First, the good news: construction employment has remained steady in 2019—despite recession fears and stock market jitters. Now, the bad news: 80 percent of construction firms report they are still struggling to fill hourly craft positions, according to an industry-wide survey released in August by the Associated General Contractors of America.
Specifically, construction employment increased in 39 states and D.C. from August 2018 to August 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But finding enough people to hire and train continues to be difficult—even though the average construction hourly wage surpassed $30 an hour in 2018.
Whether your trade is roofing or interiors, odds are you have experienced this ever-tightening labor market. While some experts tout more federal funding for career and technical education programs, it may ultimately fall to businesses to get creative to stay competitive and attract the next generation of workers.
As one builder put it bluntly: “The benches are empty. It’s impacting the future workload.”
Train and Retain Your Workers
No one will dispute that much of the labor shortage is the result of shifting demographics. Baby boomers, who have long held many mid- to upper-level positions, are retiring. With a growing gap between entry-level and senior-level candidates, contractors must think about training and then promoting from within to fill these roles.
With an overall unemployment rate averaging just 3.7 percent, training the crew you have now could be your best course to avoid turnover and ensure profitability. This also means reversing the industry’s reputation as being one of the hardest places to recruit and retain talent.
As such, contractors will likely look for new ways to help them embrace a new generation of learning workers. While the industry will always need skilled craft workers, they will also need learned workers, whose skills are constantly evolving.
Using Tech to Attract Younger Workers
Flipping the script on this widening talent gap may mean changing the image of construction from the ground-up. Younger workers are likely to be enticed by construction jobs that are both high-paying and offer the latest and greatest tech tools.
Writing in an AGC publication, Janice Clusserath, director of human resources at construction firm McKinstry, noted three key tech milestones that will accelerate this transition:
By 2025, augmented reality and virtual reality will emerge as standard on-the-job training tools, providing a platform for workers to gain new knowledge and skills at the jobsite.
By 2030, highly skilled veteran workers will move from the field to central, remote operations. These veteran workers will train and lead new, generalist workers virtually through AR/VR and other technology platforms.
By 2035, the transition to learning workers will be complete. Instead of having developed skillsets, workers will learn skills as they go, adapting and applying their learning to new situations and issues as they arise.
Getting Creative with Reverse-Mentoring
Today’s modern construction jobsites use a wide-range of technology, including drones, automated bricklayers, 3-D printers, and Internet of Things-enabled devices and sensors that collect jobsite data. With plenty of cool tech jobs to lure younger workers, some experts say the construction industry should take the lead by partnering with universities, community colleges, and unions to rethink apprenticeship programs.
Other contractors are using reverse-mentoring. For example, Boston-based Suffolk Construction tried pairing more senior employees with young grads, who have the know-how to lead 3-D scanning efforts. In exchange, the younger workers were able to learn management and strategy tips from an experienced superintendent.
No doubt, today’s construction firms now know they must get creative in using emerging technology as a hiring tool to combat the current labor shortage. The win-win is that technology can also help their businesses be more productive and profitable.
Need help finding, hiring, and retaining construction workers? Download “How to Hire a Great Estimator Guide” now. You’ll get step-by-step advice on everything from writing a winning job description to identifying top candidates. W&C
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