Labor shortages in the construction industry have contributed to curbed appetites for infrastructure reform on Capitol Hill, at least for now. The Trump Administration, adverse to the strategy of importing laborers with seasonal workers and temporary visas or exporting jobs to cheap-labor countries, is deploying federal resources to develop skilled construction workers to meet demand.
In July 2018, the White House vowed in a “Pledge to America’s Workers” to educate and develop at least 500,000 construction workers over the next five years. More than a dozen firms and trade associations signed on to build up federal- and industry-recognized apprenticeship programs for 3.8 million workers.
The industry is building capacity in other ways. Changes in construction technology might bring some relief by shortening construction schedules and reducing costs. New capacities in prefabricated housing have begun to overtake traditional homebuilding. Instead of building with raw parts from the ground up, software engineers and architects convert builders’ plans into programs to build three-dimensional components at a robotic manufacturing plant. The components are then shipped to job sites for assembly. Coupled with robotic bricklaying and other advances in automation, experts say that firms can cut building project times in half, while exposing workers to fewer hazards. Technology contributed to a 60,000-home boost in homebuilding over the last year, and experts estimate that one out of five homes may be built this way within five years.