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by Greg Blosé
Mark Langello
President, M&M Development & Construction, LLC
John Lulgjuraj
Co-Owner, Oceanside Beach Bar and Grill
Flagler Beach Business Bureau (FB3) President

Tell us about the challenges your industry is facing with regard to workforce development. 

Mark Langello: The construction industry has been suffering from a talent drain for over a dozen years. After the “Great Recession” of 2008, many talented and experienced people in the construction industry, which was severely impacted, left the field and never came back. This caused a talent drain at the top. 

In a double whammy, the youth of today do not look to construction for entry level jobs and they don’t see construction as a long-term career possibility as they did a generation ago. So there are fewer new workers coming in and there are less skilled people to train those who do come. Overall, there are less people in the trade. 

Additionally, in a strange twist of fate, while people in our industry were bracing for a steep slowdown in work, the opposite happened. We have been experiencing high demand, which has led to an increase in demand for services and products. This has caused another barrier in the industry––rising costs across the board for materials, which limits the amount you can increase wages. The end products are already too expensive in many cases, which will shut off larger and larger segments of our society from being able to expand, move, grow, etc. We were seeing wage increases in the construction industry for several years prior to COVID, but since then, we’ve seen slower increases in wages. This further impacts our ability to draw people into the trade and develop a new workforce. 

Lastly, this industry has always had a lot of foreign workers, many with skills, both legal and illegal. That segment has been shrinking for a while due to tougher immigration policies, enforcement [of those policies] and COVID. 

John Lulgjuraj: The most heavily considered benefit when searching for a job, according to study done by the Harvard Business Review, was quality health, dental and vision benefits. Also noted were work from home options and flexible hours. All of which are basically the opposite of what our industry is able to provide.

Quality PPO style health care benefits are simply too expensive without a government match or stimulus for almost any small business. Work from home options as a server or sous chef, for obvious reasons, don’t work and we are more successful when employees are more flexible rather than us being more flexible. We all can have an idea or projections but in our industry a bus full of people can show up anytime and we can perform really well when our team members are open and on call.

There are real solutions here. Covid has opened the door for real Federal help. If we only re-directed Unemployment benefits to Employment benefits giving a stimulus to the working American people.

The big idea here is any person can choose an industry or a job they think will enjoy and be able to have security and longevity to provide for his/her family. If the government gives stimulus to businesses to pay for real quality benefits, we will have a fighting chance.

How are you responding to those challenges? 

ML: Most companies in the construction industry that rely on skilled workers are unable to keep up with the demand overall. Some limit which contractors they work for or they pay their workers a lot of overtime. Both solutions have a negative long term effect. By limiting the amount of work they do, many projects either take too long to get built, which hurts the overall economy, or they don’t happen at all. 

Companies with existing relationships and larger companies are able to keep working, but smaller or newer companies are pushed aside and are unable to do business or grow and many have had to shut down. This will limit the number of new people doing well and hurt the diversity of the industry in the future. 

In the other scenario, of large amounts of overtime, we see employee burnout, related family issues and an overall decline in the quality of the products being built. Also, after the increase in pay due to the overtime hours goes on for so long, it often becomes expected. When those hours are cut back, the employees cannot survive on the regular time hours, causing pressures within the company and at home. 

Finally, almost all companies are trying to hire new employees every day, but they don’t have the time or personnel to train unskilled workers. The result is that unskilled workers won’t last long because they can’t do the job, and they are therefore unable to see themselves in the field long-term. 

JL: Working harder in and on our business. Investing in marketing to future employees as opposed to future guests. Having conversations with elected officials and giving them real feedback on what the business community needs.

Has the pandemic made workforce development more challenging? If so, how?

ML: In addition to the issues already discussed above, the private/public entity “Career Source” has not been open as normal. Although they are still helping residents find jobs, the work search requirement to receive unemployment continues to be waived by the Governor, resulting in fewer opportunities to place residents in available jobs. This should be changing as the economy continues to re-open, but these issues have adversely impacted CareerSource’s efforts.

JL: Yes. People are encouraged to stay home and are provided an income by the government as opposed to earning an income by working.

Ten years from now, do you think technology will be helpful or not in terms of addressing the challenges your industry is facing today? 

ML: Tech has been changing this industry in many ways and will certainly do so in the future. Some of the things we see are the development of higher performing products that require skilled workers to install. However, other tech addresses this by taking some of the skills needed and automating them to allow lesser trained people to do [the work]. Tech has also changed the planning, permitting and inspection elements. We are now completing electronic plans instead of paper, and they are viewed more and more often on laptops or tablets, with electronic submissions for permits, digital calls for inspections and results. Even in inspections we are beginning to see the use of drones. I expect to see more automation in planning and inspection, beyond what we see today, to speed up projects and bring down costs. We will need trained people to fill these roles.

JL: Technology helps and hurts as it evolves in our industry. Processes will get easier but we still need people. People are the heart of our business, people and food is our passion, we need people more than we need technology. 

Greg Blosé is proud to serve as the volunteer editor for EVOLVE. He is the President & CEO of the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce. Learn more at PalmCoastFlaglerRegionalChamber.com.