TOPEKA (KSNT) – Construction delays have been a nationwide problem since the start of the pandemic. But now that supply chains are back to normal and employees have returned to work, the delays persist. Experts blame a severe lack of qualified construction workers.

Economists with Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction trade association, call the workforce shortage the “most acute challenge facing the construction industry right now.” One reason they blame for the shortage is fewer young people entering the workplace with the right skills.

Mike Pressgrove is the president of PDQ Construction and the Topeka director of the National Association of Homebuilders. He said the worker shortage seems to have started with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been pretty crazy. We didn’t used to have trouble. There seemed to be a lot of people willing to work,” Pressgrove said. “For one reason or another, once the pandemic came through, we had a hard time getting people back.

The scarcity of qualified skilled workers entering the workforce isn’t the only pressing issue.
With more than one in five construction workers expected to retire in the next few years, Pressgrove said the industry is really feeling the pinch.

“The fact is, a lot of us are getting older. We need that influx of younger people. We’re starting to run out of good skilled people,” Pressgrove said.

With so many workers leaving the field, construction companies are competing for new talent. That’s where educators like Washburn Tech come into play. The school offers certifications in construction with options like carpentry, cabinet/millworks, climate and energy control and electrical technology. Washburn Tech HVAC Instructor Cody Beauclair said after years of taking a backseat to four-year universities, tech programs are making a comeback.

“I think we’re coming around. I think we’re seeing more and more trades being pushed in grade school, elementary school and high school,” Beauclair said. “I think it’s really important for parents at home to get involved with with their children and talk about the different routes, because it’s not just going to university.”

Pressgrove said some people have it in their heads they’ll never make a good salary without a college degree. He said that idea couldn’t be further from the truth.

“You don’t realize the average wage of a good carpenter around here is $50,000 to $60,000 a year. Well, there are degrees that don’t pay that,” Pressgrove said.

On April 26, the Topeka Area Builders Association, in conjunction with Kansas City, is hosting is first annual Build My Future event at the Stormont Event Center. Representatives from multiple trades will be on hand to explain what their trades are all about and how students go on to good-paying jobs with little to no student debt.