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Skilled to Work: Huntsville, state construction firms have trouble finding employees

The Alabama Department of Commerce notes that the rate people are leaving the workforce is far greater on average than those entering it.

Posted: Jan 9, 2019 9:38 AM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 7:42 AM

A new year brings with it familiar problems for Jay Stutts. The owner of residential electrician company Mister Sparky in Huntsville, like many others in his field, faces a hiring challenge that only gets more troubling over time.

While sitting in his office on Friday, Stutts called the aging out of the workforce “a crisis.”

Top 10 Jobs (by demand) in north Alabama requiring an associates degree, post-secondary certificate, or some college (no degree)*

Occupation Average annual total openings (2016-2026) Average Salary 2017
Registered Nurses 655 $53,659
Welders, Cutters, Solderers & Brazers 535 $36,770
Industrial Machinery Mechanics 320 $50,725
Machinists 305 $44,166
Electrical & Electronics Engineering Technicians 145 $63,035
Computer User Support Specialists 145 $46,048
Medical Secretaries 145 $31,279
HVAC Mechanics & Installers 140 $39,715
Physitcal Therapist Assistants 80 $57,243
Industrial Engineering Technicians 40 $53,545

*Figures provided by the Alabama Department of Labor

In recent survey of construction firms in Alabama, 74 percent of them said they In recent survey of construction firms in Alabama, 74 percent of them said they "are having a hard time filling some or all (salaried and hourly craft) positions."

“It would be one or two generations before we get back to a strong trade level, unless we just have a mass exodus from the white-collar world to the blue-collar world,” said Stutts.

The trend can be seen across the various trades that encompass the field of construction. Skilled workers retire at a rate that significantly outpaces the influx of new talent.

According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the average age of a construction worker is 47-years-old and only one new person is added on average through apprenticeship programs for every four that leave the workforce.

The ADOC also notes that only 10.4 percent of Alabama’s construction workforce is female.

Just over a week ago, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA) released a study that questioned just how tough a time construction firms were having bringing on new workers.

Of those surveyed in Alabama, 74 percent said they are having a difficult time filling some or all positions. In response to a separate question, 73 percent of the construction firms said it will either continue to be hard or become harder to hire craft or salaried personnel in 2019.

“We have this huge void of people aging out of the workforce and then just not having the younger people coming up through the trades to replace them,” said Tiffany Brightwell, the president of the north Alabama chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.

Brightwell said she doesn’t believe the difficulty in filling these jobs comes from a lack of interest, but rather a lack of knowledge.

“We as parents, as educators, as a society have really done a disservice to students. We’ve told them that the only way they can be successful is to earn a four-year college degree and that’s just simply not true anymore,” said Brightwell.

According to the Alabama Construction Recruitment Institute (ACRI), about 39 percent of students who graduate with a loan to pay off need at least a decade to do so.

The latest data from the Institute for College Access and Success shows that for the class of 2017, Alabama had the eighth highest average debt at $31,899.

Another frightening stat: about half the students in Alabama graduate with debt. That puts the Yellowhammer State in a three-way tie at 40th with California and Florida.

And the problem goes beyond construction. In just north Alabama, there are hundreds of job openings each year in skilled jobs like for registered nurses, computer user support specialists, physical therapist assistants and heating/air conditioning mechanics, just to name a few of the top ten.

Meanwhile, Stutts hopes people will start to take a closer look at skilled work, beyond the stigma, and see that they can offer good salaries and a skillset that can build into a solid career.

“You can start with nothing and five, 10, 15 years later you can have your business. That’s pretty encouraging,” Stutts said.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
Out of AL00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 52039

Reported Deaths: 652
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby11936201
Davidson11205121
Rutherford304035
Hamilton280435
Sumner163652
Trousdale14985
Williamson134015
Knox12098
Out of TN11987
Wilson96317
Putnam9067
Robertson83911
Sevier8303
Bradley7454
Lake6940
Tipton6495
Unassigned6351
Bledsoe6211
Bedford5705
Montgomery5677
Macon4874
Maury3573
Hardeman3524
Hamblen3434
Fayette3232
Madison3052
Loudon2881
Rhea2850
Dyer2543
McMinn23918
Cheatham2321
Blount2293
Dickson2120
Cumberland1834
Washington1740
Lawrence1646
Lauderdale1513
Anderson1442
Monroe1416
Jefferson1372
Gibson1291
Smith1221
Sullivan1212
Coffee1200
Greene1142
Obion1132
Hardin1097
Cocke940
Haywood932
Marshall921
Franklin883
Wayne880
Hickman800
Warren780
McNairy760
Marion744
White733
DeKalb680
Carter651
Lincoln650
Weakley641
Overton631
Giles621
Hawkins622
Roane620
Grundy611
Unicoi550
Campbell511
Carroll481
Claiborne480
Henderson480
Polk460
Henry450
Johnson440
Grainger410
Sequatchie410
Crockett403
Cannon370
Chester350
Perry340
Meigs320
Humphreys292
Jackson290
Morgan271
Fentress230
Stewart230
Decatur220
Union190
Clay180
Scott170
Houston150
Benton131
Moore130
Van Buren70
Hancock60
Lewis60
Pickett60

 

 

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