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May 10, 2013

U.S. home building surging

NORMAN — The resurgent U.S. housing market has sent builders calling again for Richard Vap, who owns a drywall installation company. Vap would love to help — if he could hire enough qualified people.

“There is a shortage of manpower,” says Vap, owner of South Valley Drywall in Littleton, Colo. “We’re probably only hiring about 75 or 80 percent of what we actually need.”

U.S. builders and the subcontractors they depend on are struggling to hire fast enough to meet rising demand for new homes. Builders would be starting work on more homes — and contributing more to the economy — if they could fill more job openings.

In the meantime, workers in the right locations with the right skills are commanding higher pay.

The shortage of labor ranges across occupations — from construction superintendents and purchasing agents to painters, cabinet makers and drywall installers. The National Association of Home Builders says its members have complained of too few framers, roofers, plumbers and carpenters. The shortage is most acute in areas where demand for new homes has recovered fastest, notably in Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado and Florida.

The problem results largely from an exodus of workers from the industry after the housing bubble burst. Experienced construction workers lost jobs. And many found new work — in commercial building or in booming and sometimes higher-paying industries like mining and natural gas drilling — and aren’t eager to come back.

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