In Florida, good help has become increasingly hard to find.

The deep, sustained slump of the past few years has created a shortage of skilled laborers, and pool builders now searching for finish tradesmen have found frustratingly slim pickings. The trend is especially noticeable for tile and coping installers.

“When we got busy again we tried to find these [subcontractors],” said Travis Leonard, partner at A&G Concrete Pools, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder in Fort Pierce, Fla.

“But it turned out that a number of them had sold all their equipment and left the industry, or moved out of state,” he said, adding that he now has to solicit work from outlying subs, and on occasion pay more. “Five years ago, you could pick up the phone and find five local guys to do the job and do it right. These are skilled trades, and they’re just not there right now.”

Indeed, when the state’s economy began to slide, many builders were forced to downsize their subcontractor base. Suddenly out of a job, a number of these subs became general contractors. Some were able to eke out a living, but a great many more failed, and the majority likely headed north and west to states such as Alabama, North Carolina and Texas, or sought other lines of work, industry insiders said.

During the boom years of 2004-05, Blue Marlin Pools of Brevard, a Melbourne, Fla.-based Pool & Spa News Top Builder, typically used four or five subcontractors per phase of new construction, said administrator Danielle Love. Today, they’re down to a single sub per phase.

Because of a still-reduced workload, the firm hasn’t had the need to hire more — and the ones who remain are largely exclusive to Blue Marlin, Love said.

“But I imagine it would be difficult to find people now because a lot of them have left the area,” she added. “And the people who are still around aren’t necessarily the best.”

Though new-pool construction statewide remains 70 percent below peak levels, according to the latest permit reports, activity has begun to pick up in some key markets, including the Gulf Coast counties of Charlotte, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota, and Orlando’s Orange County.

At Champagne Aquatech Pools, Richard Moseley had used a particular tile installer for nearly 20 years, he said. But when Moseley tried to contact him a few months ago, he was dismayed to learn the man was no longer in business.

“He was a master craftsman, and he’s just not doing it anymore,” said Moseley, vice president of the Sanford, Fla.-based firm, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder. “What we’re finding is that a lot of the guys left just aren’t the cream of the crop. It’s a problem we’ve run into and will continue to run into.”