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Murphy Leads NAIOP Arizona Panel Discussion on Labor Shortage

Willmeng’s James Murphy had the opportunity to serve as moderator on August 11 at NAIOP Arizona’s Market Leader Series education program. Murphy led the panel discussion on a vital topic for the construction industry, labor. 

Murphy was joined by panelists Danielle Feroleto, President of Small Giants; Mike Bontrager, VP and General Manager for Alston Construction and a member of the Steering Committee for Build Your Future Arizona; Kevin Major, Senior Director of Client Strategy Consulting at CBRE; and Brandon Milligan, COO at StrataTech Education Group, which offers training in high-demand careers such as HVAC, welding and electrical engineering technologies. 

Underlying Labor Shortage Issues

The panel examined some of the underlying issues that have created the current labor shortage. One challenge is the lingering negative perception of construction work, something that Build Your Future Arizona is making progress in changing. 

“It’s about time,” Murphy said about the improving perception of a career in the skilled trades. “In my career, pulling people into the industry, strategically, was a big void, no doubt.” 

Another issue the industry is facing is the lingering ripple effects of the pandemic. Entering the pandemic unemployment was a record lows and then quickly shot up to 17 percent. There was then a period of job growth and retraction that caused job seekers to tread very carefully before re-entering the market. Throughout that whole time, construction in the Valley didn’t pause but actually sped up its pace. 

“We all have a lot to be thankful for, the velocity of this market is literally unbelievable,” Murphy noted. “Velocity is outstanding and you look out beyond your shoes and velocity is still outstanding, but we’re starting to feel the pressure. Certainly, we need to talk solutions. This isn’t a new subject, but the pressures on the market are substantially higher and becoming more so.” 

Murphy guided the panel into discussing some solutions for both attracting and retaining talent in the industry. One of the key takeaways from that discussion was that bonuses and solid benefits packages are valuable tools that firms can use to lure and hold on to new employees. 

The panelists also all cited the importance of communication between management and staff as crucial in the process of retaining employees.  

“On the retention front, facilitating discussions and having the awareness that not everybody has the courage to come forward with what’s on their mind,” Murphy said. “Some do, and you appreciate that, and some don’t. If you’re not knocking, you’re going to watch them leave before you ever even knew what you were dealing with.”