Why the industry needs to think creatively & leverage new benefits to overcome the labor shortage
by Keith Maciejewski and Tony James
August 26, 2019

In theory, the solution to closing your company’s skilled labor gap seems clear: just hire a few more people. Your company will be fully staffed; you can complete all of your open projects and even take on more. Unfortunately, due to competition, lack of upcoming skilled tradesmen and the scope of projects, the solution isn’t that simple.

A New Generation of Workers

As a significant proportion of the construction workforce approaches retirement, companies will need to rely more on the next generation of workers to take their place. The Associated General Contractors of America estimates that 80 percent of all construction companies are already understaffed.

These staffing levels often diminish the quality of work and increased safety related injuries due to overwork and rushing. Construction companies are going to need more employees to keep up with the demand of their services, and those employees are going to have to come from the next generation of workers.

When considering this labor gap, it is important to put emphasis on the word “skilled.” The future of construction workers need to be trained to excel at their craft, as well as understand and appreciate safety regulations in order to work at optimum efficacy.

In fact, the less skills workers have, the more money businesses are likely to spend supporting them. The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics data shows that 34.9% of new, undertrained workers are injured within their first year on the jobs. Injuries can cause lost productivity and missed deadlines, on top of workers’ compensation claims and costs that are associated with injury and loss. Additionally, when workers are undertrained, they may break equipment or fail to properly store it, which may result in repairs and replacement costs.

The Importance of Promoting a Career in Skilled Labor

It’s increasingly difficult to remember a time when attending college wasn’t seemingly a necessity to be considered successful. As the popularity of 4-year universities increased, the attendance of and number of trade schools saw an equal or greater decrease.

Now, trades like construction struggle to attract younger individuals in the workforce in part because they’re not promoted in high schools or have supported programs within the university systems. The entirety of the construction industry will need to focus on reaching out to younger generations earlier, as they’ve done in years past, to help them identify and train their next core of employees.

In addition to promoting the trades at an earlier age, to truly close the skilled labor gap, firms need to focus on more than hiring workers. Some people entering the workforce, women especially, tend to look away from construction as a viable long term career option.

They worry about safety, benefits and competitive wages, which means construction firms can benefit from offering incentives that reaffirm the benefits of a career in construction. 401k plans, healthcare, training and hassle-free paid time off are great ways to pique the interests of those entering the workforce and compete with other profile industries for talent.

Thinking Beyond the Traditional Classroom

We should also consider other ways to foster the next generation of craftsmen, other than the traditional classroom setting. For instance, show interested individuals around jobsites. You may explain how technology has made jobs in construction safer and more efficient. We can demonstrate how, as the jobsite shifts due to future technology, skilled workers will also have the opportunity to showcase their leadership skills by managing a jobsite with human and technological components.

Another way of gaining interest is by offering job shadowing opportunities so potential workers can get a real glimpse into the life of a tradesperson and determine then whether enjoy the work. Doing this allows potential employees to feel comfortable and confident with the tools and machinery they may come in contact with. It also serves as a recruiting mechanism for businesses looking to hire new talent.

As touched on above, we strongly encourage companies to form partnerships with high schools or colleges in the surrounding area. This is a great opportunity to identify and train the next generation of workers to uphold the standards of safety and quality that are important to your business, while also providing the trainees with an understanding of how your company works, providing comfort and loyalty.

When offering an internship or apprenticeship for students, be sure to check the regulations in your state to ensure your pay rate and hours meet standards.

Why It’s Important to Close the Gap

Inherently, if the skilled labor gap is not closed, the price of work will increase at a rate that is inconsistent with demand. Construction firms may lose out on business or work will be regulated due to the imbalance of labor and demand. It’s in the best interest of construction firms to utilize creativity and leverage new benefits in finding new talent.