By Inga Harmon
The Atlanta skyline is filled with cranes and scaffolding sprouting from the ground like plants on a daily basis. Even as a real estate professional, sometimes it is hard to keep up with the latest development pipeline. The addition of Mercedes Benz Stadium, SunTrust Park, and connectivity of the Atlanta Beltline has ignited a huge demand for housing and development from foreign investors, current residents, and new residents. There is a residential and commercial boom happening all across the region, from the intown neighborhoods to the farthest reaches of the suburbs.
In the midst of this massive housing and construction growth, Atlanta is also experiencing a skilled labor shortage. Part of this is our aging workforce, and another part is the “college for all” mindset. Simply put, not enough young people are choosing the trades. That leaves us with major questions looming over the construction industry: 1) How will our current skilled labor pool meet the demand and schedules with many of the skilled laborers aging out? 2) Can we maintain the pace and meet schedules if many of the people that make up the skilled labor force are deported? 3) How can we entice the younger generation to get a degree and skill to increase the pool of skilled workers?
ULI Atlanta recently held a presentation on the skilled labor shortage. Scott Shelar, president of CEFGA (Construction Education Foundation of Georgia). CEFGA is a non-profit that has created a “construction ready” program. They have successfully trained over 762 metro Atlanta residents and placed 729 people in full time employment. This program is working to fill the gap between high construction demand and low worker supply and welcomes people with diverse backgrounds, even people exiting prison. One major qualifier is the candidate’s willingness and commitment to show up every day, on time for a fast-paced hands-on classroom setting. CEFGA’s long term goal is to create a K-12 pipeline of educated and skilled workers in the industry.
Being a second-generation contractor (my father was a brick mason) and commercial tenant representative for over 19 years I have watched the evolution of the skilled worker on sites. Watching my father’s business grow where he was the general contractor on all projects, I remember noticing that all the subcontractors self- performed; the plumbers, electricians, framers, and painters. These men were highly skilled and did not need to rely on the general contractor to direct their work. That dynamic has changed today because of the aging workforce, and lack of skilled trades. Unfortunately, this will continue as demand rises, and we must work together to get a solution for filling the hard hats with more skilled workers, and support workforce training programs like CEFGA’s (Construction Education Foundation of Georgia) .
Inga Harmon is a ULI member and is an alumni of ULI’s Center for Leadership (CFL) Class of 2017. She is president of Harmon Solutions and vice president of Harmon & Harmon Realtors, Inc.