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Construction projects like this one rely on immigrant labor
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Construction worker shortage tied to immigration

Construction work at Salt Lake City International airport on Monday, March 5, 2018. (File: Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A new report from the Associated General Contractors of America finds a shortage of construction and skilled craft workers is getting worse. And it’s affecting multiple industries.

Economists say the need for construction workers increased 8.6 percent over the last year even though Utah jobs grew overall by 3.3 percent. That huge demand is making it difficult for companies to find qualified workers.  But it isn’t just the high demand for housing which is fueling the labor shortage.

The report found the recent tightening of immigration rules means not as many craft workers are available to fill needed jobs. 81 percent of Utah construction companies rely on nearly 50 percent of Hispanic employees for their workforce.  Currently, there is no legal visa program for these workers.

The Department of Workforce Services shows wages for construction jobs are increasing in an attempt to entice more people to the industry. But the report from AGC finds employers are changing their hiring standards in regards to arrest records and education. 55 percent of Utah contractor companies are also increasing in-house training.

“Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist. “The best way to encourage continued economic growth, make it easier to rebuild aging infrastructure and place more young adults into high-paying careers is to address construction workforce shortages.”

AGC surveyed thousands of firms. They found 80 percent of those companies were struggling to fill hourly craft positions, with the west and south especially hard-hit by labor shortages.

Simonson also expects the shortages to continue well into 2019 if immigration rules are not immediately addressed. Most affected, he says, are craft positions like carpentry, sheet metal workers, pipe fitters and dry-wallers.