State leaders and industry groups in Vermont say the need for more construction workers is urgent, as the state faces a housing crisis and a rush of building jobs on the horizon.
Gov. Phil Scott proclaimed October "Careers in Construction Month" at a ceremony in Montpelier where he was flanked by high schoolers including Cayden Yates, who is learning to be a carpenter.
"We definitely need more people to work in the trades," said Yates, a student at Cold Hollow Career Center in Enosburg Falls.
National estimates say the construction industry has to attract 1.9 million workers by the year 2025, according to the proclamation signed Tuesday by Scott.
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The need to find people to fill construction jobs is urgent in Vermont, state leaders and business organizations said.
They pointed to demands on the sector from a tight housing market and many infrastructure projects on the horizon, thanks to federal funds for building.
"Ten years ago, it was a problem," recalled Joshua Reap of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Vermont and New Hampshire. "We didn’t have enough workers, but we got by. Today, fast forward 10 years, it’s a crisis."
Reap went on to describe the situation as a "crisis of opportunity" where many workers could gain new skills and enter the trades during a time of high demand for workers.
More information on career and technical education in Vermont can be found on this state website.
The average annual wage for a construction worker in Vermont is $57,635, according to the Vermont Department of Labor, which noted that figure is higher than the average statewide wage in Vermont.
"There will be nearly 5,000 openings for carpenters alone in the next 10 years," Deputy Vermont Labor Commissioner Dustin Degree said Tuesday of job openings in Vermont, where many workers are also approaching retirement age. "Meaning, we have to find 500 new carpenters each year just to keep the workforce we have now."
The Associated General Contractors of Vermont urged jobseekers to check out this website which the Vermont Department of Labor said was developed through a public / private partnership.
At a separate press conference outside the State House in Montpelier, the Democrat who hopes to unseat Scott to become Vermont’s next governor, Brenda Siegel, pledged a comprehensive focus on housing.
"We saw people be completely priced out, who want starter homes right now," Siegel lamented, referring to conversations she has had with people around Vermont who are seeking high-quality housing.
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Siegel told reporters her plan will tackle emergency and transitional housing all the way to zoning issues that can affect both rental and ownership homes. One facet of her plan, which the candidate published on her website, is to make an assessment of properties throughout Vermont to understand if there are underutilized buildings that could be converted to use as housing.
Siegel also said she wants to establish a housing bill of rights and to rein in Vermont’s short-term rental market.
"We cannot live in a state where people can just buy up housing stock, convert it to short-term rentals, and people who live here are forced into their cars and tents or to leave here all together," Siegel insisted.
The incumbent governor, meanwhile, has said if he’s re-elected, his administration will keep housing at the top of the agenda. Scott told reporters Tuesday he wants to grow the workforce needed to build homes through fresh career and technical education programs. The Scott administration is also working on launching a promotional push for tech ed, officials added.
“To me, it’s just as important, valuable, and impressive to become an electrician, welder, or EMT, or get a CDL as it is to get an Ivy League education,” Scott said Tuesday, repeating a point he made in his most recent State of the State Address, in which he called for a renewed focus on promoting career and technical education. "We just need to open more doors for people and show them the options."
The governor and lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Vermont Legislature agreed on a historic investment in the state's housing stock, paid for with federal recovery dollars. One aspect of that effort is to rehab run-down properties, as NECN recently reported. Gov. Scott’s full Careers in Construction Month proclamation is below: