According to a survey by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), roughly 80% of construction firms experienced a hard time filling hourly craft positions, with severe shortages reported in all four regions of the country. While employment needs will ease as we move into the inclement weather months, they will bloom again in Spring — and possibly worsen if the current industry outlook comes to fruition.
As in previous boom cycles, contractors across the U.S. have turned to largely traditional methods to lure skilled workers: 62% increased base pay rates, 24% improved employee benefits and 25% provided incentives and bonuses for craft workers. In addition, a quarter of respondents increased their use of labor-saving equipment and virtual construction methods (e.g., BIM) to overcome worker shortfalls.
Yet, none of these steps address the underlying problem. As the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) points out, the perception of craft professionals has become one of low or middle skill workers, making such career paths unattractive to the modern workforce. To overcome this, Don Whyte, NCCER’s CEO, believes, “We must recapture the dignity of work as well as the pride and honor inherent in skilled occupations.”
In the research report “Restoring the Dignity of Work: Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System into a World Leader” (www.nccer.org/research), the NCCER identified both short-term and long-term policies to help move the industry toward this goal:
- Establish and strengthen career awareness and education opportunities by communicating all career paths to students in secondary education and their parents.
- Significantly improve participation in work-based learning programs by removing barriers to company participation.
- Measure performance and involvement in workforce development when awarding construction contracts — much like the industry does with safety.
- Provide greater incentive for the nation’s secondary education system to ensure the career readiness of all high school graduates.
- Increase the participation of underrepresented groups in Career and Technical Education (CTE) through greater outreach and mentoring.
- Promote industry involvement and investment into secondary and postsecondary CTE programs.
- Increase funding available to CTE programs most needed by industry.
The AGC also published its “Workforce Development Plan” (https://bit.ly/2CM9V9b) identifying steps federal officials should take to support construction workforce development. They include doubling the funding for CTE over five years and allowing more people with construction skills to legally enter the country. The plan also outlines new recruiting steps the association is taking, including launching a targeted digital advertising recruiting campaign and investing in innovative workforce solutions.
For such plans to succeed, the construction industry must embrace and promote the call for change. You can start by adopting initiatives for your company and your community, or get on the national pulpit by reaching out to organizations such as the AGC and NCCER to lend a voice of support.