The necessity of positive influence, industrywide collaboration & proactive training
by Rachel Burris
August 21, 2019

The skilled workforce shortage is not a new topic to those in the construction industry. By 2031, 41% of the current workforce will retire, and exiting baby boomers will only continue to exasperate the shortage. How many of your employees plan to retire in the next 5 years?

It takes 8 to 12 years for a craft professional to be fully trained and gain competency—have you begun training the next generation yet?

Proactive training is something you can’t afford to overlook. The research compilation “Construction Industry Training in the United States & Canada” found that with a 1% labor-cost investment, expected training benefits include an increase of productivity by 11% and a decrease in turnover by 14%, absenteeism by 15%, injury by 27% and rework by 25%. These numbers prove the benefits of training far outweigh any cost of time and money.  

However, before you’re even able to start training, you need to have a pipeline of workers entering the industry. By 2021, according to Forbes, Generation Z (those born between 1995-2012) is expected to make up one-fifth of the workforce.

And, according to recent article by Kelsey Zibell at National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), Gen Z employees are looking for five things: financial security, career advancement, diversity, both collaboration and independence, and technology. 

Gen Z’s priorities are important to take note of—the industry needs these young professionals to choose construction. And the industry checks all of their boxes.

Most craft careers have the benefit of being financially stable without needing to accrue massive college debt. Apprenticeships and technical schools provide training at little to no debt. And the salaries are nothing to shrug at, either. 

The trades offer a wide range of crafts and career paths to choose from. And while the Bureau of Labor statics reports that only 9.9% of construction workers are women, the industry is making strides to be more inclusive than ever. In fact, women are projected to make up one-fourth of the industry by 2020. 

Working on a jobsite requires teamwork while also necessitating personal responsibility, offering both the collaboration and independence Gen Zers are looking for. Sean Ray, director of craft workforce development at Sundt Construction, likened the sense of community he found in construction to that of the military and one of “brotherhood.” 

Additionally, from building information modeling (BIM), to drones, to exoskeletons, the advancements in construction technology appeal to digital natives who have grown up with technology at their fingertips. So why isn’t there a greater rush of individuals signing up for training? Why is the industry continuing to face a skilled-workforce shortage?

Influence 

Parents are some of the main influencers in the career decision-making process, and many parents, and even school counselors and teachers, consider college the only acceptable path to success, as noted in the research project, “Restoring the Dignity of Work.” 

A recent survey sponsored by NCCER provides insight to what parents are thinking in terms of their children’s futures. Over 500 parents in Virginia responded to the survey, and 81% would not advise their child to choose construction. Parents overwhelmingly saw the industry as tough (97%) and unsafe (52%). 

However, there is hope—82% of parents would support their child to some degree if they chose a career in construction. And more importantly, 74% would strongly support their child taking an elective course in middle school or high school that teaches technical or occupational skills. This is where the industry has a chance to make an impact.  

There are several steps that the industry can take to transform the U.S. workforce, and the first of these is to establish and strengthen career awareness and education opportunities. The construction industry rallying behind a public-awareness campaign has the potential to change parents’ opinions and correct misconceptions. 

The “Build Your Future” initiative, established by NCCER in 1996, was created to combat negative opinions and show the great depth of construction through a public-awareness campaign. The initiative provides career steps from middle to postsecondary school, fact blogs, success stories, a free social media kit for any company to use in recruiting and changing public opinion of construction, and more.

Collaboration 

Once parents are reached and, at the very least, their opinions changed from negative to neutral, the momentum needs to continue with local schools. Another step is to establish and expand collaboration between industry, education and government entities. 

The construction trades program at Garret High School in Garrett, Indiana, has been in place for over 40 years, and the involvement of the community and the industry have been key to keeping the program successful. In Garrett, the community and industry are one and the same—area businesses remain involved in the program by interviewing the students, offering mentorships and providing gainful employment upon graduation. In addition, local companies provide funds and are active in the advisory panel. 

Postsecondary involvement is just as important. Sundt Construction reached out to Central Arizona College in spring 2016 to discuss an apprenticeship partnership in heavy equipment operations, after which both parties realized there was room for improvement overall in the school’s programing.

Within 3 months, an updated and industry-vetted curriculum was being offered—a time frame unheard of in academia. Sundt led the way with specific craft competencies and skills they needed, which resulted in five customized academic pathways. 

Training 

Building a pipeline of craft professionals is essential, and ensuring that you have the tools in place to train them vital. For contractors, NCCER’s research compilation “Restoring the Dignity of Work” recommends measuring the performance and involvement of workforce development when awarding construction contracts. For both owners and contractors, commitment to workforce development should be a must. 

Eddie Clayton, contracting and workforce development strategies manager for Southern Company, shared the following: “Our contractors are the employers of our skilled-labor workforce, predominantly. We have our own internal workers that we invest significantly in, training and developing training programs for specific skills limited to production, distribution and transmission of electricity, or natural gas.” 

“However, our contract workforce is much larger, and we spend much more money on our construction and maintenance activities through contracted labor than we do internally. We need to hire contractors who are actively involved in all facets of workforce development. We recently sent out a survey to find out where our primary contractors are in the engagement of workforce development and are developing a questionnaire with more specific scoring metrics."

"At the end of the day, we’ll only have the contractors who are most engaged on our bid list for our construction and maintenance projects,” Clayton said. 

Other companies, such as Exxon Mobil Corp., are beginning to implement similar systems. Still, the impetus falls to business owners to not only require their contractors to engage in workforce development, but to also encourage them to reap the benefits that training can bring to their company’s culture. 

Schaffhouser Electric provides commercial and industrial electrical services in Tennessee and Kentucky and has about 50 employees, all of which are in some sort of training. John Schaffhouser, president and chief executive officer, shared, “We’ve identified training as where we will separate ourselves from our competition.”  

Part of the culture of this company is learning and working to get better. As the company recruits, relaying to potential hires how invested Schaffhouser Electric is in training is an important employee benefit that is also a big seller.

To build this pipeline of future workers, the industry must be involved—in schools and career and technical education, in training every employee to build up the skills of the workforce, in actively trying to change perceptions. 

Somewhere along the way, the nation’s respect of craftmanship has diminished. But industry representatives now have the chance to give construction a makeover.

 You and I have the opportunity to restore the dignity of working with one’s hands and to show that construction is an industry of lucrative careers, successful pathways and advanced technology—that the skilled-trade industry is a great industry of choice.