The lack of skilled labor in the construction industry is growing, and it’s one of the top challenges contractors face.
Machinery and AI may help alleviate some of this gap, but can a machine step in and take on the responsibility of a chief estimator or project manager? Chances are, not any time soon.
According to Associated General Contractors of America, 81 percent of contractors report having a hard time filling salaried and hourly craft positions, and 75 percent list worker quality as one of their biggest concerns.
So the question is – what’s causing this skilled labor shortage, and what can we do about it?
The Bubble Burst
In the early 2000s, the construction industry thrived as the housing market grew exponentially. However, after the bubble burst in 2008, the construction industry lost nearly 2 million skilled laborers.
Even though the industry has made a steady recovery over the years, many employees did not return to the industry after the recession. To this day, the Architecture, Engineering, & Construction (AEC) industry still employs 13 percent fewer workers than it did in 2007.
Where’s the Youth?
It’s no secret that the construction industry can be described as neither cushy nor glamorous. It’s characterized by hard work, long hours, inconsistent schedules, and uncomfortable (at times dangerous) working conditions.
As the Boomer generation begins to retire, the industry is failing to attract a younger generation to take their place. This, on top of America’s ‘college is the only path to success mentality,’ puts many construction skills at risk of aging out.
Safety concerns also pose a threat to the construction industry’s ability to maintain its workforce.
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 Survey of Occupational Injuries & Illnesses, construction is one of the industries with the most injuries. There were approximately 250 incidents per 10,000 full-time employees and 195,600 total workplace injuries in 2019.
The BLS also reports that from 2003 to 2017, 1,844 highway crew members died on the job, and the number of fatal work-related injuries on-site averages over 100 per year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that heavy/civil engineering construction and specialty trade contractors account for 62 percent of worker fatal injuries.
So, if we can’t keep our employees safe, how can we maintain a strong workforce? Read more about highway construction safety here.
The Next Generation
in order to attract the younger generation it will require competitive wages, benefits, and education on what the industry has to offer. You can spread the word by attending university career fairs to speak about different opportunities and even start educating students at the middle and school levels. This investment of time can pay off in the long run by piquing future workers’ interests early.
From there, as the older generation ages out, the younger generation will need to be caught up to speed on the required skill set. This is where training becomes a crucial part of the success of new employees.
For example – we provide in-depth training on our estimating software that not only teaches employees how to use the product but also fundamental steps in cost-based estimating. Our software and training develop a standardized estimating process. This ensures the plans and knowledge from your senior estimator are seamlessly passed on to your junior estimator. Learn more about our ProEstimate.NET training program here.
Protect the Workers You Have
Securing your labor force means not only attracting new workers but also protecting those you already have.
Companies who invest in proper safety and training protocol are more likely to keep their employees safe, thus maintaining their ability to continue working. You are also more likely to retain quality employees by showing your dedication to their health and wellbeing.
This also means meticulously documenting any accidents and near-misses on site. These details help identify common injuries, how to avoid them, and any weak spots in your safety procedures.
Learn more about how you can easily create custom site safety and toolbox talk forms:
Impactful Infrastructure Funding
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, meaningful infrastructure funding can solve many of the construction industry’s woes.
On March 10, Congress passed the latest Covid Relief Bill that included $350 billion for broadband infrastructure purposes, and a $3 trillion infrastructure and jobs package is on the table for 2021.
Moody’s Investors Service in the latest Building Materials Report states, “Whether it is President Joseph Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan or another proposal, we believe a multiyear federal infrastructure investment bill will boost U.S. construction spending growth by about 200 basis points 9-12 months after being passed.”
More funding means more construction projects. This gives contractors the ability to offer competitive wages, job security, and consistent schedules (just the recipe for attracting and keeping skilled workers in the field).
The lack of skilled workers is a major issue the construction industry is currently facing. However, industry professionals and government officials can take steps now to not only attract valuable workers to the industry but also invest in the sustainability of the labor force for the future.