By Marianela Toldeo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Developers and builders in southeast Florida are worried about a growing shortage of qualified construction workers.
In the past six months, Edward Ramos, who owns Ramos Builders Inc. in Cape Coral, says he’s worried that he’s facing a shortage of qualified electricians, carpenters, plumbers and drywall installers.
Many of the workers who had moved into the area during the housing boom, have since left.
With housing inventories starting to dwindle because of a stabilizing housing market and investors picking up foreclosures at a quick clip, builders like Ramos say they fear a shortage of qualified workers could slow progress.
A look at the numbers show housing growth is real. The Cape Coral City Clerk’s Office said single-family residential building permits grew in 2013 by about 37 percent over the previous year.
Cape Coral isn’t the only area expected to experience worker shortages.
In Orlando, McGraw Hill Construction reported that permits filed for residential and commercial projects in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties totaled $4.2 billion between January and November 2013, up 47 percent from $2.9 billion the previous year. McGraw Hill provides trends and forecasts and analytics for the construction industry.
According to an annual survey by Associated General Contractors of America on construction-industry trends, construction activity is indeed picking up.
And that leads to hiring difficulties in key positions.
“The lack of qualified employees is a temporary problem,” Jorge Salazar Carrillo, a professor of economics at Florida International University, told Florida Watchdog. “Unemployment is still very high everywhere, and it’s much higher than official numbers show.”
He said the surplus of construction jobs coupled with the short supply of qualified workers will tend to increase wages. And that will encourage people to choose work over unemployment benefits.
Carrillo said that many building projects were shelved as a result of the economic downturn and that a lot of tradesmen, including undocumented workers, quit coming to the state for lack of jobs.
“Construction is a very informal market where background checks and working documents are rarely required,” he said.
University of Florida, Dave Denslow, director of policy students in the Department of Economic at the University of Florida, said senior qualified construction workers have either retired or fled Florida for more suitable construction climates.
“When the housing bubble burst, construction in Florida virtually stopped,” said Dean Stansel, associate professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University. “Many of the construction workers left Florida or found another line of work. Now that building has resumed, it’s going to take a while to find workers to fill those new jobs” he added.
Florida was one of the hardest hit states when the housing bubble burst in 2008. According to Realtytrac.com, in 2012 eight of the 20 cities with the highest foreclosure rates were located in the Sunshine State. Tampa was at the top of the list with an 80 percent increase in foreclosures, followed by Miami with a 36 percent rise.
But the state’s position on market report may be a little misleading since much of what was started in 2008 is just now coming home to roost.
“Many foreclosures, which were delayed in the judicial process, are finally coming to an end,” Carrillo said. “But the market has gradually stabilized.”
Even with home prices now holding their own, Carrillo said that doesn’t necessarily mean a boon for workers.
“The shortage of construction workers hasn’t had a negative impact on the construction activity because new technologies are moving things along,” he said. “While this is good news for someone looking for work, it’s temporary.”
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter