The construction season is in full swing, and Mike Nustad says his crew is pretty much locked in for the season.

The project manager for MAK Construction in Grand Forks said his company is fully staffed with 16 employees, but sometimes finding help isn't easy, he said.

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"We have seen finding skilled laborers is a challenge," he said. "There just doesn't seem to be many guys that know trade work like concrete, framing and things like that."

It's a challenge the construction industry across the country faces in a time of growing work and an increasing need for workers, experts say. Forty-two states added jobs in the last year ending in May, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). More than 240 out of 358 metro areas also added jobs in the same time period, the contracting group said.

Minnesota and North Dakota came in the middle of the pack, increasing their construction workforces 4.1 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. That's a 12-month gain of 4,800 jobs for Minnesota and 1,100 additional jobs for North Dakota, according to the group.

Still, the increase would have been more robust if it were easier to find qualified workers, AGC chief economist Ken Simonson said in the latest report issued June 27.

"As a result of tight labor market conditions, many firms are opting to invest more in training, find ways to become more efficient or use new techniques like off-site prefabrication or robotics to reduce labor needs," he said.

Demand and supply

With 3,300 jobs as of May, the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks metropolitan area was one of 60 that saw a drop in jobs. The area that covers Grand Forks and Polk counties lost 600 in the last year ending in May, the AGC said. That was one of the largest percentage drops in the country at 15 percent, tying with the Casper, Wyo., metropolitan area, which lost 500 jobs, and being second only to Danville, Ill., which lost 100 jobs for a 17 percent decrease. The largest number of jobs lost was in Houston and the surrounding area, which lost 5,300 jobs.

With 9,800 jobs as of May, the Fargo-Moorhead area lost 100 jobs in the same period for a 1 percent drop, according to the AGC.

It's hard to tell why jobs declined year over year in some areas, Simonson said, but he noted it's more likely the job losses are due to the shortage of workers instead of a slowdown in work. Construction spending across the country was up 6 percent in the first five months of 2017 compared with that timeframe last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"That suggests there is still healthy demand for construction," Simonson said.

There has been a change in attitude about families sending children to school for trade jobs, especially during the 2008 recession as job openings decreased, Simonson noted. He also said construction is associated with long hours.

"The industry has really scrambled to find workers" despite paying higher wages than other jobs, he said.

In North Dakota, the average weekly wage for a construction job was $1,365, making construction the fifth highest paying industry in the state out of 21 classifications, according to Job Service North Dakota.

A recent Job Service report indicates June's construction job openings in the Grand Forks region are on par with last year at that time.

The shortage of workers isn't unique to the construction industry, said Keith Reitmeier, head of the Grand Forks office for Job Service.

Finding skilled workers from the younger population can be difficult, Nustad said, but he noted his company has skilled workers that have been with the company for years.

MAK hasn't had to lay off employees in the last two years since there has been plenty of work to do in the Grand Forks region, Nustad said. The company tries to adapt to changes in the market, and it has taken the approach of hiring good employees and focusing on retaining them, Nustad said.

"We try to have a culture of being very respectful," he said. "If a guy does a good job, he knows he is going to get a raise or a bonus at the end of the year."