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Texas Contractors Say They Can't Find Enough Construction Workers

Bill Jacobus/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Workers in the construction industry are beginning to leave the state, and many employers are feeling the impact.

From Texas Standard:

If you were to walk south on Congress Avenue in Austin, you'd notice at least six construction cranes. You can see a similar scene in cities all across the Lone Star State. Day and night, construction crews are busy at work, and business is good –  or it would be if there were enough workers to get the jobs done.  

This week, the Associated General Contractors of America released a report with data from 2,500 contractors. It confirms what we've been hearing: There is a labor shortage.

Arturo Canales is executive vice president of Chamberlin Roofing and Waterproofing, a construction firm based in Houston. He says many young people choose college rather than a career in construction. And the competition for available workers is fierce.

"We battle a lot of industries, as well as the oil industry. They get people from the same pool," Canales says.

Construction companies vet every worker they hire, and workers must be approved by the federal government's E-Verify system, which tells employers whether a candidate is legally allowed to work in the U.S. That means  some candidates who know they won't pass don't apply for jobs, or that those who fail an E-Verify check can't be hired.

Canales says he supports an increase in the number of visas for foreign workers.

"The issue is there's not really a clear path that I can find where it makes it easy for, say, workers from Mexico to come work over here," he says.

Canales says his company works to recruit employees, but it hasn't been able to find enough workers to meet his needs. He says plenty of construction sites are dominated by Hispanic workers. He implies some of these are probably not here legally.

"I would tell you that from my perspective, if everybody would just hire legal workers, we'd be worse off right now," he says. "I don't think there's enough legal workers out there, or personnel that are interested in the construction industry that are legal that would fulfill all the jobs to get our projects done."

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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