Greater Des Moines home builders have some good news to chew on, with the number of housing units expected to grow 8 percent this year from last. But there's a hitch: they need workers to build the houses.
The problem runs through all levels of the residential construction business, with lumber yards having difficulty shipping materials because they don't have delivery drivers. There is a shortage of workers to run high-tech cabling and wireless systems that are used to control functions in the modern home. Home builders need to find framers and electricians and plumbers to finish jobs.
For the state, there is an estimated shortage of 16,000 residential construction workers, said Creighton Cox, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines.
To find those workers, the association is sponsoring its first jobs fair to run in conjunction with its annual Home & Remodeling Show March 7-9 at the Varied Industries building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
The jobs fair will run from 8 a.m. to noon March 7. Admission is free for job seekers. So far, 60 builders have signed up for the jobs fair, which is being conducted in conjunction with Iowa Workforce Development and Des Moines Area Community College.
"The jobs are not just hammer and nails jobs," Cox said. "They include sales, truck drivers and warehouse workers."
Many workers dropped out of the construction trades during the recession. Some retired, some found work in other industries that were less physically demanding.
"The amount that a single worker is doing right now is very, very high," Cox said. "We're almost meeting that threshold where they can't be forced to work any farther. If that happens you're going to have a fall off of productivity."
Builders and subcontractors were leery of hiring on a large-scale basis in recent years, after many went unpaid for their word when the housing crisis struck in 2008. An estimated 200 subcontractors went out of business when Regency development companies closed in April 2008.
When the home building picked up last year, many thought the surge was just a temporary.
"They wondered whether this was a real comeback or whether it was just an uptick," Cox said.
Cox believes the recovery is real. In Greater Des Moines, he expects an 8 percent increase in all residential construction, with single-family construction expected to gain up to 11 percent, townhouse construction up to 14 percent and apartment buildings up 3 to 5 percent.
"Hopefully, I'm low," he said.