Developing a national construction workforce

There is truly a need for affordable housing all over the country

The Great Recession of 2008-2009 has come and gone. The construction trade jobs that went away with the recession due to Baby Boomers’ retirement have not come back, nor did the industry add enough job replacement to satisfy a currently very hot market.

Working in the construction industry trades may not seem sexy or glamourous to some of our high school graduates. Who wants to be an electrician, carpenter, HVAC installer or maintenance technician; a framer, plumber, roofer or a mason; a painter, a concrete worker, etc.? Who wants to be a machinist, a heavy equipment operator, a project manager or a crane operator? These are all now very good-paying, family wage jobs. Most students will qualify with little or no student debt. I wager that many companies and industry associations are willing to fund scholarships for these types of skills.

There is a need for truly affordable housing all over the country; a need for simple family housing, a need for replacement of houses and infrastructure caused by natural disasters. Transportation and growth projects. All in all, it proves that the demand for these jobs will last for generations to come.

Developing a national workforce is a must, supplemented by a strong immigration policy to bring talent to the country. Not only do we need the brightest, we also need the manually skilled.

Cities must also recognize that the production of affordable and workforce housing is essential. Regulations, fees and excessive building codes tend to hamstring development of those sectors.

The hundreds of small houses that were built quickly to support the Kaiser Shipyards during World War II are still around. The neighborhoods they created are still thriving now — just ask our local historian/First Citizen Pat Jollota.

When asked about how the country responded to the emergency created by the war, she said: “The state of Washington enabled the Housing Authorities to meet the World War II emergency. The Housing Authorities took the federal government out of the role of landlord and skipped the long city or county permitting process. The six wartime cities were mostly in the county. They began in February 1942 when the city population hovered between 18,000 and 19,000. In four months, it was 85,000 growing to about 90,000 by war’s end. They built 1,000 permanent homes and 11,396 temporary houses. In the winter of 1942- 1943, they built 1,200 permanent houses in three weeks. The prefabricated houses were going up at a rate of 100 per day.”

We do not have a war, but we have a housing emergency on several fronts. Can we learn from what the history tells us?

Elie Kassab is president and CEO of The E.G. Kassab Companies, Prestige Development/Prestige Theatres. He can be reached at