West Michigan home builders don't have enough workers

Many skilled laborers left Michigan after the recession.

CALEDONIA, MICH., - Home builders can't keep up with demand in the West Michigan housing market, developers said Tuesday.

"The business is just unbelievable right now," said subcontractor Rob Leslie. "Houses are just going up faster than we can even get people to work on them and finish them."

The labor shortage started 10 years ago with the recession, said Karin Kay, supervisor at Sable homes. 

"A lot off our skilled laborers left Michigan," Kay said. "Those people have made a place for them in those other states, and it's hard to get them to come back."

Workers are hard to find, and they're not seeking out the right people for jobs, said subcontractor Jonathan Postma. 

"It makes it harder to get out of the office and get out invoices and waivers," Postma said. "We have to come out and do all the work along with our guys."

Kay said the shortage adds a couple months to projects that would typically last about months.

"We overall could've built more homes this year if the labor shortage wasn't a problem," she said.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Grand Rapids said the numbers don't match the strength of West Michigan's economy.

"We're not even building our historical average since 1990 in terms of single family homes," said Executive Officer Andy Lofgren.

The problem is nationwide. A report from the Associated General Contractors of America found Tuesday that 70 percent of contractors struggle to find craft workers in today's market. 

Fixing the problem starts with showing young people the benefits of working in trades, Kay said. 

"Your child can be just as beneficial to society by becoming a framer or a roofer," she said, "It's just changing how we look at things."

The Home Builders Association Foundation has events and offers scholarships to get students in trade training centers. Check its calender of events for updates.

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