Who is going to tackle the work of rebuilding in Florida after Hurricane Ian? That’s a question on a lot of minds—and not just in Florida. As storms of every kind continue to surprise the country, the shortage of construction labor becomes ever more problematic. Experts explore the challenges.
Assessing the damage of Hurricane Ian is perplexing because of the sheer extent of it. The New York Times offers this perspective:
People across southwestern Florida, left without electricity, drinking water or inhabitable homes, began to assess the damage and gird for what Gov. Ron DeSantis said would be a years long recovery. The scale of the wreckage was staggering, even to Florida residents who had survived and rebuilt after other powerful hurricanes. The storm pulverized roads, toppled trees, gutted downtown storefronts and set cars afloat, leaving a soggy scar of ruined homes and businesses from the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers to inland communities around Orlando.
In addition to the destruction caused by the scale and scope of Hurricane Ian, Florida and other states hit hard by storms are confronting an underlying challenge long in the making: painful labor shortages throughout the construction industry. Though Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America pointed to the industry’s strong record of responding to disasters, saying, “I am confident that many companies and workers will respond to the most urgent needs in Florida and wherever else Ian causes catastrophic damage,” he also reminded us of this sobering truth: “There are far fewer experienced workers available to meet current demand, let alone a storm surge in demand.”
Indeed, unemployment in construction is at a low everywhere in the country—and especially in Florida, where rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Ian will entail much more then attending to the immediate work of shoring things (and people) up. Even before storm season, a survey of construction companies of all sizes found that 93% are actively trying to fill positions, with 91% reporting “great difficulty” finding skilled candidates, especially for the most difficult roles—“those in the craft workforce that perform the majority of on-site construction duties, typically the most demanding and physically taxing type of jobs.”
Analysts observe that inflation, storm damage and the labor shortage will likely make rebuilding after Hurricane Ian even more difficult then it was after other major storms, including Hurricane Sandy. Peter Dyga, a leader of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) in Florida explains that work there will start with clearing debris and restoring utilities:
He sees the utility response as a cooperation model, with crews coming into the state from around the country under mutual assistance agreements. He added that he wishes there was something similar to cooperative agreements for rebuilding after a storm, but there isn’t. “The labor problem is so acute already,” he said. “To pile this on top of it, it’s just difficult to see any kind of a short-term solution.” Government can play a role by loosening some rules, such as extending building permits on a job so that a contractor can move some workers to a disaster area and not worry about losing a permit, Dyga said.
In the big picture forecast, given the complex layers of challenges involved in building the work force needed for the go forward, construction industry experts agree that increased wages and benefits, more apprenticeships and training opportunities and investing in both technology and opportunities to learn to use it are all high priorities for construction leaders. With ever more to figure out and do, construction company owners rely on The Partnership Account® from Colonial Surety to save time and gain control of their finances. In addition to a surety line of credit—in writing, The Partnership Account® gives qualified construction companies:
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