As a massive rebuilding effort looms in the Wine Country in the wake of the recent wildfires, a big question remains: Who is going to do the work? According to experts, finding a construction crew in the area was already extremely difficult even before thousands of structures were leveled in the infernos.
That's despite jobs in the trades offering substantial pay and, given the lack of skilled workers, good job security. You can see for yourself in the above gallery that shows salaries for jobs in the trades offered by the city of San Francisco Department of Human Resources.
Why is there such a shortage? Simply put, young people tend not to go into the trades. A recent poll found that a mere 3 percent of young adults who knew what they wanted to do were interested in the construction trades.
In a recent article in the Chronicle, Mark Davis, president of Santa Rosa's Wright Construction, pointed out that shortages of skilled workers and materials could be a major impediment to the Wine Country reconstruction effort.
The younger generation is not interested in working hard and learning a trade," Davis told the Chronicle. "They all want to play on computers and stuff."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of construction workers is 42.7 nationally, with 31% under the age of 34. Internet publishing has a median age of 39.1, and shoe stores had a median age of just 23.9.
Spencer Ferguson of Mr. Rooter Plumbing in Berkeley concurs that finding new workers is very difficult, pointing out that "schools generally don't have shop programs anymore" and he also sees a "failure of the trades industry to keep strong apprenticeship programs."
But Ferguson sees a bigger overall problem in finding workers because "young people don't have a labor work ethic modeled for them. So it's not an option for them. We're becoming a service-based economy, which is good for me. But finding guys is tough, especially in an expensive urban area."
In the Wine Country, back in 2016, Keith Woods of the North Coast Builders Exchange said "the shortage is moving from a problem to a crisis."
But this could make the opportunity that much greater for young people who do decide to go into the trades.