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Builders face lack of skilled workers as economy improves

Builders are now in demand but they're up against an unexpected obstacle: They can't find enough skilled workers to hire. (AP Photo/file)

Builders are now in demand but they're up against an unexpected obstacle: They can't find enough skilled workers to hire.

Builders in the West and Southwest report many skilled workers left the field following the housing crash to find other jobs. Some of the workers who were immigrants returned back to their home countries and have not returned.

"You can't just snap a finger and bring all those people back," said Stephen Melman, director of economic services at National Association of Home Builders.

As home building rebounds, construction jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to fill. Fifty-one percent of members of the NAHB say they are worried about the supply of labor. In 2011, that measure was only 11 percent.

Construction job gains have been strong in recent months, accounting for 18 percent of the overall jobs created in the economy in January. But builders say the numbers would be much stronger if they could find more skilled workers to hire.

But with limited numbers, some builders say they are being forced to work with smaller crews, which may prolong projects. Also, some builders say they are unable to expand their business because of the difficulty in finding enough skilled workers to hire.

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