Valdez: You didn't raise your kid to work construction. That's the problem
Linda Valdez: If construction jobs are so beneath us, why are we making it so hard for migrants to fill them?
The economy hums. The demand for construction workers leads to labor shortages.
Do you want your son or daughter to grow up to do the heavy lifting?
The Associated General Contractors of America is afraid you don’t. And that could have dire consequences for their business and the economy.
A shortage of construction workers may also slow cleanup efforts after hurricane Harvey – efforts that are already expected to take years.
The solution is two-fold: make construction jobs more attractive to Americans – like your college-bound kid – and enact comprehensive immigration reform.
That’s right. Some people still have the courage to say those words.
Who will do the work?
First, look at the numbers.
A recent survey by the contractors group that found 70 percent of construction firms nationwide have trouble filling the hourly positions that make up “the bulk of the construction workforce.”
In Arizona, it’s 75 percent.
They say one of the reasons is the “overwhelming impression among youths, their parents and teachers that career and technical education is unacceptable, despite the fact construction jobs often pay better than many post-college options, especially post-downturn.”
No one wants to be a blue-collar worker
These are decent, honorable jobs. But let's face it, such work is not held in high esteem in our society.
Congress has furthered this erosion of respect for construction jobs.
According to AGCA, federal funding for career and technical education has been steadily declining in favor of “promoting college-preparatory programs on the misguided theory that everyone should, can and wants to attend college.”
The group has ideas for turning that around, including increased funding for vocational programs, helping veterans to get trained for construction trades, making it easier for non-union contractors to set up training, reaching out to high-school students and offering more federally funded apprenticeship options.
Sure, train Americans to hold these jobs
I’m all for vocational education and rehabilitating the image of blue-collar jobs.
If Americans want these jobs, let’s help them get trained.
But there are demographic realities we have to face: we have an aging population.
What's more, we have highly educated young people who gravitate toward air-conditioned, indoor jobs in the knowledge economy.
But migrant labor is still needed
That’s why the general contractors’ plan to deal with the labor shortage includes provisions for an immigrant labor pool.
“Congress and the administration need to ensure that the millions of undocumented workers who have been participating in the domestic economy for years have a way to attain legal status,” the group’s plan says.
If those millions of undocumented workers currently on the job suddenly disappeared, the shortage of labor would hit crisis proportions. Work on important projects would slow or stop. The economy would suffer.
Congress also needs to enact “comprehensive immigration” that “allows for significantly more construction workers to enter the U.S,” the contractors’ plan says.
Business remembers what politicians forgot
Business has long wanted these key components of immigration reform – legalizing the current workforce and creating an adequate pipeline for new workers.
Republicans used to support both.
Support disappeared as the topic of immigration became toxic.
These days, few politicians dare to utter the words “comprehensive immigration reform.”
But the need remains. The need for migrant labor. The need for politicians who have a spine.
The economy hums. The demand for labor increases. Are you raising your kid for one of these jobs?
Reach Valdez at email@example.com.
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