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Builders face skilled labor shortage as new home construction rises

Rich Kremer

Wisconsin Public Radio

The number of building permits for new homes in Wisconsin is up 10 percent so far this year compared to last year, according to Wisconsin Builders Association data, but builders are having trouble finding enough skilled labor to keep up with the demand.

New home construction has been strong since 2015, according to the Wisconsin Builders Association. Contractors across the state say they're busy but face a shortage of skilled workers.

Keith Tibbits, project manager for C&E Wurzer Builders in Eau Claire, said he has seven skilled carpenters doing cabinet and trim work, but he could use 12. Tibbits said it's slowing them down.

"We’ve restructured how we schedule our jobs to try and accommodate this," he said. "We just added more time to our jobs so we can work with the people we have on staff at the moment."

An Associated General Contractors of America survey estimates there are about 114,000 construction workers in Wisconsin. That's down slightly from last year. 

Christina Thrun, executive officer for the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association, said her members want to hire.

"There’s not as many young people going into the skilled trades as there used to be," Thrun said. "It’s definitely going to be a little bit of a challenge because we’re hearing they could build more houses and do more things if they had more labor."

According to the Wisconsin Builders Association, it's working with lawmakers and state agencies to steer more youth into skilled construction trades.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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