Wisconsin construction eyeing big year in 2015
Survey: 91 percent of businesses expect to increase staff size

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Jan. 22, 2015

MADISON - Nearly three-quarters of construction businesses statewide increased their employee count last year and companies across the nation are predicting 2015 to be one of the biggest years for growth in the field in nearly a decade.

The Associated General Contractors of America released its 2015 Construction Industry Hiring & Business Outlook on Wednesday, which shows most contractors are optimistic about the year ahead and are ready to expand, but must find qualified workers to hire.

“Eighty percent of firms report plans to expand their payrolls in 2015 while only 7 percent expect to reduce head counts - a net positive of 73 percent,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, during a conference call with media Wednesday. “If those predictions come true, industry employment could expand in 2015 by the most in a decade.”

Total employment in construction businesses increased by 290,000 workers, or nearly 5 percent, and investments in construction rose by nearly 6 percent in the first 11 months of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013, according to Sandherr.

In Wisconsin, 91 percent of the 22 companies in the state that took part in the survey said they expect an increase of between 1 and 25 percent in their head count during 2015.

Suzanne Kelley, president of the Waukesha County Business Alliance, said those stats are consistent with what her organization has been hearing locally.

“I sense a lot of optimism for 2015,” she said. “When you look at the survey and some of the growth they are projecting in manufacturing and health care and in the commercial arena, I think people feel very good about the upcoming year.”

Finding staff with the right stuff

While a predominantly positive outlook is there, a sizeable portion of companies believe it will be a challenge to find the right workers.  According to the survey, 86 percent of businesses in Wisconsin reported having a hard time filling professional and craft working positions.

And finding skilled and unskilled laborers is not expected to get any easier any time soon. A majority of responding companies reported they do not foresee much of an improvement in hiring workers in 2015, as 90 percent said they expect it will continue to be hard, or become even harder, to find and hire skilled craft workers.

“Despite the overall optimism, some challenges remain for the industry,” said Ken Simonson, the AGC’s chief economist. “In particular, as construction firms continue to expand, they will continue to have a difficult time finding enough skilled construction workers.”

Simonsen said 87 percent of contacted companies nationwide are having a tough time filling key professional and craft worker positions. Three quarters of the firms that are hiring report having trouble finding qualified craft workers, while 62 percent say the same about professional positions such as project managers, supervisors and estimators.

Compensation levels, however, appear to be rising and most businesses expect to dole out more health care in 2015.

AGC members and officials plan to continue pushing for action on the measures outlined in its Workforce Development Plan and look to lobby President Barack Obama’s administration to rethink its current regulatory approach.

“With a little luck and a lot of effort, we will make sure the construction industry has the support it needs to continue expanding in 2015 and beyond,” Sandherr said.

The Outlook was based on survey results from over 900 construction firms from 48 states and the District of Columbia.



Email: mmasterson@conleynet.com