Having just returned from our first Walls & Ceilings Business Solutions Conference, I can't help but ponder the main challenges facing the building industry. Before getting into all that, on behalf of the W&C staff, thanks to everyone who participated.

Of course, the conference being a "solutions" conference automatically implies that there are problems and challenges requiring solutions in the first place. The ongoing thesis seems to be that it is getting increasingly difficult to even be a construction contractor due to these challenges.

Among the main challenges are a decreasing labor force, rising cost of materials, competition with less-qualified low bidders and high insurance prices. Sure, there are a few more but these threats remain the most destructive to a healthy contractors market. Following is a free flow of ideas regarding these problems and potential solutions.

Decreasing labor force: It's common throughout the trades and has been common throughout history. The lower end of the economic scale does the work that the educated and privileged do not. Often, this workforce consists of immigrants who work cheaply but may not be skilled craftsmen. Fewer young people are choosing construction as a career since it is often perceived as a lifetime of hard labor and dirty work.

Solution: Recruit young people into the construction industry but without forcing it on them as a career. I worked construction when I was in my 20s going to college. It's a great job for young people to make good money and learn a trade. If it's not the desired career, that's fine. On the other hand, for readers of the popular "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" books, becoming a contractor is the opportunity to own a corporation, allowing shareholders of the corporation to participate in healthy tax shelters and benefits not available to someone who works for others.

These approaches support maintaining an articulate workforce, some of who may stay with the industry but if not, the workforce is still there, constantly being replenished. Help to abolish the image of construction work as degrading in any way. It's definitely a vocation, sometimes even an art.

Rising cost of materials: This came to my attention because a contractor mentioned that by being forced to compete with trunk slammers, he is being priced out of the business due to rising material costs. Whether this is caused by the will of manufacturers or inflation is unknown. But as we know, inflation is certain as long as we adhere to a fiat monetary system. For more information on the realities of our economy, I refer the reader to "The Creature From Jekyll Island," by Edward Griffin.

Solution: As with anything one needs, shop around. Play the low bidder game right back. Most merchants will match a lower price to get a customer in any industry. Only work with retailers or distributors who help you and that you can consider part of your team. Just because someone isn't an actual employee doesn't mean he isn't part of the team. The indirect solution is to put the rising cost of materials into the bill but this of course, raises the bid, which brings us to ...

Low bidders: Or, "trunk slammers," as they are called, are the bane of all the trade industries. Not only do they siphon jobs from truly skilled contractors who cannot afford to work so cheaply but these non-professionals' work is likely a major cause of the outrageous insurance rates because of their incompetence resulting in failed construction.

Solution: Subcontractors, contractors, manufacturers and distributors must work together to create or force an acceptable standard or code in which any construction professional must meet in order to buy products and do the work. I realize this is easier said than done but maybe not. The industry could implode if everything continues in this current inertia. The GCs, after all, can pass the cost of quality subs to the owner, too. Owners are rich ... they can afford it! Then the owner will find a cheaper GC, you say ... but not if standards are such that it creates a standard of cost that is somewhat universal.

High insurance: My Dad always called insurance "legal extortion." In construction, claims are usually made due to incompetent work in some way resulting in the failure of some component of a project.

Solution: Again, an industry professional standard would soothe insurers and help create a level playing field for GCs and subs. If distributors and manufacturers don't sell to those unqualified and if GCs don't hire those unqualified, insurance would be less and costs overall might go down.

You may say I'm a dreamer ... but I'm not the only one.