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Labor Shortage Hinders Infrastructure Overhaul

By NAM News Room

A construction-worker shortage is hamstringing the Biden administration’s plan for a historic infrastructure-building boom, according to the Financial Times (subscription).

What’s going on: The construction industry could be short up to half a million workers in 2023, “increasing project costs and delaying a building campaign that executives say is comparable to that of the second world war.”

  • “The US will need an additional 546,000 workers on top of the normal hiring pace this year to meet labor demand, estimates the [Associated Builders and Contractors].”
  • Approximately 80% of construction firms say they are having difficulty finding workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.

Why it’s important: President Biden has made bolstering U.S. infrastructure a cornerstone of his policy agenda, having signed into law the NAM-backed, $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure in 2021.

  • However, “[a] shovel-ready project with nobody to operate the shovel is worthless,” Home Builders Institute President and CEO Ed Brady told the FT.

Reassigning labor: Intel plans to build two semiconductor factories in Columbus, Ohio, at a cost of $20 billion, but Bechtel Corp., one of the companies constructing the facilities, “said it will [have to] pull some of the 7,000 workers it needs from across the country and is in conversation with hotels for temporary housing.”

Immigration reform needed: Construction bosses are pushing for immigration reforms, including the creation of a temporary guest worker program and simplification and cap extensions of H-2B visas.

The last word: “The construction industry is not alone in its struggle to find enough workers,” said NAM Chief Economist Chad Moutray, who is also director of the Manufacturing Institute’s Center for Manufacturing Research.

  • “In the latest NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, the inability to attract and retain talent was the top challenge, especially in a very tight labor market where the unemployment rate is the lowest since May 1969.”
  • “Job openings in manufacturing have averaged 840,000 per month over the past year, and we know that the sector will need to bring in another 2.1 million workers by 2030 to meet demand.”
  • “This will require manufacturers to ‘widen the net’ in its recruitment efforts, and as a country, the U.S. needs to address its broken immigration system—as outlined in the NAM’s A Way Forward blueprint—to address our skills shortage.”
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