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Mar
2015
23

Study: Wisconsin Construction Workers Among Nation’s Most Productive (Not For Long)

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A new study has found that road and bridge construction workers in Wisconsin were the most productive in the Great Lakes region and the third most productive in the nation.  The report, released by Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now, Inc. (WIIN), found that Wisconsin construction workers contribute $185,000 to the economy, on average per worker.  

Road and Bridge Construction Workers in the Midwest was co-authored by Frank Manzo, Policy Director of the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, and Professor Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois School of Labor and Employment Relations.  It  looks at the economic and construction-related benefits of skilled workers in the Great Lakes region, which the study defined as Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  

“Wisconsin’s highly-skilled construction workers are the most productive in the Midwest,” John Gard, spokesperson for WIIN, said. “That productivity translates into direct economic benefits to the state, as well as better quality roads and bridges built at a lower cost.”

The study comes in the shadow of Wisconsin’s passage of “Right-to-Work,” which will lower wages and hinder training and safety for construction workers over time.  As the law was being “debated” in the Wisconsin legislature, Minnesota jobs committee chair Rep. Pat Garofalo sent an invite to Wisconsin construction company owners, suggesting they relocate.  Jim Hoffman of Hoffman Construction told WKBT La Crosse he was likely to take Garofalo up on the offer.

The findings of the WIIN study help explain Hoffman’s frustrations.  Construction in Wisconsin was not only going well, but exceedingly so.  “Right-to-Work” undermines companies and workers that pride themselves on high skill levels while benefiting the untrained and unscrupulous.  The report notes that the Great Lakes region is filled with highly skilled construction workers and more will be needed in the upcoming years:

Employment in construction jobs is expected to increase by 21.4 percent over the next decade, the second-fastest growing occupation. The majority of these new employment opportunities will require the completion of a three- to five-year apprenticeship program.  

In 2013, three out of every five new construction jobs in the Great Lakes region were filled by a candidate with an associate’s or apprenticeship degree.

Road and bridge construction workers each produce an average of $155,100 in economic value for the Great Lakes region, second only to their counterparts in the Far West states ($162,461 per worker). Wisconsin’s street, highway, and bridge construction workers were the most productive in the Great Lakes region, annually contributing an average of $184,592 to the economy.  

Construction workers in the Great Lakes region build highways in a cost-effective manner, constructing each lane-mile up to 43 percent cheaper than the national average.  

The apprenticeship share– the ratio of active apprentices to total workers in construction occupations– is higher in states with a prevailing wage law (7.7 percent) than in states without a prevailing wage law (5.4 percent). Additionally, 10 percentage-point increase in a state’s construction industry unionization rate is associated with a 3.2 percentage-point average increase in its apprenticeship share.

Other key findings from the report include:

Construction workers in the Great Lakes region build highways cost effectively, constructing each lane-mile at 43 percent less than the national average; b) Construction employment opportunities are expected to increase by 21.4 percent through the next decade. The majority of these new jobs will require completion of a three-to five-year apprenticeship program; and c) A direct, statistical and positive correlation exists between worker productivity and prevailing wage laws.

Read the report in its entirety

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