Construction Companies Hurting for Workforce

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Fredrick S. Gipson, business development manager of Gipson Mechanical Contractors, and Jason Sain of DeAngelis Diamond talk about construction jobs. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

FRANKLIN, TN — There’s a shortage of trained skilled workers for builders and contractors, according to employers and associates here for a construction manager’s open house.

It’s not just because of Middle Tennessee’s building boom. It’s the aging of skilled construction workers, continuing effects of the housing bubble burst, the recession and cautious bankers when loaning money.

Jobs were discussed at the “meet & greet” hosted by DeAngelis Diamond’s Nashville-area office near Williamson Medical Center. Workforce diversity was addressed without hesitation in social conversation.

“We have a diverse workforce,” said Andy Mitchell, president of his Knoxville-area company. “We have Hispanics, African-Americans and a few Caucasians.” It’s a blunt, good-humor answer about the labor market.

Hosting April 20 was Josh Rhodes, division manager of DeAngelis Diamond’s Nashville-area office. He found “contractors who will definitely be receiving invitations to pursue projects” with the Naples, Fla.-based business’ Franklin office. It opened in October.

Fred Gipson, business development manager of Gipson Mechanical Contractors, Nashville, said, “We have a team ready for them. I think they’ll send us a bid list” of projects. “We’d be more than one contractor bidding for a job. Whoever has the best price gets the job.”

Gipson Mechanical Contractors’ employees are “in the finishing stages” at Austin Peay State University’s Art & Design Building and Trahern Building renovation with Turner Construction and hangar construction with Messer Construction at Nashville’s airport.

Gipson’s decade in Nashville is backed by 25 more years for the firm headquartered in Memphis. Gipson graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in December. He and a classmate, Raul Yepez of Hillwood in West Nashville, studied commercial construction management.

Originally from Venezuela, Yepez is available since working with a company that wanted him to relocate. His wife and 2-month-old daughter prompted him to stay in Nashville.

“There is a new contractor in town,” Yepez said of DeAngelis Diamond. “There are opportunities. It’s all about networking” at events like the open house.

Yepez knows Nashville needs affordable workforce housing, but his conversation didn’t include the law of supply and demand. Labor shortages imply increased wages.

DHan James, Middle Tennessee regional director of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., Nashville, said the industry needs more skilled and trained construction workers, so ABC’s Greater Tennessee Chapter coordinates training.

“The average age of a skilled construction worker is 55,” James said. “So, you have this large gap between those who are working, and available workers to take their place.”

ABC started Go Build, a campaign to recruit employees.

“If you’re not interested in college,” she said, “go where you can get trained in HVAC, plumbing, electrical work, and carpentry.”

ABC wants to resume its masonry workers program.

“There’s so much work in this area, we need more” workers, she said. “Contractors are willing to teach a job working with your hands.” They want people with good work ethics. Arrive on time. Do good work.

Chad Usherwood is the division manager for Glenn E. Mitchell & Co. led by Andy Mitchell. His Mission Court, Franklin office is near Dangles Diamond’s open house on Edward Curd Lane.

Why’s America’s construction business booming? “It was so slow for so long, it finally broke loose,” Mitchell replies. “So many people went out of business.”

Survivors are getting contracts and hiring workers.

“I already have contracts with DeAngelis Diamond and bids pending,” says Shirley Blanks, project manager for Manning Materials’ specialties division providing commodes, linen and trash chutes, lockers, and wall protectors.

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