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Drug-testing technology can help keep much-needed construction workforce on Arizona job sites

There are almost half-a-million job openings in the construction industry and more than one million openings in the manufacturing sector. Both represent the highest levels ever recorded since industry-level jobs data were first collected.

While finding and retaining workforce has been a problem for every industry since the start of the pandemic, it has been a problem for the construction industry since Arizona emerged from the Great Recession.

No doubt there are a variety of causes of this shortfall, including the stigma against manual labor, lack of understanding how well construction jobs can pay, and a nearly universal message that college is the best option if you want a successful career. But competition with other industries for scarce workers is probably the number one reason our industry is short so many workers.

As a result, the masonry industry has had to look in new places for the workforce of today and tomorrow.

One place our industry has had success is working with county probation officers to offer jobs to those who are on supervised release. Since employment is often a condition of their release from prison – and these candidates also have a probation officer to help them navigate the details of the workplace – this has proven to be a good source of new employees.

Currently, there are 50,000 people on actively supervised adult probation in Arizona. Of those, more than 38,000 are employable, although many are unemployed or underemployed at the onset of supervision. Additionally, most probationers require monitoring for use of drugs and alcohol throughout their term of supervision.

Once employed, fulfilling drug testing requirements can conflict with work schedules. Traditional testing is usually unscheduled and conducted only during regular business hours at specified locations.

As a result, employees on a job site can be called away at a moment’s notice for testing. Even worse, without their own transportation, employers often have to take a second employee off the job to drive to the drug treatment facility.

Maintaining accountability for sobriety shouldn’t come at the expense of being able to maintain fulltime employment.

One solution to this problem is called a sweat patch. Imagine a super-adhesive bandage with a unique serial number on each bandage. The patch is applied to a person on probation for up to 14 days. It is removed under supervision and sent to a lab. If the person has consumed prohibited substances such as alcohol or marijuana, it will show up on the testing of the patch via the sweat from the person that wore it.

This technology was used in a limited fashion by the Cochise County Probation Department; it has not been widely adopted because the cost of the sweat patch is greater than traditional testing.

The Arizona Masonry Council is working with the courts in Maricopa County to introduce legislation in January to offer sweat patch drug testing statewide. The legislation will be broad enough to include other emerging technologies that provide accurate test results without requiring an employee to leave the jobsite.

We believe this will decrease the barriers to employing persons under court ordered supervision by eliminating the time off work and transportation difficulties presented by the current system.

We have already spoken to other stakeholders in the construction industry and the response has been very positive. The construction industry is doing its part to offer jobs to those who wish to work.

While the drug testing requirements are perfectly understandable and no doubt necessary, we believe the cost of compliance should be borne by the courts ordering this supervision, not private sector employers.

Dawn Rogers is Executive Director of the Arizona Masonry Council.

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