YORK COUNTY, SC (WBTV) - By 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the job outlook for the construction industry will grow by more than 10 percent. The demand for more skilled construction labor is being felt in upstate South Carolina as new construction is happening rapidly.
"That demand is certainly putting a strain on the industry in terms of not having enough manpower," Board member for the Associated Builders and Contractors of the Carolinas Brian Gallagher said.
He says the industry as a whole has not made a lot of effort in the past to recruit new laborers. Now, as much of the long-time construction workers are aging toward retirement, they are experiencing a huge gap in manpower.
"Everything from carpentry, to masonry, to concrete work, folks that do steel erection, folks who do welding it's really across the board," Gallagher said.
Like many other projects in South Carolina, a lack of manpower is what put the new Van Wyck Elementary School weeks behind schedule.
"It could impact the schedule, projects not being done on time," Gallagher said, "It could impact the quality and most importantly-impacting safety."
While the need for workers is a great opportunity to cut the unemployment rate down, industry leaders say it has not been that simple.
"A lot of school systems are geared toward getting students on track to go to college." Gallagher said.
Ed Moore is the Department Chair for York Technical College's Building and Construction Trade Program. He says there was a dip in enrollment after the recession, but it has started to pick back up. Many of the enrollees, he says, already have a four-year-degree in something else, but have come back to trade school to get a job.
"We had one guy who was a theater major-4 year degree-he couldn't get a job, so he came here and did one semester," Moore said. "Now he's an electrician. So 16 weeks of school got him a job."
The program can be completed in as little as 16 weeks, if a student specializes in one trade. Moore says they also offer one-year certificates and two-year associates degrees for completing all of the trade courses.
"We're at 100 percent job placement, so all of our students who are graduating are getting jobs even before they graduate," Moore said.
The program is successful, but now the challenge is getting more students to enroll in vocational school.
"It's just a matter of people getting interested in going back to hands on work," Moore said.
"Not only do they have a job right when they come out, but they have competitive pay which is sometimes higher than those with a four-year degree and I think most importantly they don't have student debt," Gallagher said.