During the housing crash, two million construction workers left the field, many of them never to return. Even as the housing market moves into recovery, government reports today show continued losses in the construction workforce. The problem is a lack of skilled labor..
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"In the past, when the [housing] starts were up to a million and a half, you could come on a job site and do on the job training," says John Courson of the Home Builder's Institute, a non-profit group working with the Department of Labor's Job Corps to train new construction workers. "What we see now is employers want to hire skilled workers, and that's what we're producing with our students, are those who can go on the job site and go to work."
Brandon Alexander is one of those students, training to be an electrician at the Potomac Job Corps center in Washington, DC.
"I knew with this trade I could be financially stable and not have to work around three different jobs. There's a resurgence in construction so I know this is the place to be," he said.
Students at this and 73 other sites across the nation learn everything from plumbing to masonry, carpentry to landscaping, weatherization and painting, as well as new "green" technologies most builders are now using. Skills are in high demand.
"I knew with this trade I could be financially stable and not have to work around three different jobs. There's a resurgence in construction so I know this is the place to be."
Housing starts are finally coming off their lows of barely a half a million in 2009, and are now surging quickly up in to a rate of around 800,000 annualized, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. While this is still about half the pace of a normal housing market, it still means builders are looking for workers, especially skilled workers.
"About two weeks ago we started getting calls, like 7 or 8 a day, and we've been asked to bring students to work sites," says Linda Thomas, an employment liaison for Job Corps. "They said look just bring them with their resumes, we've got work, we're pushing more contracts now. Business is doing well, building is doing extremely well in the area."
This is a drastic change from just six months ago, when Thomas was still finding herself the beggar, not the chooser with home builders. Her main concern is that all this new momentum will come to a grinding halt should the nation's economy go over the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"A contractor, once he sets up a job, then he has to get money for that job because he has to buy the materials and so forth, so if a bank is a little scary or his lender is a little scary, a private lender, he may not have the funds to start the project, therefore we won't have the jobs."
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—By CNBC's Diana Olick; Follow her on Twitter @Diana_Olick or on Facebook at facebook.com/DianaOlickCNBC
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