Employers across the US construction sector are trying hard to retain foreign-born workers with US citizenship schemes and other incentives. Thomas Williams, 58, who works for Dallas roofing Company, KPost, is working to reduce labour turnover and make his immigrant work colleagues US citizens.
KPost, like many other construction firms, is heavily reliant on US immigration, recruiting many Mexico born workers who tend to carry out the lower-wage physical jobs on building sites that many Americans don't want to do. Mr Williams says that KPost is struggling to recruit enough workers to meet demand.
KPost citizenship scheme
Foreign-born KPost employees who reside in the US can borrow $900 to apply for citizenship; if the employee remains with the company for a further 12 months there is no need to repay this loan. As part of the process, Mr Williams completes citizenship application forms and quizzes applicants using questions found on the country's naturalization test.
It would appear Mr Williams' scheme is paying off. Currently, 22 KPost workers have been granted US citizenship as a result of his efforts. Successful applicant Enrique Rodriguez, 29, was the first KPost employee to benefit from the 'Thomas Williams School of Citizenship.'
Mr Rodriguez said: "Step by step, he was there to help me tackle the US immigration system. He would quiz me at work, on the phone — any chance he had. He would randomly call me and just say, 'Hey, let me ask you three quick questions.'"
US labour shortage
The KPost approach to US immigration is in stark contrast to the rhetoric being spouted during the presidential campaign trail. Republican candidates, and Donald Trump in particular, are on a mission to outdo each other in exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment in order to gain support.
Trump has made a number of ridiculous comments concerning Mexicans, recently labelling them 'rapists and criminals.' Trump has also called for a wall to be built between Mexico and the US. However, according to a report in the Financial Times, the joke in Texas is that: "If Mr Trump really wants to put up a wall between the US and Mexico, he will have to open the border first to find enough workers to finish the job."
KPost says that the US construction industry does not suffer from too many Mexican builders, but too few. US building firms and Mexican immigrants stand to gain from US immigration reform, not lose out.
According to KPost, the US construction sector is in crisis. The sector contributes 4 per cent to US gross domestic product (GDP), but a chronic shortage of workers means that wages are rising, but activity is slowing down.
A survey published by the Associated General Contractors of America in 2015 found that 86 per cent of 1,358 companies surveyed had struggled to fill vacancies; this isa 3 per cent rise compared to 2014. Seven out of 10 building contractors had problems finding carpenters, 60 per cent struggled to hire electricians and 56 per cent had difficulty recruiting roofers.
Chad Collins, owner of Bone Dry Roofing in Athens, Georgia, said: "I could be twice the size in terms of revenue if we had the flow of labor that we could be training. We are handcuffed by the lack of a willing and skilled work force."
In Dallas, the labor shortage is serious. Keith Post, chief executive of KPost, said: "There is a workforce issue. People are stealing and overpaying workers." KPost president, Steve Little, said: "Labour costs have risen 15 per cent in the past two years."
Immigrant numbers in the US construction industry
According to figures published by the National Association of Home Builders in 2015, immigrants make up a significant proportion of the workforce in the US construction sector. Immigrant percentages of US construction occupations look like this:
- 34.1% of the USA's 1,849,815 construction labourers.
- 27.6% of the nation's 1,097,577 carpenters.
- 42.6% of the country's 575,490 painters and decorators.
- 43.5% of the USA's 237,133 roofers.
- 49.2% of the nation's 152,939 ceiling tile installers and tapers.
- 41% of the country's 152,658 carpet, floor and tile installers.
Additionally, 49 per cent of drywall installers in the US are foreign-born. Mr Little says that 90 per cent of the company's 270 field workers are Latino.
Donald Trump Companies using illegal immigrant construction workers
There is no suggestion that KPost uses workers who are illegally in the Country. However, some Mexicans and others working in the Construction industry are undocumented immigrants. According to the Washington Post it seems that Donald Trump's companies may be using illegal immigrants to do construction work. It is said that many workers at the site of the future Trump International Hotel, which is at the site of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington are illegal immigrants.
An US immigration crackdown on illegal immigration has resulted in close to 2.9 million Mexicans being deported between 2008 and 2015. Not surprisingly, according to US census data, the number of Mexican-born construction workers dropped from 1.89 million in 2007 to 1.32 million in 2014.
In addition, attempts at US immigration reform - supported by the construction industry and hundreds of US executives – failed to materialize in Washington. Clearly all the above factors have led to a reduction in the number of immigrants available to do construction work.
KPost continues to look for new ways in which to deal with the labor shortage. As it has become harder and harder to find Mexican immigrants to work in the Construction industry, the company is now targeting the children of older immigrants already in the US to find the next generation of US construction workers. However, this is proving difficult. These children of immigrants like many other Americans do not want to work in physically demanding jobs in the Construction Industry.