SPOKANE — A labor shortage has contributed to a housing shortage, which has helped create an expensive housing market.
The problem is well-known, and organizations like the Spokane Home Builders Association are trying to do something about it.
The association invited almost 40 area high school students on a hot Saturday last month to East Valley High School to introduce upperclassmen to the construction world with hopes of inspiring some to enter the trades after they graduate. The event was part of the third annual Frame Your Future Construction Camp.
“The quantity and quality of homes that builders produce are impacted by the quantity and quality of local workers,” Brian Burrow, program director for Frame Your Future, said in a news release from the association. “There aren’t enough houses within the city to meet the market demand, so prices have skyrocketed.”
Frame Your Future is an initiative led by the Spokane Home Builders Association to help train the next generation of construction workers to close the housing gap.
The median sales price of a Spokane County home was $415,000 in April, a 3% drop compared to April 2022, according to data from the Spokane Association of Realtors.
Burrow told The Spokesman-Review that Spokane County is underbuilt by over 30,000 houses, and over 80% of construction employers in the region admit to having difficulty finding quality workers.
Luis Licea, apprenticeship coordinator at Northwest Laborers-Employers Training Trust, said his job is to recruit laborers, and he spends a great deal of time at area schools trying to spark students’ interest in trades.
“The need is tremendous,” Licea said of laborers.
Ryan Edens, construction camp director, said about 25% of the construction labor force will hit retirement age in the next 10 years.
He said not enough young people are replacing the retiring workers, who have abundant knowledge to pass down. The shortage means construction companies are unable to keep pace with the amount of houses needed, Edens said.
The construction camp, held May 20, allowed residential construction companies to pass their wisdom and skills to high school students as they built five garden sheds.
Burrow said students learned critical skills such as framing, roofing, siding, and door and window installation. The camp also allowed students to demonstrate intangibles, like leadership, teamwork and attention to detail, to employers who are interested in recruiting students to their construction crew.
Doug Edmonson, Career Technical Education director at East Valley School District, said construction companies hired students each of the first two years of the camp.
While some students are college-bound, Burrow said lots of others love working with their hands, and construction trades offers a well-paying alternative. It also gives them an opportunity to earn money while they learn the trade in which they want to specialize.
Burrow said some workers are making up to $150,000 doing construction jobs, electrical work, plumbing and carpentry.
“We used to tell our kids you need to be a doctor or a lawyer,” Burrow said. “Now, we can tell them, ‘Hey, you can go be a carpenter or a electrician,’ because they’re making just as much.”
Edens said some workers may choose to go to college down the road, but construction is a great way to earn a good income after they graduate high school.
“Quite honestly, this is a great way for the people who aren’t college-bound to actually get into a good career,” he said.
Gilbert Palmer, a senior at Central Valley High School; Carter Forschler, a senior at Freeman High School; and Jacob Schultheis, a senior at Ferris High School, all helped build sheds at the camp.
Palmer said he plans on working for his parents’ roofing business after he graduates, with the goal of flipping houses. He said he likes working hard and taking pride in his work, and construction provides that.
Schultheis said he takes a wood shop class at Ferris and wanted to expand his construction knowledge at the camp before heading to Montana State University — Northern to pursue diesel mechanics.
Forschler said he doesn’t have a lot of experience in construction and wanted to learn the fundamentals at the camp. He said he plans to work for Lydig Construction, the contractor for which his father works.
Forschler said he never had an interest in college and didn’t want the student loan debt that often comes along with it.
“Why do that if I could just do construction?” he asked.
Burrow said the sheds were delivered to area high schools to be used for storage.