Now hiring: Home builders, contractors seek skilled workers

11:03 PM, Feb 27, 2013   |    comments
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  • MINNEAPOLIS -- We're hiring. It's not a phrase you hear often anymore, but Twin Cities home builders and contractors say recent hiring is a sign of recovery for an industry trying to build a workforce from the ground up.

    In Eden Prairie, a bitter February morning brings evidence of a turnaround, as construction crews build new homes in the Pulte Homes Notting Hill home development.

    "It's coming back," said Marv McDaris, President of the Pulte Homes Minnesota Division.

    And if you still aren't sold, Marv McDaris says his company can't find enough skilled workers to build its homes. He says recent momentum is ramped up by historically low interest rates and a diminished supply, with less than three months supply of homes on the market.

    "How do we get people back into residential construction to work in the trades? We started to feel a pinch point, a contraction, last fall with some key trades, getting enough people on the job site to do the work," he said.

    McDaris says framers, masons, and trim carpenters left the industry for another paycheck. Many packed up and headed for the North Dakota oil boom, or pursued work at frac sand mines.

    So here, granting homeowners their dreams can be difficult when a workforce has disappeared.

    "If we can't keep up with the demand of homes sold and built, then we could experience shortages and delay schedules," said McDaris, adding the situation will also drive up home prices.

    The Builder's Association of the Twin Cities (BATC) says last year in the Twin Cities metro area, permits for single family homes were up 50 percent, with 2013 on the same pace. The BATC held a job fair earlier this month and says another one is in the works.

    "We have needs for framers, finish carpenters, window installers, and at my facility, a lumber distribution facility, we are hiring truck drivers, and fork lift operators," said John Zirbes, branch manager of Excelsior based Lyman Lumber.  Zirbes said his company has hired 140 people since fall, and has 70 job openings for spring.

    "Last week we met with the Hubert H. Humphrey Job Corps. They have a program for carpentry we will hire every person they put through that program right now," said Zirbes. "It's a great problem to have but it's also very stressful because all of the sudden the demand has picked up immensely."

    Already, the BATC is partnering with construction trade programs, with an eye on Burnsville High School, where technical education students are already tooling their resumes.

    Technical education instructor Russell Tesmer decided to trade his woodworking class for a new construction occupation program, where students learn everything from plumbing to wiring. He believes the launch of the new curriculum next fall will help his students build a living, what he calls a pathway to either college or career readiness.

    "Not everybody is going to go to college so those that don't - let's get them a career better than the fast food industry. I think people are finally waking up and saying look, the four-year college isn't for everybody, our society doesn't need everybody with four-year degrees, we need people who can build our houses here in America and who can fix our cars here in America," said Tesmer.

    "You can look forward to a job, hopefully, and maybe have a better chance of getting one," said Collin Buesgens, a junior, who will enroll in the program.

    The latest data available from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Economic Development shows January of 2012 saw a 2.6 percent increase in residential construction employment, compared to the same time period in 2011.

    Compare that to the worst of times, January of 2009 showed nearly 22 percent employment drop in that industry.

    While the numbers for 2013 aren't yet available, industry experts don't need the data to know it's bringing a major uptick in residential construction trades.

     That's exactly why Pulte is trying to staff its construction sites before spring, a hopeful farewell to the industry's most bitter season yet.

    "We can feel the stress and know that it is coming," said McDaris.

    The Builders Association of the Twin Cities has an online career page where you can search all job openings.

    (Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )

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