Monday, October 8, 2018

Labor Shortage Isn’t the Only Shortage in Housing

The world's third oldest profession, home building, hasn’t changed much over the past 2 Milleniums. Find land, dig a footer, bring in raw materials, add workers and within a span of time the new occupants move in. Some of those structures are still standing in the Middle East.

I live on the East Coast near some of the oldest settlements in the US. Anyone that drives through my area will see homes built 200 years ago still being occupied. Log cabins from America’s Revolution and the Civil War eras still stand in testimony to the craftsmen’s work of those days.

Today not a single one of those homes could pass even the most relaxed building codes. OSHA would have shut down every single one of those construction sites for violations and injury. Environment regulators would not allow any of those homes to be built next to fresh water streams which was the perfect place to dispose of human and animal waste.

What we had back in those days were workers that took pride in their talent for building homes. It was almost inherent that men and some women could build their own home. Some of the cabins, built by pioneers traveling west on wagon trains, are not only still standing but generations of people have lived in them.

200 years ago men and women that built homes and entire towns were not looked upon as menial labor lucky to find work. They were craftsmen sought out by both the rich and not so rich to build their homes. Over the years these workers honed their skills by adding many new trades like glazing, wrought iron, fancy interior trim and many others.

Again these people were not looked down on as people that couldn’t find legitimate work in any other field. They were tradesmen and craftsmen that were a valuable part of every community back then.

Sorry to say but those days are gone. Today most of their skills have been replaced with automation and that has actually brought better and safer products into our homes. Skilled labor at the jobsite has been dwindling and been replaced by some contractors driving to Walmart’s parking lot or a 7-11 store to hire illegal workers for low pay for a day’s work. I’ve heard some CA builders actually charge these labors to rent hammers and other tools for the day. We’ve come a long way.

Aside from skilled labor in the housing industry there is one more shortage that every modular factory is trying to find. Skilled modular home General Contractors. Where we see an aging skilled labor pool we often find a shrinking builder pool.

New home builders used to enter the business as either the sons or daughters of builders keeping the learned skills going on for the next generation or from working as a foreman for a builder.

Modular home construction offers an easier way to enter the construction business as most of the carpentry skills acquired through watching and learning on the job are shifted to the production line of the modular home factory. Work at the jobsite involves more subcontracted work than ever before. You would think this would entice new builders to enter the market but it isn’t.

And this shortage of builders isn’t just in the modular home industry. It’s in all phases of construction from site builders through off-site construction.

Automation is infiltrating most of the basic parts of construction and will continue to make headway into the next level which is usually found at the jobsite until such time as the term ‘Home Builder’ will be replaced with “Home Facilitator” who may not ever meet their customer or ever visit their customer’s jobsite. Everything would be subbed out by the Facilitator who will only need to contact a few people to handle everything for the client.

At that point we may never see a need for a New Home Builder, just a facilitator that will run the whole show without ever stepping foot in the customer’s home or leaving their office.

Someday, maybe a decade from now, we may be putting the term ‘Facilitator’ out to pasture and you will buy not only your new home from Amazon or Alibaba but every other phase of the job. Pick your house, order it along with your land and mortgage, wait 90 days and move in.

I heard a couple of developers of multi-unit affordable housing units are experimenting having the modular factory offer many interior options available for individuals to create their own decor before it leaves the factory. The hotel developer taught the modular factories that everything can be installed on the production line including beds and pictures on the walls.

Yes, there is a shortage of new builders coming into the business today but honestly, will we really need them by 2025?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This builder can't find a customer to build a modular home for. Send some of that demand to South Western Pa.