As the North American economy rebounds from its initial bout with and response to COVID-19, several new circumstances have emerged and—in many cases—caught business owners and managers by surprise.
Construction- and demolition-related trade groups have collected data and feedback from member companies and have consistently described some of the challenges that have typified the early 2020s economy.
The Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has sounded the alarm about rising construction materials costs, with steel and diesel fuel among those rising fastest.
That same trade group, and others in the sector, also have noted a low unemployment rate that is considered a positive economic story but a source of concern when contractors need to find skilled and semiskilled workers in a hurry.
“The low rate of unemployment and record job openings in construction show how difficult it is bringing enough workers on board,” says AGC CEO Ken Simonson in one of the trade group’s first press releases of the new year.
Finding qualified and available commercial truck drivers has been a headache even longer. I recall a conversation 10 years ago with a concrete crushing business owner who lamented the difficulties of finding drivers even then.
Identifying the culprits in a perceived labor shortage produces a fairly long list. When it comes to commercial drivers, a scrap metal company manager I spoke to last summer included on his list a disconnect between loosening cannabis laws by states but continued zero-tolerance policies by agencies affiliated with the United States government.
Other points of view might help point to a person’s political leanings, with low wages and subpar working conditions favored as culprits by one group and accusations of younger generations avoiding hard work favored by another. An aging workforce and immigration policy also might come into play.
Thankfully, some people and trade groups are doing more than talking about the issue. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says it will provide more than $30 million to help states expedite the issuance of commercial driver’s licenses to those qualified.
However, the Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says that and other Biden administration plans might not adequately address “excessively high driver turnover rates. Attracting and training new drivers won’t solve the larger problem of retention. We need to create an environment where truckers can have long, safe and productive careers,” the association says.
Economic circumstances can change on a dime, but as of early 2022, it seems contractors and recyclers are facing a vastly different labor management landscape from the one that immediately followed the 2008-2009 financial crisis.