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Locally, slight shortages of skilled construction workers expected to grow worse

The local residential construction industry is keeping a wary eye on the dwindling supply of experienced trades workers in the region.

Jamie Lancia, past president of the Home Builders Association of Fort Wayne, said his family’s residential construction company hasn’t seen major shortages of skilled workers.

But Fort Wayne-based Lancia Homes has experienced what he described as minor shortages of plumbers, electricians and heating/air conditioning/ventilation workers.

Those shortfalls are on pace to get worse, according to one northeast Indiana labor leader.

Kent Prosser, business manager for Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 166, estimated about one-third of his 700 members will retire in the next eight years. The local includes members in 14 counties.

Meanwhile, the demands created by a resurging economy are expected to grow. National estimates place an impending shortage of welders – both construction and manufacturing – at about 900,000 within five years, Prosser said.

“There is definitely a demand to replace the baby boomers, and it’s going to be in all industries,” he said.

Local 166 is affiliated with Ivy Tech Northeast. The community college program allows students to earn as they learn. Apprentices come to the union after earning a two-year degree.

How much they earn after that depends on how many certifications and licenses they seek and earn, Prosser said. His members earn from $30,000 to $140,000 a year, depending on their advanced skills.

The near-term challenge, Prosser added, will be in generating enough jobs to train new apprentices while keeping experienced trades workers busy until they choose to retire.

“It’s a delicate balance,” he said.