Nonprofit looks to fight shrinking homebuilder workforce


(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The number of homes being built across the state has decreased for the past two years, in part due to a shrinking workforce. With retirements and the aging demographics in the industry, many builders and contractors can’t find enough skilled workers to fill the jobs needed to expand or maintain current production levels.

“In order to sustain and increase growth in the state, our industry must grow its workforce,” said Bob Filka, CEO of the Home Builders Association of Michigan. “More emphasis and effort must be put into training and attracting individuals to good-paying jobs in the construction sector.”

HBAM predicted single-family home production in the state may shrink below 17,000 units in 2019 even though economic data would suggest that this number should be 40% higher.

“While other factors are impacting this decline, lack of labor is the most significant,” Filka said.

The Skilled to Build Michigan Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit founded by HBAM, is aiming to draw greater attention to the demand for workers in the industry. The foundation is taking a multifaceted approach. In the short term, the foundation is partnering with schools, counselors and parents to promote the benefits of a career in skilled trades.

“We’re pointing to high wages and no college debt as one of many reasons why young adults should take a serious look at the opportunities in construction,” Skilled to Build Michigan Executive Director Dawn Crandall said.

The formation of Skilled to Build was preceded by HBAM’s efforts to modify the Michigan Merit Curriculum about six years ago, Crandall said. High school students would have more flexibility to take career or technical training classes.

In the long run, the Skilled to Build Michigan Foundation aims to shift the culture and perception of construction-related jobs. Through education and awareness building at different levels (students, parents and teachers), it seeks to strengthen career paths for individuals who want to enter the residential construction industry.

“As we discuss whether or not kids need to go to college, I tell kids if you’re going to take a gap year between high school and college, go learn a trade, then you can come take some business courses,” Crandall said.

The foundation also partners with the state of Michigan and numerous construction trade programs, offered through high schools, to provide students with the necessary training and education.

In a statewide poll from Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group, 56.3% of Michigan residents polled said they would strongly support public funding for the creation and maintenance of vocational programs that attract and train more students for careers in skilled trades.

Additionally, 43.3% of adults said they would definitely want their child to pursue a career in construction or another trade.

Crandall said Michigan has lost 40%-50% of its homebuilding workforce as people leave to find work in other states. The next mass exodus will be from retiring baby boomers, and Skilled to Build is working daily to reach out to students, veterans and new Michiganders who may be able to fill the ranks.

Skilled to Build tracks about 17 to 18 trades that tie into residential construction and estimates it could hire about 25,000 in those trades per year.

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