TOKYO (Nikkei)–The construction industry is facing a serious personnel shortfall for reconstructing the areas devastated by the March disaster, forcing some firms to forgo bidding on public works projects.
The third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011, approved by the Diet last month, set aside 9.1 trillion yen for debris removal, road repairs and other work. The government estimates that the equivalent of 600,000 workers will be needed to carry out such reconstruction projects.
A temporary government job center was set up in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.
Construction firms have stepped up recruitment efforts since the summer to prepare for an influx of orders for public works projects starting at the beginning of next year. In Miyagi Prefecture, listings for construction jobs at public employment offices had quadrupled from pre-disaster levels to about 6,000 as of October. But the number of individuals seeking construction jobs is only about a quarter of the openings.
The ranks of the unemployed have doubled from a year earlier to roughly 66,000 in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures — the areas hit hardest by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But many individuals are shunning construction jobs, expressing their wish to return to their jobs at seafood-processing plants and other facilities that were wiped out by the tsunami.
Construction firms have ramped up recruitment in other regions, but they still must contend with a shortage of personnel with building skills. Personnel costs are about 10% higher than normal, according to the head of Toda Corp.’s (1860) Tohoku branch.
The shortage is starting to affect public works projects. In Miyagi Prefecture, there were no bidders for about 20% of projects, resulting in delays in repairing a sewage treatment plant and other facilities. The situation is expected to worsen next month, as bidding swings into full gear for such projects as river dikes and a road along the coast in the disaster-hit region.
This month, Fukushima Prefecture began considering coordination with municipalities to stagger construction periods so that projects do not take place at the same time. But this does not resolve the worker shortage, said an official at a construction firm.
The central and local governments are encouraging people to switch to the construction industry by hosting training sessions on how to operate construction machinery, for example. Seats for such programs fill up quickly, according to an official at Sendai’s public employment office. But there are not enough instructors and training facilities for such programs to meet the demands of the construction industry.
(The Nikkei Dec. 24 morning edition)