What Buffalo’s Construction Worker Shortfall Tells us About the Skills Gap (and how to solve it)



Buffalo is at the near top of a list of cities that have faced a severe shortage in skilled construction labor. In a 2015 column in the Buffalo News, writer Jonathan Epstein discussed these pains contractors and labor unions were shouldering. It became clear that the pace of development was a double-edged sword. As Epstein put it, “it’s great to have work… as long as you have workers.” From laborers, masons and painters, to electricians and plumbers… the demand was high. And the supply? Not so much.

“It’s great to have work… as long as you have workers”-Jonathan Epstein

Finding the skilled labor needed to support the influx  of multiple large-scale projects (John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, Roswell Park Cancer Institute Clinical Science Center, a new SolarCity production facility…) was no easy feat. The entire Buffalo region’s labor supply was strained. What’s worse: the shortfall of construction workers is a theme still today—across all fields. 


Buffalo wasn’t alone in their struggle to find skilled workers to support a booming construction sector. Contractors across the country faced a similar dilemma trying to reconcile a surge in construction with a shrinking workforce. Trade Group Associated Builders and Contractors confirmed that more than 80% of its members were facing a skilled worker shortage at the time of Epstein’s article.

“…it is only a matter of time before the lack of workers impacts broader economic conditions…”-Stephen Sandherr

This shortage in construction workers persists today, nationally.  The latest labor report from the Associated General Contractors of America confirms that 71% of construction companies are ramping up their 2016 workforces, afraid they will be faced with a shortage of qualified workers.

This leads us to wonder, how are these construction companies faring? In Buffalo’s case, trade groups and contractors were pulling workers from nearby cities like Albany and Syracuse. This tactic isn’t viable long-term, as relocation and housing costs eat into a contractor’s margin substantially. Not to mention, the relocation of workers only shifts an overarching problem: our nation doesn’t have enough skilled tradesmen and women


So… what’s the solution? Consider that the skilled worker shortage affects all sectors of the economy and therefore all kinds of people. It would then follow that the task of producing the next generation of skilled workers is upon all of us.

The task of producing the next generation of skilled workers is upon all of us.

Realizing this, we propose the following tactics aimed at closing our nation’s skills gap. Check it out… what role can you play in solving the skilled labor shortage, long-term?


  • Aggressively recruit new members through community outreach to assist in securing employment in their field
  • Expand apprenticeship programs where young tradesmen and women can learn from a journey-level craft person or trade professional
  • Connect with local high schools to offer scholarships and tuition assistance for students considering a technical or vocational education at a community or trade school
  • Join forces with prospective graduates of trade schools, vocational schools, technical schools and community colleges to recruit new members and assist them in securing employment in their field


  • Revamp shop classes and other technical or vocational craft classes that introduce students to hands-on tradeswork
  • Encourage students, especially women, to explore and pursue a career in the trades
  • Educate guidance counselors in communicating the tremendous opportunity of entering an industry with a dire demand for a talent that students can supply


  • Adapt your recruiting process to aggressively seek out and hire veterans: an untapped yet unmatched talent. See our recent blog post for tips on this
  • Build an apprenticeship program that aligns all company executives on goals, fosters public-private partnerships, and integrates classroom instruction with on the job training. See The Manufacturing Institute’s guide for assistance
  • Offer tuition assistance and scholarships to students who opt for a technical or vocational program at a community or trades school
  • Build a Workforce Development Plan to improve the scale and quality of the skilled workforce
  • Hire with employment agencies like CraftForce that connect local skilled workers with opportunities through direct placement or employee leasing 

What can be learned from Buffalo’s skilled labor shortage is that we must have a long-term plan for building the skilled workforce of tomorrow. This plan calls on the talents and skills of all of us involved in the skilled trades. From educators to employers. Workers to trade groups… It’s upon us to invest in our nation’s skilled talent. For this up-and-coming generation will ultimately support and sustain our economy, long-term. 

Want to contribute to the CraftForce blog? Submit your blog topic idea(s) at blog@craftforce.com 

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Construction jobs are back, and the industry is finally providing much-needed jobs to almost 6.4 million people, the most since 2009, says a report by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Another report went on to say that states like California, Florida, Texas and Washington are the hottest areas for construction jobs right now, but some states are still showing slow growth while others are actually seeing a decrease in job numbers.

Construction has always seemed to be the last sector to see job growth after a major economic downturn, and one of the worst parts about the this slow growth is the loss of skilled workers to other sectors. As one of our other posts points out, we cannot afford the shortage of skilled tradespeople in this country, especially as many seasoned workers will be retiring in the next few years.

It is becoming extremely evident to the contractors that need talented, experienced people on their job sites, that this is a major problem. Places like Port Tampa Bay, where ship repair and dry-dock businesses employ welders, ironworkers, pipefitters and electricians, feel the need for young workers, leading one of their executives to call the growing tide of aging workers the “silver tsunami.”

One thing is clear, we need more skilled tradespeople in this country. It can be hard, dangerous work, but it can also be fulfilling and lucrative. Update your profile today, or sign up for free if you don’t have one. We have all the best jobs for America’s hardest working people.

Find and hire the talent you need with our hiring guide!

Construction: Building with the Future

Hoverboards, flying cars, human-like robots. Just a few modern conveniences that we are supposed to have in abundance already. I mean, did scientists just give up? I can forgive them for the robots who will probably take over the world and the flying cars that I will inevitably crash, but the hoverboard, c’mon.

While some science fiction ideas don’t make it to reality, inventors have always drawn inspiration from authors and other intellectuals. After reading an article on the Smithsonian’s site, I realized that some very practical applications like the cell phone and nuclear power were spawned by ideas from science fiction writers like H.G. Wells.

So what does this have to do with construction workers and companies that use this site?

Who knows, but it’s cool s***, and it made me think about the future of construction materials and techniques. The safety of our tradespeople and the efficiency our production depends on the solutions we can envision and realize. Are we going to continue to use the same generator welders and carbon and alloy steel tools?

Probably not.

We have come a long way since the days of building skyscrapers without fall protection and having nothing for lunch but whiskey and cigarettes, but what’s coming next? How about self-healing concrete to repair buildings or exoskeletons for construction workers to work with heavy tools effortlessly.

Pretty neat, right?

The list goes on: recycled rubber tires made into shingles, NASA-developed insulation that is environmentally safe and recyclable,nanomaterials made almost completely of air that maintain the strength of existing materials. Ok, I take it back, some scientists are actually awesome.

Remember to update your profile resume with your most recent experience or education to give you an edge for the future.


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