Costco

Workers pour concrete on the south side of Lincoln's first Costco at 1620 Pine Lake Road last week. The Associated General Contractors on Tuesday released figures showing little improvement in Nebraska's shortage of construction workers.

ERIC GREGORY, Journal Star file photo

A years-long construction worker shortage is showing few signs of easing in Nebraska.

The 2017 Workforce Survey from the Associated General Contractors of America found that 93 percent of Nebraska contractors surveyed expect to hire hourly craftspeople in the next year, either due to expansion or to replace departing workers, and 85 percent report having difficulty finding workers for those positions.

Those results are only slightly better than last year, when 86 percent of companies said they were looking to hire and 91 percent reported having trouble.

The most difficult jobs to fill are superintendent or foreman positions, with 73 percent of companies reporting difficulties. Truck drivers are the next-hardest positions to fill, with 65 percent of companies having trouble, followed by concrete workers at 64 percent.

Companies are not optimistic that the shortage will ease up any time soon, with 72 percent saying it will either continue to be difficult to hire workers or will become even more difficult in the next year.

Conditions in Nebraska are worse than those both nationally and in the Midwest. According to the survey, 72 percent of firms in the Midwest are having trouble hiring craftspeople and 70 percent are nationally.

"It's definitely been an issue that for use as an industry has continued to get worse," said Chris Brester, president of Brester Construction in Lincoln and also president of the AGC's Nebraska Building Chapter.

Brester said the shortage is caused on a macro level largely by an aging construction workforce and difficulty recruiting young people into construction trades.

More locally, in Lincoln and Nebraska, a strong construction economy and low unemployment rates make it even more difficult to attract and retain enough workers, he said.

"It's a good place to be but also a challenging place to be," Brester said.

The continued worker shortage comes even as the number of construction jobs in the state has fallen. The AGC reported earlier this month that the number of construction jobs in Nebraska fell by 800, or 1.5 percent, from July 2016 to July 2017. And figures from the Nebraska Department of Labor show that the number of construction workers claiming unemployment rose nearly 27 percent in July compared with a year ago.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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