Navigating the Construction Industry’s Talent Shortage

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How can your company attract new talent and win bids?

When the Great Recession hit in the mid-to-late 2000s, it’s possible no profession was as negatively affected as the construction industry. When the economy began tumbling, many property owners, business leaders, municipalities, and state governments shied away from approving any new construction endeavors.

According to a 2012 USA Today story, published a few years after the recession ended, the construction industry had lost more than 2.2 million jobs since late 2007. The reason for that drop is two-fold: 1) Workers in the middle or at the tail end of their careers decided to either retire or find work in a new industry, and 2) There were no available jobs for younger workers looking to gain experience in the industry.

Over the past several years, the economy at both the local and national levels has slowly but surely recovered from the effects of the recession. Business owners are more confident in the marketplace, and this renewed confidence has led to an increase in available construction projects.

On paper, this looks like good news. The only problem? There still aren’t enough workers. A 2014 survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America reported more than 25% of construction companies were turning down work because they didn’t have enough bodies to complete the project on time and under budget. Another study, conducted in 2015 by the World Economic Forum, found more than 50% of general contractors are “concerned about finding experienced crafts workers for their workforce.”

The construction industry hasn’t had time to recover from its exodus of talent, creating significant imbalance between the volume of available work and available workers.

What can construction companies do to navigate the talent shortage while continuing to win bids and maintain profits?

Be selective in the bidding process

During the recession, when new houses, office buildings, and other construction projects across the country were few and far between, the skilled labor force faced the opposite challenge as it faces today. There were so few available projects that construction companies were forced to take just about any job that came their way just to make sure their employees were busy. This drove prices and profitability down dramatically.

Today, even though many construction companies are concerned with the lack of available labor, the talent shortage actually presents an opportunity. Firms can be selective about the projects they choose to accept. The ability to selectively pick and choose projects gives construction firms the power to invest their resources in the highest-paying projects, and a thinner bidders’ market lets them come in with higher bids.

Attract new workers

Attracting new workers in a highly competitive market is, of course, easier said than done. But there are several steps construction firms can take to make their company more attractive to young talent:

  • Offer on-the-job training: Entering the construction industry can be a long (and expensive) process. To qualify for many projects, skilled laborers need to complete training and earn licenses for particular work. Construction firms that offer on-the-job training can acquire young workers and train them to be long-term members of the firm.
  • Streamline the hiring process: Many available workers are eager to start earning paychecks. If your company has a long hiring process, you run the risk of losing your desired applicants to competitors.
  • Flaunt your environmental conscience: “Green” construction strategy is on the rise. Construction firms can make themselves more attractive to younger workers by providing LEED certification to show the talent pool that they are environmentally responsible.
  • Sell the profession: From good, competitive wages to an emphasis on quality-of-life, the construction industry has a lot to offer. It’s imperative that established organizations are working together to make that clear to the younger generation.

As the country continues to recover from the recession, we can expect the construction industry’s talent pool to recover as well.

The Associated General Contractors of America study predicts the construction industry will require 7.2 million by workers by 2022. It’s clearly vital for construction companies to attract new, young talent to the industry.

For more information or additional questions, please contact Tom Dearnley,

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