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Frontline Construction News

A new and Insightful Perspective on the Labor Shortage in Massachsetts, USA

In and around 2017, I first learned about the labor shortage. With that, I conducted due diligence maybe bust a myth or at the very least develop a different perspective.

What I researched on the internet was vague so I decided to make a visit to the Local Labor’s Union 596 in Holyoke, Massachusetts. I asked the business director for their perspective on the labor shortage situation in Western Massachusetts and beyond. Surprisingly, he told me that there isn’t a shortage of laborers, but rather a shortage of skill labor otherwise known as “skilled trades”. My rudimentary definition of skilled trades is one with a typical four-year, stepped-apprentice program, with tests and in most cases licenses and continuing education to strictly adhere to the codes, best practices, safety, quality control, and industry standards. These programs would fall under electricians, pipefitters and carpenters to name a few.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to have an eye-opening conversation with a pipefitter as all conversations are on the construction site. I discussed these thoughts on the “labor shortage” knowing that I would get the most accurate frontline information.

The pipefitter pleasantly agreed that there is in fact a skilled labor shortage and very few apprentice pipefitters are coming from the local vocational schools. What candidate and the public in general may not be aware of, are the pros of being a pipefitter, certainly out weight the cons. Yes, the equipment and materials are heavy but when you are employed by an established, commercial HVAC contractor, a pipefitter apprentice will be paired with an experienced pipefitter to advise on material lift capacities and maximum lifting heights, the proper and frequent use of pipe racks, hydraulic pipe cutters, heavy-duty pneumatic wheeled dollies to easily transport materials, magnetic lifts, tailgate lifts and best of all, a pipe fitter rarely work outdoors in New England (United States) except to set up for the day or if you need to run out to the truck for a tool.

I am optimistic that the vocational schools will turn out more of the skilled trades and continue to convey the old adage of “work smart not harder” work approach. In the future, the market will even have Smart Equipment where coordination drawing data sets can be entered into the material lifts much like a CNC machine, surveying equipment and pipe layout equipment and it will hoist to the proper elevation, pitch for gravity-fed lines and automatic welding machines and smoke munchers will be the new practice if it isn’t already. Pipefitters will then become Pipe technicians and the technology once introduced to the market and proven to save time, will require less strength and agility and eliminating and most certainly, reduce accidents and injuries, workman’s compensation claims and improve on health and wellness of the construction workers. These advances in the industry are at the forefront of progression and will eliminate skilled labor shortages as well as encourage market adaption, optimization and commercialization.

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