Seventy-four percent of construction firms in Michigan plan to expand hiring in 2017 at the same time that finding skilled workers remains the industry’s biggest concern.

That’s according to survey results of construction firm owners released today by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Sage Construction and Real Estate.

Companies expect to continue to have difficulty finding workers as 59 percent of survey respondents indicated worker shortages as their biggest concern in 2017. Half said they currently have a difficult time filling salaried and craft worker positions. Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly lamented that thousands of skilled-trade jobs continue to go begging across the state.

“Industry growth will lead to increased job opportunities for future and current skilled trades workers in Michigan,” said Damian P. Hill, president and CEO of AGC of Michigan, the state’s largest construction company organization, with more than 400 members.

“We are working with a variety of organizations around the state to encourage men and women who want good paying jobs, with benefits and a pension, to take advantage of the jointly administered union-employer apprenticeship programs that train the vast majority of skilled workers in the state.“

To invest in quality workers, 61 percent of respondents indicated that they will increase their investment in training and development. Additionally, 43 percent have increased their base pay and 35 percent have provided incentives or bonuses.

The survey comes as a union-employer coalition has launched a campaign to sign up 1,100 new apprentices in Michigan. Several events designed to snare potential apprentices were held in November throughout southeast Michigan, with open jobs ranging from plumbers, welders, electricians, roofers, road builders and cement masons.

Apprentices are paid while they receive training, 90 percent of which is learned on a construction site while working with a journeyman. Those who complete the program are guaranteed a job.

“We’re looking at roughly $5 billion in construction work pending in southeast Michigan in the next three to five years,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary/treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council.

“And if the market continues to grow at the pace we expect, that number could double next year,” said Devlin whose building trades career began as a pipefitter and whose labor organization represents more than 125,000 workers.

At the same time, the first bill introduced in the new Legislature earlier this month was a measure to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which would lower pay for construction workers.

Current law sets union-scale wages for a wide array of skilled-trades jobs and requires those pay levels on all government construction projects.