U.S. builders complain they can't find skilled carpenters

Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:24am EDT
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Where have all the carpenters gone? Home builders across the United States are scratching their heads for an answer as they struggle to assemble crews to keep up with growing demand.

In some parts of the country, the shortage of skilled carpenters - especially framers - is so bad that builders cannot get projects off the ground and it is taking as much as two months longer than normal to complete a project.

"Right now I have framing material sitting on the job site with the foundation on the ground," said Stephen Paul, executive vice president at Mid-Atlantic Builders in Rockville, Maryland. "It's been sitting there a week because I have not been able to get a framer to start the house."

According to a National Association of Home Builders survey published last month, 48 percent of single-family home builders could not find framing crews in the first three months of this year, and builders in all four regions struggled. In the middle of last year, that figure stood at just 30 percent.

The demand for labor has been driven by the decisive recovery the housing sector is finally mounting.

According to industry figures released on Monday, a majority of U.S. homebuilders view conditions for new construction as favorable for the first time since the housing crisis began seven years ago, and home prices have been climbing.

To be sure, it's hard to explain a labor shortage when unemployment in the sector is over 10 percent, and some argue that builders just need to pay more.

Still, a labor shortage and pricey materials may hold back new home construction and help push prices higher as demand outstrips supply, realtors and economists say.   Continued...

Carpenter's work on installing fascia trimwork at a housing site at Mid-Atlantic Builders "The Villages of Savannah" development in Brandywine, Maryland May 31, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron