The construction industry’s labor shortage can feel overwhelming. “Depending on whose numbers you’re looking at, over the last twelve months there’s been about 200,000 unfilled jobs in the residential construction industry,” says John Courson, president and CEO of the Home Builders Institute (HBI) based in Washington D.C.

Courson, along with Ben Bigelow of the University of Oklahoma and Michael Smith of the Colorado Homebuilding Academy in Denver, will be addressing the labor shortage during their panel, Labor Shortage Solutions: Developing the Next Generation of Builders & Skilled Trades, at the 2019 International Builders Show (IBS) on Tuesday February 19, from 3:30-4:30.

One hour may not be enough time to cover an issue that’s been vexing the industry since just after it emerged from an earlier crisis. “When the homebuilding industry started to turn down in 2007, between that time and the time it started to show improvement at the beginning of 2012, – 1.7 to 2 million skilled workers left the industry,” says Courson. “Some of them went back to their country of origin, some of them took other jobs in other industries, and when demand started to turn around, there was this built-in shortage because there was no pipeline of programs where workers were being trained to step in and fill the gap.”

Courson and his fellow panel members are all looking for ways to fill that gap. HBI’s main point of emphasis is currently on getting their message and their Career and Technical Education (CTE) program into high schools across the country.

John Courson, President and CEO of he Home Builders Institute
Courtesy of HBI John Courson, President and CEO of he Home Builders Institute

“There’s a new appetite for CTE in schools – we’re in about seventy schools across the country so far and have a long list of schools we’re in discussions with,” says Courson. He puts the current share of students graduating high school with no training, trade, job, or college plans at 35%.

The CTE programs have proved popular with students, who help promote them by word of mouth, whereas teachers and guidance counselors are sometimes the ones who pose the biggest obstacles to getting the programs installed in schools.

Courson is also taking his pitch and education program to military bases, which is another good area of opportunity. “We’ve done six programs on military installations this year with four more scheduled for next year,” he says. “The soldiers, sailors and airmen like to work with their hands, they work outdoors, and they’re used to working on teams. We always have a waiting list on a base.”

HBI also works with prison inmates, the Department of Labor’s Job Corps program, and more to help train up to 10,000 new construction industry employees per year. But there is still a need for workers.

“The builders and trades don’t want to do on-the-job training, they want to hire someone who is ready to go to work and be productive on the day they hire them,” says Courson. “We still need a protocol of training in the construction trades that produces a flow of trained, qualified students to fill these positions. We’re just one piece of the puzzle.”

To see and hear from some other pieces of the puzzle, plan on joining Courson during the panel at IBS in Las Vegas.