Construction companies struggle to fill open jobs

DALLAS (1080 KRLD)- A construction company in Dallas is opening a storefront in Oak Cliff to try to fill open jobs. Dee Brown Inc. opened in 1955, but now has 60 open masonry jobs it cannot fill.

"This isn't a short-term deal," says Chief Executive Rob Barnes. "It's becoming more and more of an issue."

Barnes says many people who worked in construction retired after the 2008 recession. He says the industry's workforce shrunk 40% over several years.

Despite economic problems during the pandemic, he says demand in Texas has stayed high.

"We're all hurting," he says. "It doesn't matter whether your a materials supplier, a stone quarrier, a stone fabricator, masonry company, drywall company, everybody's short. It just hasn't recovered. A lot of trade workers are retiring, and you just haven't been filling that pipeline."

Barnes says he has been working with school districts and guidance counselors to restore the "pipeline," saying people who work in masonry and other fields can now earn more than many college graduates.

"When it comes down to it, if you're willing to work, you can find a home here," he says, saying masonry supervisors are making $35-$40 per hour. "What's been created over time, if you come up in a generation and go to college, that's what's expected of you. We've lost quite a few years of kids having that pathway to a trade."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction companies across the country have about 250,000 open jobs right now. Barnes says he is now having to turn down work because he does not have enough manpower.

"We could do a lot more work and employ a lot more people if we could find them," he says. "We're constrained by this. It's something we have to find a solution for in the very near future. If not, costs are going to escalate significantly."

Barnes says the federal government also should address immigration, saying many people now working in construction have emigrated from other countries.

"A lot of the workers coming in from Mexico, Central or South American countries don't look at the trades as 'less than.' They just want to come in and raise a family," he says.

Barnes says community colleges are starting apprenticeships programs, but they can take up to two years. Dee Brown Inc. has started its own program to train employees in four months by working them full-time instead of taking a few classes a week.

"As our market starts to fire again, there are still a lot of people moving into Texas," he says. "We're going to see some challenges with infrastructure if we, as an industry, don't get some things going and find a way to attract more of a workforce."