Help Wanted: Construction workers in high demand

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 6:13 PM EST
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s a glut of construction projects around the state from new hotels to a major renovation at the Burlington Airport. But many companies are struggling to find construction workers for the wealth of work. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin visited with SD Ireland Companies, a Williston-based construction firm.

Shea Ireland has been working on construction sites since he was a teen, rising up to the position of supervisor at his family-owned business, SD Ireland Companies. “Part of my family’s business so I’ve been around since I was 13, 14, Just working after school,” he said

Although getting into the field was a no-brainer for him, it’s not as easy to find other workers and keep the ones they have. “Maybe due to the pandemic. Construction has been hit significantly hard with the aging workforce. We’ve got a lot of people retiring,” said Byron Furman, SD Ireland’s director of safety & training.

The company is not getting as many applicants as it used to, according to company VP Kim Ireland. “Historically it has been anywhere from 10 to 15 a day, and we maybe get that a week,” she said.

Shea says that shortage is taking a toll on the crews they do have. “It impacts us a lot,” he said. “The scheduled times of getting buildings done are the same and we just have less manpower, so it just adds more stress and work for me and my guys.”

Furman says if they don’t get more workers, new projects will take longer to complete. But they have a plan to attract younger people, a work-based learning program in partnership with all of the local tech centers. “It’s basically a proficiency-based program that allows someone to come in from either a technical high school or an adult learning process and build to a certain income level based upon proficiencies they can hit within a set period of time,” Furman said.

“Someone coming in with no experience at all starts at $16 an hour and it goes way up from there based on experience, the number of hours you’re willing to work. We’re always willing to offer overtime if you want to work it,” added Kim.

“Working in the construction trade -- especially for our company -- the sky is the limit, as far as where you can get to,” Furman said.

SD Ireland has at least two dozen openings at the time, from CDL drivers to mechanics and heavy equipment operators. For most positions, applicants don’t need any prior experience other than a CDL.

“Really, the workweek is get up when it’s dark, go to bed when it’s dark kind of a thing,” Shea said.

“Hard worker, ambition, show up every day,” Furman added. He says it’s hard work but also rewarding. “Just know that when you build something here with us that you’re going to be able to drive by that structure -- or whatever it is -- for however many years to come, knowing that you had a hand in it.”

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