Only 20 percent of Spokane’s residents can afford to buy a home. As the demand for housing reaches far beyond the supply of housing units, the cost of housing has reached all-time highs.
The driving forces behind today’s housing affordability crisis have been years in the making and include a broken training pipeline for skilled construction workers.
Here are three statistics that illustrate the brokenness of Spokane’s skilled workforce training pipeline and the shortage of construction workers.
23 percent of Washington’s construction workers are over the age of 55 and one in four will hit retirement age by 2030.
80 percent of construction firms in the U.S. are having a hard time filling salaried and hourly positions.
While it is projected that nearly 2,900 housing units per year will be needed to support future growth in Spokane County, fewer than 2,300 housing units per year have been added in the county during 2010-2021, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management.
It’s not all bad news though. Since February 2020, the number of workers in the construction industry in Washington has increased by 9,400 (4.2 percent). The state ranks 28 in the country for construction industry growth, while neighboring Idaho ranks number two with an increase of 13,300 construction jobs (24.1 percent) since 2020.
But employment in residential construction is still lagging far behind the demand for workers. So why are contractors struggling to find skilled workers?
One obvious answer is Spokane’s rapid population increase and the uptick in demand for housing. A less obvious but critical answer is a negative perception of the construction industry. As school districts have prioritized pathways to 4-year colleges and cut budgets for career and technical education pathways, knowledge about the many benefits of pursuing a career in construction has diminished.
Many youth and adults see construction jobs as low-skill, low-pay careers, and that’s simply not true. Construction jobs pay well and the economic impact of construction is high.
In Washington, construction accounts for $29 billion (3.9 percent) of the state’s GDP and four out of the five most common construction jobs had a median annual pay that exceeded the median for all employees in 2021.
Industry-funded trades exposure programs are being created to change the narrative around construction careers and expose more youth and adults to in-demand, high-paying jobs. Construction industry leaders are collaborating with Spokane area schools and community organizations to create a skilled worker pipeline for residential construction that will help close the housing affordability gap. But they can’t do it alone.
The next time you come across a student or adult considering their career options, tell them about these workforce development programs that can help them learn skills that lead to rewarding jobs in residential construction.