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With Foxconn project underway, no end in sight for worker shortage following recent building boom.

Byline: Nate Beck,

With many construction jobswinding down as the weather gets colder, officials in charge of training workers for the next season are just getting going.

And with the demand for construction workers showing no signs of letting up, training agencies such as the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership's Big Step program are working non-stop to get newcomers to the industry up to speed.

Mark Kessenich, WRTP/Big Step president, said his agency and others like it are preparing for another busy training season. Kessenich said there appears to be no reason to expect work to be anything but abundant for years to come.

Construction companies only recently completed the Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons project and the Fiserv Forum and are already preparing to help build the factory Foxconn Technology Group is putting up in Mount Pleasant,a project that promises to be the largest in state history.

Amid all this, municipalities, school districts, private developers and others are separately embarking on jobs of their own.

"We feel like the industry's been well supplied. The project in southeastern Wisconsin is probably going to push demand even higher," Kessenich said."It has been a really good consistent year. We think that many of the contractors have been successful. The recovery is really kind of here, finally."

The recovery has brought its own concerns. Foremost among them is the industry's seemingly intractable labor shortage.

For many contractors, the lack of workers is affecting bid prices and causing projects to drag on longer than usual, according to a poll whose results were releasedby the Associated General Contractors in August. The survey of contractors, including 38 in Wisconsin, found that nearly half of the respondents, or 46 percent of the total, were struggling to complete jobs on schedule. Another 44 percent said the cost of projects already underway had been rising amid the pressures brought on by the labor shortage. Another 47 percent said the lack of qualified workers had helped drive up bid prices.

Kessenich said he doesn't expect to see demand for workers become weaker anytime soon. But it's still unclear exactly how the largest project in state history the massive factory complex Foxconn Technology Group is building in southeast Wisconsin will affect the industry.

Construction work on Foxconn's factory got underway in late spring. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has already awarded more than a half-billion dollars worth of Foxconn-related road contracts.

WRTP/Big Step opened a new branch in Racine in April to begin training workers for the Foxconn project andnearbyroad work. Kessenich expects enrollment at that branch to double in the next year.

These developments bring reasons for hope to a corner of the state that has seen stubbornly high unemployment for years even as other places in Wisconsin have been recovering from the recession of a decade ago. Kessenich said WRTP/Big Step's training program will help residents make the most of the opportunities that are going to be coming their way.

But he cautioned that the Foxconn project is still coming with plenty of uncertainty. Kessenich said he hopes he and Big Step officials will know more about the project in early 2019, when Foxconn is expected to begin outlining its plans for the manufacturing structures that will constitute the first phase of work on the plant.

"We've been able to do some really good work with those contractors and those trades," Kessenich said. "It's still to be determined weather anybody's got their arms around (Foxconn) There's still some speculation on how fast that development will roll out.

"We've got our eye on it. I think we've got a really good strategy," he added.

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Publication:The Daily Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Nov 8, 2018
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