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Economy

What’s Working: Colorado’s construction industry is short on workers as housing prices skyrocket

Plus: What construction jobs pay, Goodwill celebrates jobs and training and how to get a job in Antarctica this summer.

Shaye Bruyere moves treated lumber at Allweather Wood in Loveland on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Allweather needs more skilled workers and is offering training to help entry-level workers graduate to better jobs. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)
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In Loveland, J Gonzales says it’s been tough filling entry-level jobs to get the Allweather Wood manufacturing plant’s workforce back up to its full strength. 

The general laborer positions at the wood treatment plant involve physical labor, start at $18 an hour and offer forklift training to those who wish to move to a higher-paying gig. There’s also a $1,000 retention bonus. 

J Gonzales started as a laborer at Allweather Wood 21 years ago and now is the company’s Director of Sales and Distribution. (Valerie Mosley, Special to the Colorado Sun)

“A lot of employees, or potential employees, out there think of the construction business and building industry as second tier, type jobs but really it’s changed,” said Gonzales, director of sales and distribution for Allweather Wood. “What you can get paid and what those dollars mean now are a lot different. They’re higher than they had been in the past and the building industry, the construction industry in general, is really, really good work.”

Residential construction is going gangbusters (who hasn’t noticed the escalating housing prices, or even rising lumber prices). But the industry has struggled to fill jobs for years. Even when the U.S. unemployment rate was 3.6% in July 2019, there were 350,000 openings in the construction sector, which was not much higher than a year later, when there were 325,000 openings even as the pandemic pushed the unemployment rate to 10.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Of course, there have been other things on builders’ minds in the past year. When the National Association of Home Builders surveyed members about top concerns for 2021, building material prices rose to the top. Labor dropped to third place after being at the top in 2019

But labor shortages impact the rising prices for lumber, steel and other materials. If switching to a physically challenging job is appealing, wages are also rising for entry level construction jobs. In Colorado, labor data shows that the average hourly wage was $25.59 in May 2020 and ranged from $15.74 to $38.32 an hour. By third quarter 2020, Colorado’s average construction wages were at $32.13 for an annual wage of $66,820.

I put together a searchable chart using BLS data to show what many construction occupations pay in Colorado:

Mesa County home builder Jason Rund, with Lannie & Rund, said that there’s definitely a shortage of qualified construction workers, not just in his region but nationwide. He remembers going to woodshop and metal classes in high school and doesn’t feel kids are being exposed to such trade jobs anymore.

“I’m hoping we can turn that again because I think there’s money to be made,” said Rund, who’s donated lumber to a local school to encourage interest. “I think there’s careers to be made for people. And they are just not sought after.”

Several programs are available for those interested in construction careers. Check with your local workforce center, which are supporting these programs:

Allweather Wood in Loveland currently has about 8-9 job openings and is offering training to help entry-level workers graduate to better jobs. (Valerie Mosley/Special to the Colorado Sun)

It’s Goodwill Week

I’ve always been attracted to a good deal, especially if it provides quality and purpose. So I wanted to highlight what Goodwill of Colorado is doing starting Sunday: Goodwill Week

The organization provides jobs at its thrift stores (and good deals for shoppers), but it also invests back into programs to train people for better jobs and careers. This week, it’s highlighting those people and the programs. Check them out:

BankWork$ — A free eight-week training program for adults interested in a career in the banking industry. After training, it also provides job assistance.>> DETAILS

Work$Ready — Free online job training to help prepare job seekers find a job. >> DETAILS

Goodwill Staffing — A program for small business who need temporary or full-time workers for a variety of jobs (health care, clerical, management). >> DETAILS

Goodwill LIFT — Free training for information technology jobs like a help desk administrator. >> DETAILS

ReHire Colorado — An 11-week program for unemployed adults who need help re-entering the workforce. >> DETAILS

In-Home Support — Goodwill has its own Health First-certified agency that connects caregivers to people with disabilities. Families can hire caregivers, who are paid $12.41 an hour for non-skilled care tasks and $17 an hour for skilled tasks. >> DETAILS 

If you’re on the other end of support, Goodwill also takes donations to help run the programs. >> DONATE

Unemployment/job news

Fewer Coloradans are filing for unemployment for the first time in the past 12 months. Initial regular and pandemic claims dropped about 25% to 6,655 for the week ending April 24. Hopefully that means people are returning to work. 

But a more accurate look at who’s unemployed is how many people are still collecting unemployment checks. This continued-claims number remains above 200,000 people, including those on regular state unemployment and the various forms of federal pandemic benefits. About 70% of those 201,835 Coloradans are getting benefits that would not be available without the federal pandemic aid.

The Department of Labor, however, continues to say the decline is affected by fraudsters who are eliminated because they didn’t successfully get through the ID.me verification process. The data available shows that only 11.7% of users — the same as last week — receiving the ID.me link to verify themselves have gone on to complete the process successfully. 

It’s unknown how many of the unsuccessful stories are legitimate users. But I know Boneita Brown was one legit user who has been completely frustrated for the past month.

Boneita Brown successfully verified her identity through ID.me but only after switching to a computer. She had tried three times on her mobile phone. (Screenshot from Boneita Brown)

The Parachute resident attempted ID verification three times in April and got stuck somewhere between accepted and verified. She was finally able to get through to IDme and learned that it was that last step that was messing her verification.

“Because I was using a phone (Android specifically for me) instead of a computer, the last step, which is to close the page and go back (to the) browser wouldn’t work,” Brown shared Friday in an email. “It is best to use a computer or laptop.”

(I’ll be checking with her next week to see if she was finally able to complete her unemployment certification and get paid.)

I’ve received so many tips like Brown’s that I’m going to wrap it up in a future column. If you have your own IDme advice or are still struggling through the system, I’ve created this Google form for you to share with me. You can also send tips my way but this creates havoc on my inbox.

I’ve also created this Google form for people to share their ID.me or other unemployment stories (and tips for others) with me. Also, if you do fill it out, don’t forget to check your email on Thursdays and Fridays when I start to write this column. I’ve emailed quite a number of respondents and have heard back from very few!

→ HELP ME, HELP YOU: Tell me what’s going on by filling out this Google form.

More job bits

→ Jobs in Antarctica — It’s that time of year again. Antarctica is hiring! Actually, it’s PAE, the company that hires for government support jobs and must find enough summer help to head down south to wait on the scientists in three research stations. Your way into this temporary job is through the Arapahoe/Douglas Works Workforce Center, which is hosting a virtual hiring event on May 6 between 10 a.m. and noon. >> DETAILS

→ Gig watch — The Biden administration said gig workers should be classified as employees, sending Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other gig companies’ stock downward, according to MarketWatch.

→ Unemployment tax credit: If you paid taxes on unemployment benefits last year, the IRS is automatically refunding a portion to eligible taxpayers who filed before the American Rescue Plan went into effect on March 11. The relief plan allows the first $10,200 in benefits to be tax free. Refunds are supposed to start in May. Which is today. >> DETAILS


Thanks for reading this week. If you find What’s Working useful, share it with a friend (better yet, have them sign up to get it in their inbox every Saturday at coloradosun.com/getww). My inbox is open, so share your job stories with me at tamara@coloradosun.com. Have a good week! ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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