Reaching & Teaching Across the Aisle: A Solution to Construction Labor Shortage

“We can raise the talent bar, but you have to do something different. You can’t do what you are currently doing today.” – Lou Adler

A continuing downward trend for the construction industry has been the lack of skilled labor workers. The recession cost hundreds of thousands their jobs between 2006 and 2011. Looking for more stability, most of those workers went on to other industries, while others struggled to find work years after being laid off. If you look at the unemployment rate, many people are looking for a job, but why does the construction industry continue to struggle?

There was a time when construction industries had to worry about not having the work available to keep employees busy; now they struggle to bring in workers to fill jobs. This industry challenge tributes to the number one concern for the construction industry: not enough qualified workers. During the 50s and 60s, unskilled labor was the norm, but was down to less than 30 percent by the time the recession hit. Per the AGC of America, construction firms are pushing for more qualified workers.

“Construction firms seem particularly concerned with the quantity and quality of local construction education and training programs. Nationwide, 55 percent of businesses say the local pipeline for preparing new craft workers is below average or poor. Meanwhile, 35 percent of firms have a low opinion of the local pipeline for construction professionals.” 

In 2012 almost half of the construction workforce was 45 or older. To retain these workers, and attract the younger generation, construction firms are increasing wages and providing better benefits. The effort to retain the older workforce with promises of    retirement is not as effective. The sooner construction companies can bring in a new generation of workers; the quicker it will be for those younger workers to learn the tricks of the trade from the older generation. The rekindling of the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act is a significant step towards recruiting and retaining educated experience-qualified construction workers to the industry. This act makes it easier for private construction firms to finance and run educational training programs, and empower open-shop contractors to have the same craft training programs as the multiemployer firms. Once this foundation resurrects, local high school and community college students will have access to information outlining potential career paths within the construction industry.

Construction firms have relied on foreign-born workers in the past, and with the uncertainty of the 2016 election, it is hard to predict how many of them will be available. According to NAHB Economics, foreign-born workers accounted for 23 percent of the construction labor force and 28 percent in construction trades in 2013. Some parts of the construction industry have a higher concentration of foreign-born workers.

“On the national level, the AGC calls for enacting immigration reform, requesting that Congress provide undocumented workers an easier path to legal status, which will help fill vacant jobs. Though it’s a polarizing issue, it would provide many business owners with access to labor they hadn’t been able to hire before (or make their undocumented workers legal, which, by recent estimates, is around 14% of the nation’s construction workforce).”

With the incoming administration promising increased border patrols, new walls, and stringent policies, foreign-born workers are hesitant to come to the U.S. for work. Construction firms must find a way to entice these workers with benefits like other industries when they bring in foreign-born workers. Some companies offer to help and pay for citizenship applications if employees commit to staying for a specified duration of time.

Owners are struggling to give longevity to their family legacy just as they struggle to embrace changes in technology. Adopting new technology would help them in several ways. The use of innovation could attract talent from within the family, as well as outside interest. Emerging technology is a driving factor for millennials that thrive on new challenges and appealing work. Technology and innovation are attractive, and they do not see advantages in manual labor or archaic change. The younger generation must be incentivized to enter into this industry, otherwise, construction firms will miss bids, provide slower schedules, or spend more money on projects which drive up prices.

No matter how we look at it, education is the number one factor in attracting more workers to the construction industry. Owners should be informed on how to attract the next generation, while also figuring out which advancements in technology are right for them. Next generation workers need training so that they can contribute to the industry and fill the skilled labor shortage. Foreign-born undocumented workers need the education to pass a citizenship test and training so they can continue to help fill the gaps in construction employment.

How would you fix the labor shortage? Have you been affected by the shortage? Comment below…

Karl T. S. Jackson is a Project Manager and frequently speaks with students from middle school through college about personal development and how choices they make affect their future. He enjoys writing about business, youth professional and personal development, and personal experiences. You can also connect with him on G+.


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