It is not news to say Denver is growing. Nor is it really news to say cranes have become as much of a staple of the contemporary Denver skyline as the Republic Plaza.
What is news is that all those cranes don’t have nearly enough construction workers operating behind them.
Colorado’s construction landscape is currently understaffed by 10,000 workers. It’s a number that reflects a trend that started decades ago.
“If I look at it from a chronological occurrence of those challenges, it goes back from the last two generations of parents saying have better opportunities than I had or work smarter not harder," said Michael Smith, a construction worker in Denver that began the Colorado Homebuilding Academy.
CHA provides a free eight-week course to 30 students who are interested in going into construction. He created the program years ago as a way to combat the growing need for construction workers. The course costs around $1,400 per student and is funded by private investors as well as federal grants.
“The bottom line is if we don't have people to build our houses we're not going to build the ones we need,” he said.
The Associated General Contractors of Colorado, the overseeing construction board in the state, estimate by the year 2023, Colorado will need 60,000 more construction workers than it has today.
It’s a tall order considering in 2011, Colorado was 64,000 construction workers short.
“We actually have to do something immediately. It's an attention need,” added Moses Alvarez of the Colorado Contractors Association.
Experts trace the shortage back to changing attitudes surrounding manual labor. It forced shop classes out of schools as a cost-saving investment. Then came the recession in 2008, which stymied construction, pushing workers out of the field and into other professions.
In the nearly 10 years since, the industry has been able to recover, but it hasn’t been able to recover enough as it’s still 10,000 workers short and the demand only grows.
“I would say it's a severe problem that can become a crisis if we don't have our market work together,” Smith said.
With projects like the current Gaylord Rockies Hotel in Aurora and the anticipated I-70 project, worker demand is at a premium. If the supply can’t meet the demand, Smith expects the consequences to shift to consumer.
To help fight the shortage, the AGC has invested $2 million over the next two years to increase its number of public advertisements as well as hire recruiters to go into schools and other professions.
The AGC has also increased its presence at job fairs and is currently trying to lobby to get some school to bring back shop classes.