THE ENGINE REVVING HOUSTON'S ECONOMY
October 9, 2015
City, business leaders tackle shortage in skilled construction workers
Construction costs are staying high, even through the oil slump, and it's partly due to the lack of skilled workers like electricians, welders, plumbers and pipefitters.
The demand has risen as multibillion-dollar petrochemical expansions underway along the Gulf Coast have many of Houston's skilled workers headed out of town for those jobs, which typically pay about 20 percent more than commercial work.
The Greater Houston Partnership developed UpSkill Houston to strengthen the pipeline between potential workers and careers in "medium-skilled" professions, which require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.
The initiative focuses on seven key sectors of Houston's employment: oil and gas, petrochemicals, health care, commercial and industrial construction, ports and maritime, advanced manufacturing, and utilities. But Peter Beard, senior vice president of regional workforce at the Greater Houston Partnership, said the need for skilled construction workers is more immediate than some of the other sectors.
"The reality of the construction sector is they need workers today," Beard said. "Petrochemical has a slightly longer runway, partly because the expansions are going on right now. They aren’t fully coming online for another year or two, and they’ve already started training workers in that space. Construction needs the workers today, partly because of those expansions."
Beard said an aim of the initiative is to get stakeholders — construction companies, developers, educators and community organizations — around the same table to take a more collaborative approach to the problem. The other challenge, Beard said, is to change people's perception of the jobs in the construction industry.
"We are looking at how to bring in new folks, and we're working against the perception of construction work as undesirable," Beard said. "There are lots of different careers in the industry that pay very well once you’re skilled. We need to get entry level workers in, quality folks coming in, and then have a path to skill them up to highly skilled."