A lack of qualified labor needed to rebuild Abaco has resulted in the cost of rebuilding on the island skyrocketing to approximately $800 a square foot, Abaco Chamber of Commerce President Ken Hutton said during a virtual job fair on Saturday.
Hutton said the lack of qualified labor remains the biggest challenge to the island’s rebuilding, nearly a year after the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Dorian leveled parts of Abaco in September 2019.
“There is definitely a lack of qualified labor in the reconstruction efforts that we’re having here. One of the biggest problems we have is that there is not enough qualified labor and as a result of that, the cost of reconstruction is going up and up. Prior to the storm, Abaco had a very high cost of construction, between $350 to $400 a square foot. I think that’s now easily close to $800 a square foot, primarily because of the lack of labor,” he said.
“The qualified contractors that are here are booked solid for the next year and a half to two years. Our biggest concern is that up until yesterday, the second homeowners were starting to come back into the market to rebuild their properties and that was an additional pressure on the labor market, so they were basically coming in short terms, they want their houses fixed and they are willing to pay whatever just to get it done as quickly as possible. So that was putting pressure on the local market, so in many cases it was causing the local contractors to go for the higher ticket, leaving the local people that needed their roofs done and their houses repaired sort of waiting behind that. I don’t see that changing in the near future.”
The job fair, for construction employment opportunities on Abaco, was hosted by the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade and Industry and Immigration and the Abaco Chamber of Commerce, and had approximately 300 registrants and 100 attendees on Saturday.
Earlier this month, Bahamian Contractors Association President Michael Pratt announced that the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Valencia College in Florida to train and certify up to 1,000 workers by December, in an effort to bridge the skills gap among construction workers.
Hutton said because the pressure on the labor market will continue, there’s nothing but opportunity for contractors and construction workers on Abaco.
He noted, however, the lack of accommodations for workers on the island that he said private stakeholders are seeking to address.
“The biggest concern right now is accommodations. Because of the widespread destruction on Abaco, there are not a lot of places for anyone to live right now. I know the DRA (Disaster Reconstruction Authority) has been working diligently on trying to come up with options for workforce accommodations, I know that there are a few solutions that they have been working on,” he said.
“Also as part of the Chamber we have been working with three particular groups that are looking to put in – for lack of a better word – two-man camps and one is an accommodation barge which would be coming into Abaco in the near future.
“The private sector is looking to put some of those solutions into Abaco in the near term and I’m talking within the next few weeks.”