Just before the Great Recession, the U.S. construction industry was booming. In 2006, the industry employed more than 7 million Americans. But between 2007 and 2009, construction employment fell by 1.5 million—to its lowest level since 1998. The industry has bounced back since as the economic recovery progresses: The National Association of Homebuilders estimates that demand for construction workers is now outpacing supply, with 200,000 unfilled construction jobs nationwide.
The labor shortage might be due to the workers who left the industry permanently during the recession, and the image of the industry overall. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Lanier Spriggs, a construction manager in Chattanooga, Tennessee, about how he found himself in the construction business, the challenges he sees for the industry, and whether his criminal record affects the way people treat him at work. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Bourree Lam: What do you do as a construction project manager and how did you get into it?
Lanier Spriggs: I'm a project engineer, or an assistant project manager some may call it. I'm pretty much the liaison between the project owners, the engineers, and the architects when working on construction projects with the project manager, superintendent, and the subcontractors. Basically, I just communicate with the owners and keep them up to date on where we stand with their project. When the owners want changes, our team makes sure that we deliver the project they want and coordinate their desires with the guys in the field. We also work to make sure that we deliver the project on time and within budget.