“We have a serious shortage of skilled workers in this country, in every industry,” says Doug Pruitt. “Every business is suffering from a lack of a skilled workforce.” Pruitt served as the CEO of Sundt Construction for 13 years, and has continued to serve on its board since his retirement. Back in the 1940s, the company was hired to build the U.S. government’s facility at Los Alamos. Today, 20 percent of the company’s business comes from the federal government contracts. Another 30 percent comes from contracts for the state and local government.
Like many in the construction industry, Pruitt has tried to strike a balance between following immigration law and advocating for the health of his industry. He says that Sundt Construction has never hired undocumented workers. In fact, his company was an early participant in the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employees program (ICE IMAGE), meant to ensure that all employees have proper documentation. Yet Pruitt remains pointedly critical of the U.S. immigration system and how it puts businesses like Sundt at a disadvantage. Sundt wants and needs to increase the size of its workforce. Doing so would help grow the business and create more jobs down the line. In theory, these workers exist in Pruitt’s own backyard. But because they are undocumented, Sundt cannot hire them. It distresses Pruitt to see all that opportunity lost.
When thinking about immigration reform, Pruitt says the construction industry is burdened by what he calls “one-size-fits-all regulation”: laws that are difficult to comply with and overly punitive. He says penalties for violating the law even once are simultaneously too steep and too rarely enforced. This creates a lack of accountability that allows unscrupulous business owners to hire undocumented workers who may not be properly trained. And that, in turn, hurts the reputation of the entire industry.
Pruitt says the construction industry is burdened by what he calls “one-size-fits-all regulation”: laws that are difficult to comply with and overly punitive.
The solution, Pruitt says, is a new program that increases the supply of skilled labor by formally bringing undocumented workers into the workforce. “It would give us workers that we could train,” he says.
Yet Pruitt is dismayed by the way politicians talk about immigration. The idea of building a fence to seal off the border sounds absurd to him—utterly impractical. And the suggestion that we deport millions of undocumented immigrants is even worse. “That is foolish, and probably impossible,” Pruitt says. “It’s not who we are as a people.”