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How To Beat The Construction Labor Shortage: 5 Expert Tips

If you’re in architecture, construction engineering, or any of the construction trades, no doubt you haven’t just heard about the construction labor shortage. You’re likely living it right now.

But just how bad is the labor shortage, why does it exist, and what can you do to mitigate it?

Dive in below to find out.

The Construction Labor Shortage: How Bad Is it?

The U.S. is going through the most severe construction labor shortage since industry-level jobs data has been collected, according to management consulting firm McKinsey. The country had nearly 450,000 construction job openings in April of 2022, and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), an industry group, says the industry averaged nearly 400,000 job openings per month throughout 2022.

To meet expected demand, ABC says the industry will need an additional 546,000 workers on top of the traditional pace of hiring.

That the country will need hundreds of thousands more workers to handle new projects stemming from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill has added even more urgency to the situation.

Why Is There A Construction Labor Shortage?

While it’s impossible to pin the labor shortage on any one factor, plenty of contributing issues have led to such a tight construction labor market.

These issues include:

  • Difficulties attracting younger workers to the trades
  • Boomer retirements (nearly one in four construction workers is older than 55, and these workers tend to be the most productive and have the most skills)
  • The aftereffects of the 2008 recession, when many construction workers left the field
  • The Covid-19 pandemic

“Retirements will continue to whittle away at the construction workforce,” says ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu in a news release. “The number of construction laborers, the most entry-level occupational title, has accounted for nearly 4 out of every 10 new construction workers since 2012. Meanwhile, the number of skilled workers has grown at a much slower pace or, in the case of certain occupations like carpenter, declined.”

Five Things You Can Do To Mitigate The Construction Labor Shortage

There are plenty of measures construction firms and recruiters can take to spur interest in their field. Here’s a short list of the most effective strategies and tactics.

Improve Recruitment Strategies and Retention

Experts say changes to how the construction industry recruits new workers could have a huge impact, including one of the most basic of hiring strategies: Salaries need to stay competitive with other industries.

Other suggested recruitment and retention strategies include:

  • Offering a competitive benefits plan
  • Potential signing bonuses
  • Other outside-the-box benefits that can bring greater value and meaning to an employee’s work.

Having strong supervisors able to motivate employees without alienating them is also essential.
Employers can also provide greater value by offering more training and showing clearer career trajectories for new workers, such as providing challenging and rewarding work.

But improving compensation and offering more rewarding work aren’t the only recruitment strategies that can be improved. Word of mouth is still the most prevalent method in the construction industry of attracting new workers, but word of mouth can’t scale and has become fairly dated. The industry could benefit from embracing more sophisticated recruitment techniques to attract workers at the required scale.

Invest in Education and Training

Speaking of employee retention, employers must offer training and educational opportunities to their workers. Some construction firms have begun investing in high school shop classes and other technical programs, for example, through apprenticeships and mentor programs – a potentially huge leg up for companies looking to hire students after graduation.

“The greatest benefit to our industry would be a solid pipeline out of high school and into the trades,” says Steve Cona, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, in Equipment World. “It has to be a statewide effort in our educational system to promote opportunities in all occupations that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.”

And while much of the construction industry already offers continuing education credits, employers can be more proactive in providing career-specific training to employees looking to achieve a particular career goal.

Look To Alternative Talent Pipelines

Construction firms should also look to non-traditional talent sources to replenish their ranks, with the first – and most obvious – demographic being women, who represent around 50 percent of the population but only a tiny fraction of the trades.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise a little more than 10 percent of the construction workforce and constitute an average of just one percent of workers on job sites.

Experts say other relatively untapped markets for new talent include the military, the correctional system, and foster care systems.

Change the Work Culture

Anyone who has ever stepped onto a construction site or worked on a crew knows how fast and furious the f-bombs can come – which can be intimidating (or annoying) for potential new workers.

But construction companies and general contractors can improve their company culture with the right steps. These can include involving your workforce more in your business by regularly soliciting feedback and rewarding employees who either go above and beyond or display your company’s values, which can help set an example for the rest of the team.

Break Down Language Barriers

Nearly half of U.S. construction workers have indicated the existence of a language gap at their company – an unsurprising finding considering the large numbers of Hispanic workers in the industry. A lack of communication on a job site isn’t just frustrating: It can make for a less efficient workforce and can be unsafe.

Employers can improve the situation through language training. Some experts also suggest making language proficiency a factor when hiring, which could expand the potential talent pool. However, adding more barriers to the hiring process could be counterproductive.

Where Does the Construction Industry Go From Here?

The wild card in much of this is technology: How much will AI and robotics change the workforce requirements for construction firms over the next several years?

While a definitive answer on that is fairly opaque, what is clear is that things need to change for companies to both attract and retain new workers to meet the challenges – and sheer amount of work – ahead.