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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features July 24, 2014

1/10/2013 10:00:00 PM
End of housing slump triggers local shortage of skilled, unskilled labor
Les Stukenberg/The Daily CourierA construction worker puts the finishing touches on roughing out a roof at a new home construction in the Stoneridge subdivision.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
A construction worker puts the finishing touches on roughing out a roof at a new home construction in the Stoneridge subdivision.
Ken Hedler
The Daily Courier

During the Great Recession, hundreds of thousands of construction workers lost their jobs nationwide as the housing market tanked, said San Griffis, executive director of the Yavapai County Contractors Association.

However, the housing market is beginning to recover as the economy improves, and that has led to a shortage for both unskilled and skilled workers in the construction trades, Griffis and others said.

"Because of this, it has resulted in a very wide gap between the construction labor demand and supply," said Griffis, who heads an organization with around 300 members.

The labor shortage also could lead to higher home prices, some experts said.

"You lose half of your skilled people in a bad economy," said Kim Gagnon, co-owner with husband Bill of The Plumbing Store in Prescott. They either retrain to enter another field, or leave the state or country.

"This is getting harder and harder for skilled labor in our area," Gagnon said. "We don't have a trade school locally in our area."

Fewer high school graduates are entering the construction trades, Griffis said. She added the Mountain Institute Joint Technology Education District is preparing high school students to enter high-tech fields instead of the trades.

Another factor is the signing by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2010 of SB 1070, which became the toughest piece of legislation to crack down on illegal immigration.

In any case, she said the labor shortage has gone on for at least six months.

Some members of her association said they are having a harder time filling openings, especially skilled trades.

"Skilled labor has always been a problem, but I would say it has really intensified in the last three to four years," Gagnon said.

"In our case, we hire plumbers, and they need at least a journeyman or five years in the trade," Gagnon said.

Skilled plumbing technicians can earn $26 an hour, and The Plumbing Store has been looking for about four months to recruit one full- and one part-time employee, she said.

Gagnon said she needs experienced plumbers because she and her husband do not have the time to train anybody. The Plumbing Store currently has three plumbers on staff.

She said she has advertised on national websites as well as websites that serve veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I would love to employ veterans," Gagnon said. "I have not had anybody apply yet."

Unlike The Plumbing Store, Therese Stover, owner of Arizona Green Plumber in Prescott Valley with husband Steve, said she currently does not have any openings.

However, she agreed with Gagnon, saying, "It is difficult to find a good plumber because they need to have a clean background" with no criminal record.

Stover said a labor shortage has not resulted in higher wages for plumbers.

"The (bad) economy has changed the wages," she said. "We can't raise our prices and pass it on to the customers."

The labor shortage has affected Matt Greenlee, owner of Greenlee Designer Surfaces, a Prescott-based tile company.

"My labor shortage is in the designer part," Greenlee said, referring to interior designers who work in the showroom. "I think the design people have moved into other segments of the industry and have found other things to do."

Asked about unskilled labor, Greenlee said, "I am having a hard time finding people who want to work. It's physically demanding. I think there is a lack of patience in learning a trade and to be competent at it."

A labor shortage currently does not apply to the three Able & Ready businesses that Turc Hartman owns and manages in Prescott Valley.

However, he said he is trying to recruit an operations manager for his restoration company and president for his painting and remodeling company.

"What we are finding is we are getting many people who are overqualified or people are applying for a job out of their skill level," Hartman said. "We actually had somebody who was certified and educated in the medical field, but she was applying for a construction management position."

Hartman said he has looked in the past for restoration technicians to repair damage from fire, water and molds.

"With that field, you have to be certified," he said. "Nobody was qualified, or there was one or two who were qualified, but they wanted pay scale back from when the market was stronger."

The labor shortage could trigger higher home prices, according to Jim Gunby, vice president of Dorn Homes in Prescott.

"With the increase in housing, it is probably better said it is hard to find good trade contractors," said Gunby, whose company is building homes in the Quailwood subdivision in Prescott Valley and three other communities. "A lot of them during the downturn left the state, basically."

However, Gunby commented, "The thing is what we are able to do is we spent two years developing a relationship with our trade partners, and continue to do so."

By building those relationships, Dorn Homes can control costs and quality, he said.

Griffis called for relieving the labor shortage by adopting immigration reform at the national level, and lauded Arizona's new Republican senator, Jeff Flake.

"We need immigration reform to bring workers back into these industries," Griffis said. "Without a sufficient labor force, our entire recovery will be stymied."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: local guy

It always cracks me up when developers and general contractors complain of labor shortages. What they mean is that there is a shortage of tradesmen willing to work for the absolute lowest bottom dollar price minus 10% They always want the "skilled" guys quality at the "scam" guys price. Price always takes precedence over quality, look around! Regarding J-Ted, they need to get onboard with trades education. I offered and was turned down, works for me.

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: Get Real

So a few a few low low end track builders are busy again... big deal

Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Article comment by: KEEP TRYING

Stop whining and seek the best job in Prescott . Antelope Hills wages are far and above the $9.00 with benefits . And the best part is NO skill is required . Once one's foot is in the door actual work is next to nothing . Rise above one level and drive a golf cart mindlessly throught the day . Taxpayer funded tha best of all worlds . GOOD LUCK

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Harvey Wallbanger

Sound like a great plan. Paying low "recession level" wages even though it's admitted that it is hard to keep up with field demand. There are LOTS of skilled tradesmen in the quad-city area. You must pay them to get them. No wonder you can't find anyone to fill jobs. Not a good business model.

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Enough Already

When were immigrants skilled? Just because contractors could pay lower wages and work them over 40 hours a week with no benefits. When will Prescott area realize that $9.00 an hour is not a living wage??? You expect people to work for a pittance and support the local economy, such as housing and so forth but will not pay a decent wage even for skilled labor! All you retired people listen up! Why are you low paying people whose hands are the one holding up these companies?

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: mike doumert

what we need is more education and training for our young people via tech schools or union trades where people learn a skill and a living wage at the same time NOT illegal immagrants driving down the wages with poor workmanship to go along with it!

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: Just my two cents

What does SB1070 and illegal immigration have to do with skilled labor? It's just some more big builders looking to pay people low wages and blame it on immigration. There are plenty of skilled people out there, but are too scared to leave their current jobs because they'll work their butts off for a month and then be laid off. Besides, skilled workers should be paid for being skilled workers, not minimum wage...The pay scale is lower now than it was 15 years ago and supplies cost twice as much. Cost of living has gone up tremendously as well. Perhaps the builders should take a cut off their profit and pay their skilled laborers more. Problem solved.

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: M Soldier

there is no rebound of housing. I know contractors all over town not working. Get real and quit spreading Liberal Lies. And we dont want illigals back in town. I guess you need to work in California with all you lies. They will probibly buy it!!!!!

Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013
Article comment by: David Kerr

Beautiful Yavapai county has the best climate in the state. Flag's too cold. The Valley too hot. It is a great place to retire. California will have a maximum medicaid expansion, and Arizona a minimum, driving doctors to Arizona. Retirees with money to spend who will be taxpayers will go to places with enough doctors, not a doctor shortage state like California.

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