The biggest problem facing many contractors today isn’t securing the necessary materials for projects or landing enough bids—it’s finding skilled workers that want to do the job. Commentators agree that the biggest hurdle in getting future generations to embrace “blue collar” is the societal shift that increasingly promotes pursuing a college education over all other avenues. Contractors hoping to combat this industry‑wide concern will need to aggressively adjust the way they market themselves, the way they hire and promote from within, as well as their accessibility efforts regarding potential new workers.
FUTURE OUTLOOK: The Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting that by 2026, “faster-than-average employment growth” will increase the construction industry’s workforce by over 350,000 jobs. Specifically, that’s over 200,000 jobs for specialty trade contractors, over 95,000 jobs for building constructors, and over 69,000 jobs in heavy and civil engineering construction alone. These figures represent an approximate 4.5 percent increase in jobs across the entire construction industry.
CURRENT CONCERNS: However, a national survey found that over 65 percent of contractors are currently struggling to find qualified workers for hire. So while the construction industry’s workforce demands will in fact increase, employers are projected to have the same difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled workers. Over the next six years, contractors will need to reimagine many parts of their business strategy if they hope to stay ahead of the curve.
First, contractors should diversify their recruitment strategies. The days of hiring through personal networks or by placing ads in the local newspaper may not be completely behind us, but contractors would be wise to engage the next generation on their own playing field. This might mean developing a more robust online media presence or participating in local job fairs. Likewise, utilizing online recruiters could also provide a bevy of untapped labor potential.
Next, contractors should examine their internal retention policies. Are workers quitting in pursuit of greener pastures (e.g., job opportunities with better pay or better benefits)? With the increase of available jobs on the market, workers suddenly have more options to choose from, meaning that quitting their job might not pose the risk that it once did. Contractors can counter this by promoting from within and cross-training their employees. Promoting from within shows current employees that their hard work will not only be acknowledged, but it will also be rewarded. Likewise, cross-training serves multiple purposes. Specifically, it begins the training process for the next group of potential managers, and it also demonstrates to current employees that mobility exists between their current position and the next. This visible mobility could mean the difference between an employee looking around and an employee sticking around.
Finally, contractors should strive to invest in the programs that attract the best workers. One such example would be safety initiatives that promote physical, as well as emotional well-being. Notwithstanding the decrease in morale that inevitably occurs when a fellow worker is injured on the project, the costs of replacing an injured worker are significant. Because safety and wellness are important objectives in their own right, adopting these safety- and health-conscious programs should really be an easy decision.
Ultimately, every contractor will have to determine and adopt its own strategy for tackling the continued challenges associated with the skilled-worker shortage. But as the number of unfilled jobs continues to increase, it will only be a matter of time before this shortage affects the price of bids, which could ultimately lead to higher construction costs across the board. Embracing smart, worker-driven initiatives could give contractors the advantage they will need to edge out the competition. Likewise, investing in current employees will show the next wave of potential leaders that not only is promotion possible, but that these forward-thinking contractors are likewise worth investing in.
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