How Construction Can Beat A Growing Labor Shortage

How Construction Can Beat A Growing Labor Shortage

Phil Puccio

Is your construction firm planning to increase headcount in 2022? That could prove to be a difficult task. According to a recent survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, 88% of construction firms indicated they are experiencing project delays and worker shortages are the second leading cause (61%) cited behind longer lead times or shortages of materials (75%).

Despite uncertainty over the timeline for a full recovery from the pandemic, almost three-quarters of firms are planning to add new employees over the next 12 months. Unfortunately, 90% of firms who employ hourly craft workers had at least one unfilled position and 62% had unfilled positions for salaried employees. 

For firms trying to fill craft worker jobs, 89% are having difficulty doing so and 86% that are hiring salaried professions are facing difficulties filling those positions. Some of the hardest positions to fill include pipelayers, bricklayers, concrete workers, project managers, supervisors, and estimators. 

Just to put the struggles in perspective, during the Great Recession over 2.3 million jobs in construction were lost from January 2007 to January 2011. By February 2020, there were still 77,000 fewer jobs in construction than in January 2007. And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Between February 2020 and April 2020, the construction industry shed 1.1 million jobs. A good chunk of those were added back in 2020 but so far in 2021, the construction industry has only added 47,000 jobs as of September. 

The median age of people working in construction in 2020 is 42.9, while the median age in 1985 was just 36. About 45% of all people employed in construction is age 45 or older. Compare that to the little more than 9% who are 24 or younger. Individual companies, and the industry as a whole, need to step up their efforts in order to attract more youth to jobs in construction.

Offer Candidates More

In order to attract top talent, you have to establish your company as an employer of choice, both within your industry and your local area. Offering competitive wages and benefits like health insurance and gym membership reimbursement to your employees is just the beginning. Remember, you’re competing for employees just like you compete for work.

Set your firm above your competition by creating a strong company culture that values its employees and empowers them to have their voices heard and is backed by a strong leadership team. Engage your employees by offering opportunities that are both challenging and rewarding. Be the first place a candidate applies to when seeking a new job rather than being their last resort.

Invest in Your Employees

Construction firms need to increase their investment in training and development of the workforce. Make sure you are making opportunities such as training and continuing education courses available to both your new and existing employees. Offer to reimburse employees for classes once they’ve successfully completed them. Potential employees want to know that there are advancement opportunities and multiple career paths to move up within an organization.

Retaining good employees should be as important to your company as recruiting them. You want to keep the good workers once you’ve hired them. This means investing in them and their continued growth and success with your company.

People want to feel like they are contributing team members as opposed to just employees who show up to do a job. Show your employees they are appreciated and valued. Keep employees motivated by recognizing and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication to your company.

“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson

Seldom will a job candidate walk through your door with all the prerequisite skills, education, training, and work experience listed in your job posting. Remember, skills can be trained, a strong work ethic typically cannot. If you’re willing to put the extra time into training a new hire make sure they have the right attitude, integrity, are reliable and are willing to put in the same amount of effort you are investing in them.

Check References

Conduct background checks, drug screenings, and pre-employment assessment tests on potential new hires before you make that job offer. Make sure the candidate is a good fit for your company by asking for references. Contact them to get an idea of what kind of employee your candidate will be. One of the best questions to ask a reference is whether they would hire/rehire the candidate.

Even after you’ve done your due diligence and made a job offer, not everyone you hire will be a good fit for your firm. This will be evident after the first couple of months they are on the job. Sometimes businesses are hesitant to let someone go considering the time and money that went into recruiting and training an employee. Don’t continue to spend your time and money on an employee who isn’t working out.

Internships & Apprenticeships

Construction firms need to look to the future by offering internships and co-ops to local high schools, trade schools, and college students. Reach out to your local universities and community colleges that offer courses of study in the construction industry. More and more companies are setting up training programs with community colleges and vocational schools to offer training programs to meet their needs.

Consider getting involved in youth programs aimed at getting kids interested in construction careers. The ACE Mentor Program and MAGIC Camps, which stands for Mentoring a Girl in Construction, are both great programs to get involved with.

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) Education Foundation (NEF) offers a number of education programs for both adults and young people. Their Block Kids program introduces grade school children to careers in construction. They also have a CAD/Design/Drafting Competition and an Accessory Structure Project competition for the high school level. You can learn more about the NEF programs here.

Find local apprenticeship programs, or consider starting your own registered apprenticeship program so you can offer industry-specific training programs that can benefit your company. This creates an additional pipeline to tap into when it comes time to hire a new employee.

Hire Veterans

Don’t forget to look to veterans and active-duty military who will soon be transitioning to civilian life and looking to start new careers. There are a number of programs like Helmets to Hardhats and Veterans in Piping geared to attracting and training veterans for careers in construction.

We’re already seeing reports of construction delays due to worker shortages across the country. These issues are only going to get worse and spread to other areas of the country, especially for construction companies that aren’t being proactive and creative in their recruitment efforts.

The August 2021 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics had the seasonally adjusted rate of job openings in construction at 365,000 which was down from July 2021’s all-time high of 377,000.

The entire construction industry needs to pull together to develop a fundamental change in its approach to attracting more people to careers in construction.

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