Contractors Are Optimistic About the Industry, but Workers are Still Needed

Glass Half Full

There’s nothing quite like the hope a new year brings. A fresh slate. New beginnings. And for those in the utility construction industry, another chance to grow your business, knock off projects on the to-do list and maybe add a new employee or two.

Recently, Utility Contractor had the opportunity to speak with NUCA members from across the country to gather their thoughts on the industry and what opportunities and challenges lie ahead. Optimism shines pretty bright at the moment, thanks to a laundry list of projects and the potential for change, and necessary funding, from a newly-minted Trump Administration. However, just like last year, 2017 is also seeing a shortage of skilled workers — something that everyone can agree needs to be addressed.

  • Participants included:
  • Monty Habrock, Brian Sorensen and Jesse Walz from L.G. Roloff Construction, based in Omaha, Neb.
  • Ryan Schmitt from Petticoat-Schmitt Civil Contractors, based in Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Mark Fuglevand from Marshbank Construction, based in Lake Stevens, Wash.

1. What are your general thoughts/feelings about the industry in 2017?

L.G. Roloff Construction: Economically speaking, it’s looking like it will be a good year; commercial and residential development in our area is strong and that creates a lot of infrastructure projects. Politically speaking, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens and how quickly it does in regards to the infrastructure- and regulation-related campaign promises and how it impacts our industry.

Schmitt: It appears to be pretty positive moving into 2017. We are seeing more investment in utility and transportation projects. The rebounding housing market with low home inventory in the southeast continues to bolster investment in new development and supporting roadway and utility construction. Investment in water and wastewater treatment plants are funding expansions of existing facilities and new plants to handle the additional demand.

Fuglevand: Everyone I have been talking to in this industry is very upbeat about the change in the presidency … It will take a year or two to see the results of the release of the economy, but we are optimistic enough to start talking about hiring more staff and planning on purchasing new equipment.

2. Are there any issues you feel the industry needs to address this year?

L.G. Roloff Construction: We all need to keep making noise about the poor state of our underground utility infrastructure and the need for a funded long-term plan to address the problems. Also, workforce development and retention is a huge issue. In general, the promotion of the construction industry as a “destination” career that is admired and valued … not something you do until you find something else.

Schmitt: It’s a recurring theme, but the lack of adequate labor is our biggest challenge. We are spending more time and money recruiting, training and mentoring new employees than ever before. Companies with fulfilling cultures and desirable work environments will prevail in the battle for talent.

Fuglevand: We need to work hard to promote the construction industry as a career choice. The shortage of qualified workers is going to depress possible gains we are assuming with the new administration. One piece of legislation we have been pushing is to allow federal school loans to be used at votech/career training programs.

3. What encouraging words do you have for fellow industry professionals or those interested in pursuing a career in utility construction?

L.G. Roloff Construction: There is a quote on our office lobby wall, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” That says it all. There is a lot of opportunity in construction and it is very interesting and rewarding work — you can build quite a skill set and career if you approach it with dedication and the right attitude.

Schmitt: The opportunities are plentiful in our industry in our region. Companies are willing to invest in developing talent and help grow individuals if they are prepared to work. College graduates in construction management, engineering or other related degrees are experiencing all-time highs in starting salary and many colleges are seeing 100 percent placement in their graduating seniors in these type programs.

Fuglevand: I would tell them there is no better time than now to become a part of an industry that is going to see an increase in funding and importance. The Trump Administration has made infrastructure funding a top priority; hopefully it can make this a reality. Also with the ongoing news of the Flint, Mich., water problems and countless other news articles in regards to failing water and sewer lines, this will only help to push the need and urgency to fund the replacement of this critical infrastructure. I would also let them know that they would be getting into an industry that has high pay, great benefits and endless opportunity for anyone willing to work hard and apply themselves.

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