for builders to find construction workers to fill jobs in Houston before Hurricane Harvey, where the high demand for residential construction couldn’t keep up with the inflow of residents.

Statistics bear this out. Before hurricanes struck Texas and Florida, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the country as a whole had more than 237,000 open construction jobs.

Tracing the problem

We can trace the source of the shortage back to the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007. A significant number of skilled tradesmen lost their jobs. They either retrained or retired. Demand—especially pushed by recent natural disasters—has returned. The people to fill these open positions have not.

Younger workers are not attracted to jobs in the trades, and much of the industry now depends on foreign-born workers. Many of those workers returned to their home countries following the housing bust. Current governmental changes to immigration policies make it unlikely that many of these skilled professionals will return.

As a result, the National Association of Homebuilders recently reported that:

  • 77% of the builders in the United States have framing crew shortages
  • 58% don’t have enough roofers
  • 43% can’t find building maintenance managers

High demand for skilled workers in short supply already creates bidding wars for their employment. The Society of Labor Economists estimates that natural disasters like hurricanes can cause wage surges of up to 50%. If you can’t find construction workers for your local jobs, it might be because they’ve chosen to temporarily relocate to Houston and parts of Florida to benefit from the increased demand for their skills.

Technology’s answer

One way construction companies can accommodate the shortages is to modernize their equipment. Technology has created battery-powered versions of workhorse equipment, allowing for smaller construction teams.

This battery-powered construction equipment is just as rugged and powerful as the internal combustion versions it replaces. In addition, the savings in fuel costs, as well as the increased ability to use it in close proximity to workers because of low noise and no pollution, makes this a solid return on investment. Productivity goes up, labor needs go down. Use this cost-saving calculator to see how fast a battery-powered mini skid steer could pay for itself and add profit to your jobs.

Another year of natural disasters like those in 2017 will magnify the current frustrations that construction companies face across the nation. The biggest problem is getting more people interested in the open positions. Meanwhile, technology is taking a whack at it, too.

At Triple E, we’re passionate about keeping pace with an evolving construction industry. For more information on the benefits of battery-powered construction equipment, you can call us at (954)-978-3440 or reach us through our contact form.

January 31, 2018 By Alex Berg in Blog