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Land Zo! - Road Blocks

Written by Christianna Silva Category: Valley News Issue: January 2019
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H-2B visas are becoming more difficult to obtain, but that isn’t stopping construction companies in the Valley.

Valley contractors are proving their resilience. Downtown Phoenix is booming, Camelot Homes has two new luxury communities heading to the Valley and The Statesman Group is launching its third phase of sales at The Cays in Downtown Ocotillo. This all comes at a time when the business of construction is becoming more difficult, since it relies heavily on H-2B visas, which are becoming virtually impossible to obtain, says Patty Johnson, a spokesperson for Paul Johnson Drywall, one of the largest specialty contractors in Arizona and throughout the Southwest.

H-2B visas are granted through a federal program that allows businesses to successfully and legally hire foreign guest workers, who are already trained, so they don’t have to train workers in the U.S. and lose precious time and resources.

“The folks that comes through H-2B are highly skilled, and they come for a temporary period to help us get through the season,” Johnson says. But in 2018, Paul Johnson Drywall didn’t get a single H-2B visa accepted. In 2019, they aren’t even going to apply.

Johnson isn’t alone. According to a 2017 study out of the Associated General Contractors of America, 77 percent of contractors have a hard time finding qualified craft workers to hire amid growing construction demand all over the country. Furthermore, the state department awarded 1,000 less visas in 2017 than they did in 2016, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

“It certainly affects the amount of labor that we have,” Johnson says of the H-2B shortage. “What we have done, though, is, we’re hiring as many people as we can, and we’ve got training and apprentice programs where we’re trying to recruit other folks from other markets and train them in drywall.”

Johnson says this difficulty doesn’t mean they love the job any less – in fact, 85 percent of construction firms in Arizona said they would encourage their children to pursue careers in construction, an Associated General Contractors of America study shows. She says the shortage just means they have to be “more selective” with the projects they do accept.

By the Numbers
The labor shortage in construction isn’t new, and it will take a lot of hands on deck to resolve the issue. According to a 2017 study out of the Associated General Contractors of America:

46 percent of construction firms say they’re forced to do more in-house training to cope with workforce shortages, like the apprentice program at Paul Johnson Drywall.

47 percent of construction firms say they’ve had to increase overtime hours for workers because of the labor shortage.

4 percent of construction firms in Arizona reported that they didn’t have any openings to fill when the study was conducted.

35 percent of construction firms in Arizona rated the adequacy of the local pipeline for supplying well-trained craft personnel as “poor.”