Michigan needs skilled trades workers for new housing boom

State lost 60,000 skilled trades workers during recession, but builders need them now

By Guy Gordon - Reporter/Anchor

ROYAL OAK, Mich. - If you're in the market for a new home or getting remodeling help, you may wonder why prices are up and waits are longer in Michigan.

Building permits statewide were up nearly 30 percent last year and are forecast to go up another 20 percent this year. Yet, we're still at about half of our peak years because there just aren't enough skilled trades workers to fill the demand.

"We're having our best year ever (in 15 years)," said Patrick Raye, president of Hillan Homes.

In the downturn, only 30 homes were built in Royal Oak. Hillan Homes has that many under construction now.

But builders are getting nailed by a labor shortage. From painting to pouring concrete, there are too few applicants of which have too little experience.

"Finding good, quality trades right now, that's the hard part. You make a contractual commitment to a client and you need to satisfy that commitment and you only have so many good guys that you can move around to these houses to get them complete, and it bottlenecks," said Raye.

According to the state, 60,000 skilled trades workers -- a generation of them -- were lost during the recession. They left the state, the business, retired and they aren't coming back. The next generation is slow in coming. Too many choose college over the trades.

Graduation requirements focus on tech, math and science, leaving little time for vocational education.

"We've actually been working on some legislation to create greater flexibility for parents and kids who have an inclination to go into the voc-ed fields, construction and other fields, who currently they are limited in their ability to do that," said Bob Filka, of the Michigan Association of Home Builders.

This shortage affects you whether you're building a new house or not. Any project, from re-modeling to getting a leaky faucet fixed, will cost you more in the short term because these skills are in such high demand.

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