Letters to the Editor

South Florida’s skilled labor shortage is challenging

Florida’s construction sector is booming with 40,000 new jobs added in the past year alone, according to the U.S. Labor Department. That figure marks an 11 percent annual workforce increase and accounts for more new positions created than in any other state.

While these numbers reflect the sheer volume of building and infrastructure projects now underway in Florida, they overlook the shortage of skilled labor confronting construction firms across the state.

With Skanska involved in more than 30 projects, employing thousands of craft workers across Florida, we are the state’s largest building and heavy civil construction provider. Still, our project managers and trade contractors face a recurring challenge — the demand for skilled labor in South Florida continues to outpace the size of the industry workforce — and by a wide margin.

This shortage causes a range of challenges when it comes to hiring and retaining skilled workers and upholding high standards of safety and quality on a job site. And while we prefer to hire local workers, too frequently our only option is to bring in talent from elsewhere. Sourcing personnel from beyond South Florida is costly, and it means that a high percentage of the wages we pay ultimately leave our community.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to curb Florida’s skilled labor shortage. The most recent example is the news that Miami Dade College has received a $10 million federal grant designed to equip students with the skills necessary to compete for specialized construction jobs. The college expects between 500 and 600 students will participate in the program each year. The hope is that upon completing the curriculum, these students will be in position to compete for high-skill plumbing, electrical, and carpentry positions.

Other initiatives are setting out to prepare students even before college. The Latin Builders Association opened the Construction and Business Management Academy Charter High School in Miami-Dade County last year to prepare high school students with the skills needed to launch a career in the areas of engineering technology, drafting and civil engineering.

With new building projects launching on a weekly basis and a strong pipeline of major infrastructure initiatives still in the planning phase, all signs indicate that South Florida’s construction boom is here to stay.

Miami Dade College and the state of Florida are taking a step in the right direction, and more public and private sector entities should follow their lead by prioritizing specialty job training.

As the South Florida workforce grows stronger and becomes more skilled, companies like ours stand ready to hire locally. Creating these opportunities helps to retain talent in our community while spurring positive economic impact.

Andy Allen, Project Director, Skanska USA South Florida, Miami