Talk to almost any contractor in virtually any part of the country these days, and chances are that the biggest problem he is facing is a lack of labor. Too often, the projects are there; the people to do them are not.

The labor crunch has reached such critical proportions that now is the time for fresh approaches.

Solving the manpower shortage is going to require extraordinary efforts by individual contractors, trade associations and educators. All these parties have addressed the problem in the past, and each has met with limited success. The labor crunch has reached such critical proportions, however, that now is the time for fresh approaches.

We can point to three examples that such thinking is underway.

In Florida, plans are in the works to send industry trainees to a form of “boot camp” where in eight weeks they can learn the basics of plumbing, hvac, carpentry or electrical work. The shortage has become so bad that craft-training programs in Florida are graduating about 800 workers annually, and the need is for 11,000 to 12,000 graduates a year.

The boot camp’s sponsors, who are contractors and University of Florida educators, hope to force-feed enough of the basics to trainees to make them employable.

If nothing else, the boot camp demonstrates that educators and contractors not only must work together, but they also have to come up with creative, new formulas.

The same can be said of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America’s National Education Initiative, which will be unveiled this month. Educators from Purdue University and the University of Nebraska will work with mcaa staff to develop a locally based educational program for field supervisors.

This initiative recognizes that solving the manpower shortage requires more than just attracting new people into construction jobs. It also means keeping good employees in the industry through education and career development.

The third example we can cite is the work being done by Sanders Brothers in South Carolina. The contractor is targeting groups in the general population, which it may have overlooked in the past.

So far, Sanders Brothers has employed hearing-impaired workers as well as non-English-speaking people. Through its Hispanic Initiative, the contractor is working with a local college to teach English to Spanish-speaking employees and Spanish to English-speaking workers.

The initiative requires extra effort on the contractor’s part, but the times call for extraordinary measures. Any contractor who is faced with too few workers should think creatively about what he can do to attract and keep good employees.