Due to the current boom in the construction industry, and the lack of skilled personnel to carry out diverse tasks, this sector has started to organize and develop strategies which they hope bring in more workers. Because most of the construction currently underway is being paid for with federal funds, the sector hopes that by bringing in more local employees those funds can be kept in the island thus helping boost the economy.
John Vigueras, president of the local chapter of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), which was founded 113 years ago in Puerto Rico and currently has 10,000 registered members, talked to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL about the importance of hiring and training workers before the demand for them escalates any further. He is proposing that both the public and private sectors work together to accomplish this mission and decrease the chances that potential workers leave in the island.
Although Vigueras is aware that there may be eventually be a need to bring in workers, he hopes that it’s a small amount because these workers will take their pay back with them to their country of origin. Although most of the workers that come into Puerto Rico are from the Dominican Republic and the U.S., he says that workers do occasionally come in from Mexico, Chile and Colombia, among other countries.
“We need the associations and the government to wake up and start working together to train as many people as possible so that we do not have to bring in construction workers from other places,” he said.
Vigueras is putting a call out to private entities and other organizations within the construction industry to hire and send their employees to LiUNA’s training workshops, which have already graduated 400 people. LiUNA offers a construction course that takes 2,000 hours to complete as well as a workshop that only entails 40 hours of classwork. Aside from teaching the skills necessary to succeed within the area of expertise the worker chooses, both options provide lessons on how to ensure health, safety and security on construction sites.
Although the callout for more construction workers was initiated by developers and unions, LiUNA has recently decided to take a more active role in the task. Among their initiatives is the creation of cooperatives and the already mentioned trainings.
Experts within the industry estimate that once the federal funds for construction come in, and the demand for workers increases, 125,000 to 185,000 workers will be needed. As of right now, there are 50,000 workers available. Thankfully, federal funds don’t come in all at once and the projects planned are on different schedules, which means that workers can go from one project to another over the next ten years, the amount of time that reconstruction efforts are expected to last.
Vigueras went on to mention that he plans to present Gov. Vázquez with a proposal to offer a construction curriculum within Puerto Rico’s vocational schools. As part of his plan, he is proposing that graduates of this curriculum earn $15 an hour.
“This is a surefire way to guarantee employment, decrease migration and generate money that will stay in the island. Nowadays, the construction industry offers opportunities for men and women,” he said.
Construction Cooperative Model
Cooperatives have sprung up as a way to increase growth within the industry. THE WEEKLY JOURNAL had the chance to talk to a professional who has been working under the cooperative model in hopes of further aiding the local economy.
Glorimar Lamboy Torres, the commissioner of Desarrollo Cooperativo (Cdcoop), said that the mission of the Cooperativa de Contratistas Unidos (Contratistas Unidos Coop) is one of association and that they will dedicate themselves to coordinating, supervising, certifying and carrying out engineering, construction and installation projects. They will also take care of maintenance, rental and security of structures, roads, lands, systems and public works. The organization will have materials, equipment and systems at the disposal of their clients.
“We are very pleased with the diverse offerings at CDCoop. We are one of the 20 cooperatives created this year, a fact that demonstrates the effectiveness of cooperatives. This group of contractors have found this economic model to be the best option available to assist in the development of construction businesses,” she indicated.
Lamboy Torres went on to say that “this cooperative is very interesting because its members are from towns like Naranjito, Caguas, Canóvanas and Hatillo, all of whom have the same goal: to create and keep jobs, to protect the socioeconomic needs of the members and to offer good services.”
Another option discussed as a possible way to increase the number of workers in the construction industry is to train convicts close to their release date so that they are guaranteed a job they are appropriately compensated for and will keep them busy.