Weather gods and goddesses

Yes, the "House of Cards" third-season is out in all its despicable-character-filled glory for Netflix binge-watchers to consume at will.

Meanwhile, back on the home building home front talk of the community's structural labor undersupply has gone into an uneasy split limbo, one that focuses on the longer-term issues of attracting and retaining skilled young workers to the building trade capacity pool, and the other, a season-to-season, fingers-crossed drama that may or may not play out across the 2016 home building construction cycle.

According to one senior-level large home building enterprise executive we spoke with this week, labor ranks as the No. 1 area of risk to operational plans for 2016. Bring the lens a bit closer into how higher volume builders manage their workflows--sale to start to slab to completion to settlement and delivery--and you can imagine that, across 4,000 or 8,000, or 12,000 homes on a company's docket for delivery in 2016 there are some tricky, complex, interdependent work stream balances to strike.

Remove one card--say, by introducing a bad weather delay in the construction cycle process in a big enough swath of the market, as happened last Spring in Texas--and you set a rather frenetic domino effect into motion in terms of trying to catch back up to the operational road map.

"When you have to call in your trades to ask them to start working through weekends to try to get back on schedule, then you better have a pretty darned good relationship with them, or your delivery timetable's going to fall into chaos," our executive tells us.

Among the operational "lessons learned" from last year's debacle--whose drama included mutineering rough-trade crews, supervisors ratcheting up hourly pay agreements to get their scheduled tasks on the books, and a profound loss of confidence among operators in being able to manage construction cycles in any measurably proficient way--include better, more disciplined systems. For instance, if one division represents a "best practice" around compressing the "sale to start to slab" time-period to the fewest days, then that system gets captured and migrated across an enterprise to a far more effective degree than many imagine.

Still, the weather is the weather. While it may provide relief from time to time, the weather is not generally "getting better" with time.

So, the risk to operational plans around labor in 2016 is intense, pending factors like the weather, which, last we heard, isn't in builders control.

And it's this issue that exposes the more structural issue around labor and home building, which is that young people streaming through our education and training infrastructure don't map a construction trade skill as a career goal.

Plus, demographics are working to make the problem worse, as aging labor crew members move toward their career exit doors at a greater rate than young replacement workers enter into the construction trades.

We're hearing about a lot of initiatives, funds, public relations campaigns, apprenticeship programs, etc. aimed at addressing the issue.

Still, how many job site builders aspire to having their own kids grow up to be job site builders? As noble, as fulfilling, as purpose-filled, as technologically challenging, as managerially complex, and as collaborative as a construction trade worker's job must be in this day and age, the P.R. job is about offsetting the negatives.

The negatives are about the unpredictability, the wage uncertainty, the breakdowns in schedule, and the unreliability of a construction skill to provide a steady livelihood.

Our Housing Leadership Summit focus, May 16 to May 18 in Dana Pointe, Calif., is all about "Leading Change," including what home builders need to resolve, and act on, to do their part in attracting and retaining a fresh young force of workers in the building trades. See you there.