Someone’s Got To Build It

by Don Friedman on February 15, 2018

I was fairly surprised to see this article saying that the number of construction workers in the city decreased in 2016. Construction in the city has been at high levels for years, which means construction workers have steady gigs, which traditionally has meant an increase in the number of people in the field.

The article correctly points out that construction is an immigrant-heavy occupation in the city, but obviously current political fights involving immigrants are not responsible for a decrease that took place over a year ago. Those fights may, of course, affect the demographics of construction this year and going forwards.

I wonder if the extended construction boom may have been too good. Most construction workers have good times and bad, created by working on a project and then its end. Continued good times may have encouraged and funded older workers to retire from a business that is physically demanding and full of architects and engineers who are never satisfied.

The long term problem is not that there will not be construction workers, because there will be. The problem is bottlenecking of hard-gained wisdom. Older workers are always more valuable because of the store of knowledge they have picked up over decades and dozens (sometimes hundreds) of projects; part of daily life on a construction site is that wisdom being taught to the younger workers. Unless the shrinkage in the workforce was among the least skilled and youngest workers, which I think is unlikely, we may all have to deal with relearning old lessons.

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